A Matter of Principle; Not Money
The People’s Republic of China has imposed a new national security law for Hong Kong, provided for by Article 23 of the Basic Law, criminalizing sedition, collusion with foreign powers, subversion and terrorism – all run-of-the-mill contrived offenses used by autocracies. It is important to note that our Western conception of terrorism does not fully align with the Chinese. For them, terrorism can include “damaging public transport”, as has happened in the Hong Kong Democracy Protests. Note too that these offenses are attended by a maximum life sentence. The Beijing-backed Hong Kong Chief Executive has the power to appoint judges to hear cases related to this law, dangerously damaging the separation of powers fabric left by the British in 1997. Most importantly, those “convicted” in sham trials will be disbarred from public office, as recent elections have seen an influx of pro-democracy activists. This is one of the most decisive steps yet by the PRC to fully bring Hong Kong into its autocratic orbit.
While this gross violations of democratic norms, human rights, and the tacit agreement between the British and Chinese at the time of Handover, is taking place, no less a place than the United Nations Human Rights Council, would overwhelmingly support China’s “right to govern its internal affairs”. They have seemed to forget that just a few weeks ago many of those same nations, for very good reason, supported a resolution condemning systemic racism against persons of African descent. Rising to the George Floyd moment is certainly commendable, but the question must be asked as to why is it acceptable to comment on the internal affairs of the United States but not China. Both nations have unacceptable challenges, and both need to be called out for them.
Ultimately, 70 nations supported the new security law at the UNHRC. Among these were the typical characters, i.e. dictatorships and autocracies, such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and Russia. More worrying however were the other supporters. They were mostly developing nations in Africa, and even three CARICOM member states (Dominica, Antigua and Suriname). These states are beneficiaries of one of the most brilliant debt traps in colonial history – the multi-trillion dollar Belt and Road Initiative. I do not attend foreign policy meetings in any of these nations, and so cannot speak definitively to what has motivated their positions. However, it is undoubtable that this looks like developing nations “selling out” to wealthy geopolitical benefactors. That is deeply regrettable.
Barbados must be wary of the ostensibly benevolent Chinese. Our foreign policy has always been guided by Barrow’s philosophy “friends of all; satellites of none”. We receive aid and assistance from the United States and American-dominated institutions, Canada and EU nations and institutions. In spite of that, we still have an independent streak in UN votes, voting against the US in a number of key votes, much to the dismay of the Americans. The Chinese are not interested in such a relationship. The BRI is said to be a quid pro quo arrangement. If only that was it. Unfortunately for developing nations, the BRI is “something for something less”. In other words, you give up so much more than you will ever get. According to France 24, “Sri Lanka turned over a deep-sea port to China for 99-years after it was unable to repay loans. Pakistan needs an international bailout. And Montenegro has had to make difficult choices after taking on crushing Chinese debt to pay a Chinese company to build a new highway.”
High-minded idealism sometimes does not always collide with economic reality and that is a fact which I readily recognize. However, while states are confined by the strictures of reality, ordinary citizenry are free of those constraints and therefore we must always be aware of and always sound our voices loudly at the clear and present danger which the rising geopolitical fortunes of the People’s Republic of China poses to freedom and democracy everywhere. The lives of Hong Kongers matter. Democracy matters!