Opinion

On the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party, the West must kowtow no more


July 1 should be a day of mourning for all freedom-loving people: It’s the 24th anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China, the first anniversary of Beijing’s imposition of a draconian national-security law on the territory and the centenary of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party.

Britain handed over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic in 1997, following the expiration of a 99-year-lease. The Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty lodged at the United Nations, made the handover conditional on two explicit promises, valid for 50 years, or until 2047: first, that China would uphold the model of “one country, two systems,” respecting Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, rule of law and “high degree of autonomy”; and second, that Britain would monitor and safeguard that first promise.

Twenty-four years later, the dual promise lies in tatters. Communist Party quislings dominate the Hong Kong government, and Beijing is increasingly imposing direct rule.

How did things go wrong? Britain made two negotiation mistakes. It failed to include or even consult Hong Kongers in the deal. And it didn’t seek an enforcement mechanism in case the other side broke its promise. London took Beijing on trust.

Which brings us to the second of three anniversaries: the Orwellian national-security law. “Enacted” a year ago by Beijing’s rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, without even any pretence of consultation with Hong Kong and in total violation of Hong Kong’s own Basic Law, this repressive legislation shatters the territory’s freedoms.

It turns normal, daily activities into crimes. Talking to a foreign journalist, politician or activist is now “collusion” with foreign forces. Protests are banned, criticism of Beijing is dangerous and press freedom is dead — that last grim fact crystalized by the forced closure of the Apple Daily tabloid.

Hong Kong is now a police state.

The third anniversary is the event animating the other two. In its century of existence, the Chinese Communist Party has killed millions through the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the genocide of the Uyghurs, not to mention the repression in Tibet and the cover-up of COVID-19.

Add forced abortions, forced sterilizations, forced labor, forced disappearances, forced televised confessions and forced organ-harvesting from prisoners of conscience, and the picture that emerges is of a Communist boot stamped on the face of Chinese civilization.

So how should the free world mark these three anniversaries?

First, with a complete, total and unambiguous change of course. We should bury the idea that this is a regime we can be friends with. How can a regime that declares war against constitutional multiparty democracy, separation of powers, elections, an independent judiciary, human rights, civil society, academic freedom and an independent media be a friend to democracies?

How can a regime waging a cultural genocide and crimes against humanity be an ally? How can a state that repeatedly flouts international treaties and threatens the international rules-based order possibly be a reliable partner?

Second, we must recognize that the Beijing regime isn’t going to be influenced by strong statements. Words must be accompanied by actions, and Beijing must be left in no doubt that its crimes have consequences.

That means targeted sanctions not against the peoples of China, but against officials in in Beijing and Hong Kong responsible for violations of international law. We should also target strategic entities, such as Western big businesses providing a financial lifeline to the Chinese Communist Party or those complicit with its surveillance state.

And third, the free world should act together. President Joe Biden’s effort to rally the West against Beijing, following in the footsteps of his predecessor, is welcome. Australia has taken a notably more robust stand, and Britain’s message has shifted in the right direction; some European countries may just be beginning to wake up.

But there are still those who don’t get it. Germany’s position is deeply concerning. Senior figures among the ruling Christian Democrats describe Beijing as “a partner.” There is clearly more work to be done to educate and mobilize the democratic world.

Western democracies should diversify supply chains to reduce our dependence on Chinese manufacturing — a crisis highlighted by the pandemic.

If this regime gets away with what it has done to Hong Kong, it won’t stop there. It will be emboldened in its aggression toward Taiwan, and it will continue encroaching on our liberties, too. We can’t kowtow any longer.

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, based in London.


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