Divided West can do little as China tightens up on Hong Kong

Divided West can do little as China tightens up on Hong Kong

Divided West can do little as China tightens up on Hong Kong

LONDON — From Tokyo to Brussels, political leaders have swiftly decried Beijing’s move to impose a tough national security law on Hong Kong that cracks down on subversive activity and protest in the semi-autonomous territory.

But the rhetoric has more bark than bite. For people in Hong Kong, the question is: Will international anger and statements of concern make any difference?

Individual countries have little leverage over Beijing on human rights, experts say. A joint effort could make a difference, but co-ordinated action seems unlikely given strained ties between the Trump administration and many of Washington’s traditional European allies.

“The U.S.A. and EU are moving in different directions in many areas. It is perhaps to China’s advantage that that should be so,” said Rod Wye, an Asia-Pacific associate fellow at the Chatham House think-tank in London. In particular, Europeans do not want to be drawn into the U.S.-China trade war, he said.

“Expressions of concern are certainly not going to change the Chinese intention one little bit,” he added.

A joint U.S.-European report released this week on relations with China described “a deep sense of frustration, fatigue, and futility. The stronger China gets, the less willing it has become to even engage perfunctorily with the West on the issue.”

The report — from the Asia Society, the Bertelsmann Stiftung and George Washington University — said that concern about human rights abuses in China remains deep, from the new security law in Hong Kong, which went into effect Tuesday night, to the repression of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region in western China.

China routinely dismisses all such criticism as interference in its domestic affairs. One of the crimes in the Hong Kong security law explicitly outlaws receiving funding or support from overseas to disrupt lawmaking in Hong Kong or impose sanctions on the city.

“This issue is purely China’s internal affairs, and no foreign country has the right to interfere,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.

Many fear the law will be used to curb opposition voices and see it as Beijing’s boldest move yet to erase the legal firewall between the mainland’s Communist Party system and Hong Kong, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and civil liberties under a “one country, two systems” principle.

Britain called the law “deeply troubling” and said it “lies in direct conflict with China’s international obligations.” The U.S. warned that China’s repeated violations of its international commitments “is a pattern the world cannot ignore.” And the European Union warned that China risked “very negative consequences” to its reputation and to business confidence in the global financial hub.

Steve Tsang, who directs the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said that if the EU were to join forces on the issue with the “Five Eyes” alliance — the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — the group would have real economic clout. The EU is China’s largest trading partner.

But he said it was “far-fetched” for either British Prime Minister Boris Johnson or President Donald Trump to work with the EU on the issue.

“It is reasonable for Beijing to calculate that both the U.K. and U.S. are paper tigers,” Tsang said. “Boris is focused on Brexit. He is happy to co-operate with anyone except for the EU.”

Chinese experts said the West isn’t able to sway China because of fundamental differences in their views. The West stresses political rights, while China emphasizes economic rights, said Yu Wanli, an international relations professor at Beijing Language and Culture University.

“It is not that China is trying to withstand pressure from the West, but it is that China’s own policies have achieved results,” Yu said. “China doesn’t need to care about pressure from the West.”

Stressing a legal and moral duty to its former colony, Britain on Wednesday announced it is extending residency rights for up to 3 million Hong Kongers eligible for British National Overseas passports, allowing them to live and work in the U.K. for five years. In Brussels, the European Parliament last month passed a resolution calling on the EU to consider taking Beijing to the International Court of Justice.

Reinhard Bu¨tikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for China relations, said lawmakers are considering other measures, such as a ban on exports of “technology utilized to oppress Hong Kong citizens.” Other options include a “lifeboat” offer for Hong Kong democracy activists, and pushing for the United Nations to appoint a special envoy to the city.

“The major burden is on the incoming German presidency to rally member states in following through in what they have indicated in the past, that this would not remain without consequences,” Bu¨tikofer said.

In the U.S., the Trump administration has said it will bar defence exports to Hong Kong, cancel policy exemptions that give Hong Kong special treatment, and impose visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party officials “responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Zhao, the foreign ministry spokesperson, said the U.S. will never succeed in blocking Hong Kong’s national security legislation through sanctions.

Wye, the Chatham House associate fellow, said the impact of such measures on China is likely to be marginal.

“I don’t think Beijing has anything particular to fear because the sanctions they’re talking about are mainly withdrawing special status in particular areas of Hong Kong and treating it more like the rest of China,” he said. “So the people likely to be hurt are Hong Kong businesses and Hong Kong people rather than Chinese businesses and the Chinese government.”

Sylvia Hui, The Associated Press

Hong Kong

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Community Christmas Eve Dinner cancelled

The 20th anniversary of the Community Christmas Eve dinner is cancelled amidst COVID-19 concerns

The consensus around the Sylvan Lake council chamber Wednesday was the town does not have the ability to properly enforce a proposed mandatory indoor mask bylaw. File Photo
Sylvan Lake town council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

Sylvan Lake RCMP are looking for the identity of the suspect who stole from over 40 resident mail boxes. (Photo Courtesy of Sylvan Lake RCMP)
Over 40 mailboxes broken into at Sylvan Lake apartment building

Sylvan Lake RCMP are investigating the incident and searching for the identity of the suspect

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week t

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

A teacher places the finishing touches on the welcome sign at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School which is part of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Hindsight 2020: How do you preserve a year many Canadians would rather forget?

Figuring out how to preserve the story of the pandemic poses a series of challenges

Most Read