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Why is Hong Kong so important to China—power, profits or prestige?

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]ince the handover of Hong Kong from British rule back to China in 1997, the central government in Beijing has granted the city the special status in terms of the “special administrative region” (HKSAR). According to the principle of “One country, two systems” that was initiated in the 1980s by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiao-ping, Hong Kong was allowed to “enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defense affairs” for the next 50 years.

This means HKSAR has its own legal system, multiple political parties and its mini-constitution to enshrine the basic civil rights in terms of the democratic procedures of the West. Considering the stark contrasts between the mainland China and Hong Kong in the 1980s, this is truly an innovative idea and daring practice. Otherwise, the unconditional handover of Hong Kong back to China would not be so smooth and the governing of the former colony by Beijing would not be so successful. Here the question arises why Hong Kong is so important to China which has been seen as a rising power with an ambition likely to end the hegemony of the United States?

Frankly speaking, now Hong Kong has become one of highly competitive global trading and financial hubs primarily during the past two decades. As a former British colony, it had laid down the sound legal and financial systems, yet all its current economic, technological and social weights have been resulted in China’s reform & openness initiated in the 1980s. As former U. S. Consulate General Burton Levin said in 1994, “Under British ruling for 155 years, Hong Kong had enjoyed full freedom of speech and religions but never democracy.” Especially to the people of China, Hong Kong is more than a colony but a bitter memory of “the century shame of the ancient country”.

Yet, in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded, the government in Beijing did not retake Hong Kong back immediately. Even during the cold war, Britain was the first major power of the West recognizing the P.R.C. as the legitimate government of China in 1950 and posted a chargé d’affaires ad interim in Beijing from 1954 until 1972 when China accords full recognition to HMG, permitting the exchange of ambassadors. Considering the severe sanctions imposed by the United States against China of that time, Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai not only facilitated the Sino-British trade committee as semi-official trade body (later merged with the Group of 48), but also made HK as the key “window” to the outside world. Under the circumstances, Hong Kong did serve as a channel to help China obtaining various technologies, economic items and foreign currencies, which were so invaluable to China for it was eager to develop but was isolated by the US-led Coordinating Committee for Export to Communist Countries. The hidden role of Hong Kong as a “window” was not finished until 1972 when the Sino-United States’ rapprochement was made in light of the realpolitique of the world affairs.

When China started the reform and openness in the late 1970s, Hong Kong had also changed impressively in terms of garments industries, public housing program and general living standard. For sure, this rapid industrialization was driven by textile exports, low-cost manufacturing items and re-exports of good to China. In addition, efforts were made during the 1970s—1980s with the view to improving the public services, environment, social welfare and infrastructure, which in turn laid the foundation for Hong Kong to establish itself as the first of the “four Asian tiger economies”. Due to this, Hong Kong naturally came to be the vital gateway for mainland China to draw relatively competitive manufacturing know-how, financial management, and foreign direct investment into the economic areas in southern China which were opened up to foreign businesses. This is not one-way benefit since Hong Kong needed to transfer its low-skilled and massive-labor industries to China. Under the win-win formula, Hong Kong has developed itself as a global financial center along with London and New York city, a regional hub for logistics and freight, one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia and the exemplar of laissez-faire market policy globally.

However, in retrospective, people in Hong Kong and the British public as well have always reviewed the past two decades with obvious ambiguous sentiments. Back then in 1997, cosmopolitan and glittering HK city served as China’s gateway to its future dream and many believed it would stay that way for years to come. Fast forward 20 years, it is no longer the only jewel in China’s crown, with cities such as Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou becoming financial and technological innovative powerhouses. As HK politician Martin Lee observed, “I couldn’t have thought that China’s economy would develop so quickly … and Hong Kong’s bargaining power would diminish so fast.”

Would Hong Kong remain China’s golden goose in the next decades? The answer seems to be given by Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 30 during his three-day visit to Hong Kong for the historic anniversary of the handover of HK from British rule back to China in 1997. In a brief speech at the airport, Xi reaffirmed that Beijing’s central government “has always been a patron of Hong Kong, and will as always support HK’s economic development and improvement of people’s welfare.” Looking forward into the next 30 years, he promised that Beijing was to work with all sectors of Hong Kong’s society in maintaining its extraordinary achievements of the past decades and would ensure “one country, two systems” moving forward in light of social stability in Hong Kong.

No doubts, Hong Kong will act as the key player in China’s century project of “the Belt and Road Initiative”. The reasons behind are as follows, since its return to China, Hong Kong has kept its distinct features and strengths, including its vibrant metropolis where the East meets the West remains as strong as ever. For example, Hong Kong’s leverages are its knowledge of finance management, global trade and technologies innovativeness, the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Renminbi internationalization and other major development strategies, which are all important to “the Belt and Road Initiative”. As China has entered the final stage to realize its national goal as a global power, development is both the top priority and an abiding pursuit. As a result, it is crucial not only for Hong Kong’s survival but also provides an invaluable opportunity and an inexhaustible source of strengths and broad space for it to address prominent economic and livelihood issues that people are concerned with. To that end, the new Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor vowed that HKSAR takes all necessary measures to enforce the principle of “one country, two systems”.

Pragmatically speaking, as the Chinese Government Work Report in 2016 explicitly stated, Hong Kong and Macao are expected to play their roles in China’s economic development and especially in “the Belt and Road Initiative”. Thus, the framework agreement on closer cooperation between the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and Macao aims to draw up a development plan for a city cluster in the Pearl River Delta that gives full play to the distinctive strengths of each side. Or simply put it, with relatively higher market sophistication, the advantage of “one country, two systems”, and competitiveness in building up clusters of production and industries, the economic aggregate of the Greater Bay Area in the Pearl River Delta is poised to exceed the bay area of Tokyo to become the world’s largest economic cluster area by 2025.

In closing, despite a growing sense of local identity and even a clear anti- Chinese sentiment among the post-1997 generation, most people in HK admit that in the next 20-30 years, thing are going to change. They have the bridges between Hong Kong, Macau and the cities in China, and they have high-speed rail as well. These infrastructures will change Hong Kong and eventually the borders will become seamless. As a result, “Hong Kong will integrate more in China, whether we like it or not.” These words were confided by a HK business magnate Allen Zeman. What he said is not exaggerated, yet he still missed the point, that is, the central government in Beijing allows no one to interfere with the Hong Kong’s business and to deviate from the official line of the principle of “one country, two systems”.

Wang Li is Professor of International Relations and Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China.

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East Asia

The Xinjiang-Uyghur issue

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In late March the United States, Canada, the UK and the EU took a concerted action to announce sanctions over human rights violations against the Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang-Uyghur by the Chinese government.

This is the first time since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989 that the EU and the UK have imposed sanctions on China over human rights issues.

Furthermore, Australia and New Zealand also issued statements expressing support for joint U.S. and EU sanctions against China. U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken stated: “The joint transatlantic operation sends a strong signal to those who violate or trample on international human rights”.

This joint operation is clearly part of a concerted U.S. effort to work with its Western allies against China through diplomatic actions.

After gruelling wars in Korea and Vietnam and later in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria,we wonder:

1) why do we want to open another front to export democracy with bombs?

2) Why has the Xinjiang-Uyghur issue become a deadly matter that brings the United States and its allies together to impose sanctions on China, while ignoring the barbaric behaviours codified by the backward-looking, but allied Gulf monarchies?

3) Why is the Xinjiang-Uyghur issue attracting increasing attention from the international community?

4) Why does the United States use the Xinjiang-Uyghur human rights issues to shape a diplomatic action with Western allies against China and forget about the black people being murdered on the streets at home?

Let us try to better understand the situation.

The strategic importance of Xinjiang-Uyhgur for China is similar to Tibet’s (Xizang). The Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region is the largest provincial unit in China. It covers one-sixth of China’s territory and borders on Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It can be used as a base by China to influence its neighbours. However, Xinjiang-Uygur can be used as a bridgehead by external powers to threaten China’s territorial integrity.

Like Tibet (Xizang), Xinjiang-Uyghur also has immense economic value in terms of oil and gas resources, and it can also be used as a channel to import energy from Kazakhstan. It is also a site for Chinese nuclear weapons and missile tests.

This area has traditionally been under the influence of various forces that have been claiming these territories. For thousands of years, the deserts and mountains of Xinjiang-Uygur were crossed by merchants. Peoples and armies passed through it continuously, sometimes forming alliances with the Middle Empire, sometimes to free themselves from the Emperor’s influence, only to fall into worse hands.

The Chinese who started to travel there before the 19th century met Persians and Muslims, most of whom were Turkish-speaking. It is not for nothing that the other name of the territory is East Turkestan.

The region was not fully incorporated into the Chinese administrative system until 1884, when it was divided into province and called Xinjiang, meaning “new frontier”. China’s control, however, was fragile and, when China’s presence was still at a minimum in 1944, the local population announced the establishment of a short-lived republic called East Turkestan, backed by the Soviet Union led by Stalin, who – like the United States today – wanted it to fall within his sphere of influence.

However, as Stalin was a great statesman and not just a parvenu, with the birth of the People’s Republic of China, the Georgian leader agreed that the territory be reintegrated into the Middle Empire as the Xinjiang-Uyghur Autonomous Region.

With a view to strengthening administrative and political control in the autonomous region, the People’s Republic of China used the same methods in other surrounding areas: immigration development, trade, cultural assimilation, administrative integration and international isolation.

As early as the mid-18th century, the Qing government had created a national industry near the capital Ürümqi. In the 19th century, Chinese merchants arrived in large numbers. After 1949, the People’s Republic of China placed the autonomous region under a national plan designed to orient and direct local trade towards China’s internal economy, banning border trade and people movements that were widespread in the past between borders that at the time were undefined and misgoverned.

In 1954 China established the Xinjiang-Uyghur Semi-Military Production and Construction Corps to transfer demobilised officers and soldiers, as well as other Chinese immigrants, to industries, mines and enterprises. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, thousands of middle school graduates were delegated to perform tasks in Xinjiang-Uyghur from various cities in China, especially Shanghai, and most of them lived in farms. I remember the great enthusiasm of some major European parties at this news: the same parties that, having changed their names, are today shedding “the bitter tears of Petra von Kant” along with Biden.

In the 2010 census – according to official statistics – out of 21,815,815 inhabitants, 45.4% were Uyghurs and 40.48% Chinese, although the real number could be even higher. The many officially recognised ethnic minorities included Kazakhs and Muslims of Chinese ethnicity.

In the decades prior to 1980, Xinjiang-Uygur developed slowly because of its bordering on the then hostile post-1960 Soviet Union, and because of its rugged and considerable distance from other parts of China. However, when Deng Xiaoping implemented reforms in the 1980s, China’s development policy created demand for Xinjiang-Uyghur’s coal, oil and gas resources, thus making the local area one of China’s largest producers of fossil fuels.

In the 1990s, China began building oil pipelines to transport oil from the far West to the mainland market. In 2001, China announced a “Western development” policy to fully exploit Xinjiang-Uyghur’s resources. The central government invested billions of dollars to build infrastructure and create political incentives to attract national and foreign companies.

This has meant that the country has increased its per capita GDP, as well as raised the education level. China has also modernised its society and this has made it unpopular with those fundamentalist Muslims who, boiling with terrorist rage, are now calling for help from those who initially funded ISIS to bring the secular Syrian government down, under the slogan “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

For most of the Maoist era, the Uyghurs, as well as the less numerous Kazakhs, Kyrgyz and other ethnic minorities, were forced to give up Islam, learn Chinese and relinquish their traditional customs and habits. All this much to the delight of the then epicurean and atheist West, which has always despised faith: a further element of contrast that later materialized on the part of fundamentalists.

As in Tibet (Xizang), the most traditionalist Uyghurs believe that their land has been invaded by Chinese immigrants and their lives are overwhelmed by a “Western” style imposed authoritatively from outside: a pretext that President Erdoğan has been the first to exploit, not failing to include it in his Panturanist conception.

In fact, after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Turkic and immigrant Uyghur communities in the three new neighbouring States of Central Asia, namely Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, experienced a cultural and religious revival, thus creating a new sense of hope and power among the Uyghurs in Xinjiang-Uyghur.

From the 1980s to 2001, demonstrations, riots, occasional murders and terrorist attacks occurred with increasing frequency. The Chinese government claims that the criminals’ goal is 1) to separate Xinjiang-Uyghur from China, and 2) that the Uyghur separatists are terrorists connected to al-Qaeda.

All these accusations are controversial, because most Uyghurs – either secular or moderate Sunni Muslims – have not created a resistance movement at all, as the Uyghur society is not integrated around specific Islamist parameters.

Many incidents seem to have various and sometimes personal causes, and often result in casualties. But, in any case, the authorities have launched a series of strict public order campaigns, fearing that even the slightest sign of dissent, such as a demonstration, a parade, a march, a gunfight with the police, will be amplified by the usual media to pave the way for a bloody local civil conflict, which – unlike the Syrian one – could turn into the Third and Last World War.

All this would certainly not be triggered to protect some fundamentalist Muslims in defence of human rights. The causes are always the same.

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Chinese Foreign Policy in a Global Perspective

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Foreign policy plays a fundamental role in state security and government’s decision-making. It is the pivotal factor for political stability of a nation, its economic affairs as well as the relations with other states. It is necessary for the development of a nation or a region to resolve the disputes with their neighbors. International disputes have frequently been given a fair chance with dialogue between the warring parties. Different states can coexist with friendly neighbor resulting in greater benefit for the people of the country. It brings peace and stability in the region as a byproduct. For the progress of humanity, peace is an essential element. To avoid war and hostility, an element of understanding and mutual survival should be established among the states. Hence, the concerned states will learn to co-exist peacefully.

Since its independence, China has pursued a focused approach towards attaining financial progress. Diplomatic policy of China has been directed towards its economic prosperity and political independence of the Chinese nation. Initially it was an isolated nation with introspective policies. Its national policy characteristics included peaceful co-existence between nations, mutual interdependence, regional supremacy, autonomy, national safety and avoidance of conflicts with other states and nations. Hence China developed regional influence and stability and developed good relations internationally and globally. China wanted to protect its territorial autonomy and sovereignty of other regional nations as well. Hence it soon emerged as a powerful nation both militarily and economically.

China continued working on a deliberate path of stable and good relations with other countries globally. The role of leaders and government in the foreign affairs under Xi-Jinping’s leadership catapulted the Chinese national and foreign policy to new heights. This charismatic leadership brought constructive changes in the internal governance and matters of foreign involvement with other nations. He emphasized the importance of military and during his governance astounding improvement in foreign and regional stability was observed.  The internal stability of Chinese national policy was soon reflected on the international podium. Its economic prosperity increased astronomically under the vigilant governance of the leader of China’s political party. China rose peacefully and gained regional, economic, and political stability. China is today considered as a world-wide power because of its stable national policy. It has observed a radical development in geo-politics. Why has the significance of Chinese nation increased in the international community?

China and Pakistan have enjoyed friendly relations with each other for decades. Gwadar port will become a doorway for business, commerce, collaboration, coordination and development between these two neighbours. It does not only affect China and Pakistan’s economic prosperity but the prosperity of South Asia and beyond. China has achieved worldwide recognition as an economic might with powerful impact on economy, geography and strategy of the region. The port has worldwide implications, whether related to economy, trade or commercial activities.

The dimension of foreign policy has evolved with the pace of time. The relations between China and United States of America are complicated. Both nations have difference of opinion regarding vital concerns of the state, political practices, administration, diplomatic policies and commercial productivity. Both nations consider different notions regarding the concept of civil rights. President Donald Trump has recognized China as an adversary for the United States of America. According to his beliefs, China abhors the ethics and principles of America causing a destabilizing effect in South-China Sea region.

China has undertaken military action in the South China Sea and has carried naval exercises in the area. However, United States the opponent of China says that economic prosperity could be affected because of the Chinese presence in the region. Under international regulations, overseas armed forces are not able to control surveillance activities including inspection and scrutiny of the vessels, in its industrial zone. However, China remains unsuccessful to resolve this clash by diplomatic ways. This would result in de-stabilizing the South-China Sea region. Conflict between Philippines and China may rise as a consequence of American backing. To further its economical and safety concerns, United States has laid down bold claims regarding China’s occupation of  territory and land in the South China Sea. On the other hand, Japan has sold naval ships to Philippines and Vietnam to enhance their naval protection and discourage Chinese hostility.The relationship between India and China is of worldwide significance. India is a prospering nation in the South Asian region. India perceives China as a militant anathema. China can hamper India’s progress in economical prosperity and can shackle India’s image internationally. Another challenge for India is the Pakistan-China relations. China’s influence can be spread globally which could be inimical to India’s scrutiny. China’s dominance, geographical vicinity and strategies depict an image of instability to India’s national  and international interests. India cannot protect its interests and has to make crucial strategic decisions. However if India makes United States it will be able to protect its national interests. India has to overcome many challenges and hurdles as China has dominant influence over the South-Asian region and beyond. Asia’s old opponents China and India are now engaging in a race to initiate maritime assets and to gain influence over each other. India’s wants China to behave according to international regulations. To respect territorial righteousness, and thoughtfulness for all nations irrespective of their magnitude. Both China and India will continue to hustle over the South Asian region, its territory and resources.

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Exploring China’s National Salvation in the 1911 Revolution

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The 1911 Revolution, also known as the Chinese Revolution or the Xinhai Revolution, brought an end to China's last imperial dynasty, the Manchu-led Qing dynasty, and resulted in the creation of the Republic of China on January 1, 1912. (photo from baidu)

When the First Opium War broke out in 1840, China became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal nation ruled by foreign powers. The final years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which saw the demise of the imperial regime, were marked by degradation and incompetence; the people were thrown into disorder, and the Chinese nation was plunged into a pit of misery.

During those dark ages, it became clear that the Chinese people would have to overturn feudal autocratic rule and undergo profound social reform in order to gain national freedom. More than a century ago, Revolutionary Party members led by Sun Yat-sen launched the 1911 Revolution, shocking the world and causing unprecedented social change in China.

While living in exile in Honolulu in November 1894, Sun Yat-sen, the father of the Modern China, founded the Xingzhonghui (Society for China’s Regeneration), clearly proposing the first program for a Chinese democratic revolution. Between 1895 and 1911, the Xingzhonghui and Tongmenghui (Chinese Revolutionary League) launched ten uprisings. The Restoration Society also instigated several uprisings across China, sowing the seeds of revolution.

Sun Yat-sen proposed a political program based on the Three People’s Principles: nationalism, democracy, and people’s livehood. A large number of revolutionaries and patriots gathered under his leadership to revitalize China and spread revolutionary ideas. This active progressive wave provided a significant impetus to the formation trends.

On October 10, 1911, gunfire signaled the start of the Revolution of 1911 in Wuchang, Central China, which became known as the “Wuchang Uprising”; other provinces responded, and within a month, 15 had declared their independence. The Republic of China was formally established on January 1, 1912, ending a monarchy that had existed in China for over 2,000 years.

The 1911 Revolution, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty, lasted more than 260 years. It was also a democratic revolution that occurred against the backdrop of an increasingly decaying Qing Dynasty, deepening imperialist aggression, and the early rise of Chinese nationalism. Its goal was to overthrow the Qing Dynasty’s despotic rule, save the nation from danger, and strive for national independence, democracy, and prosperity.

With its new politics and ideology, the 1911 Revolution provided a liberation mechanism for the Chinese people that should not be underestimated. It instilled in people a strong sense of democracy and republicanism. Anti-imperialist and anti-feudal struggles intensified, with the 1911 Revolution serving as a new starting point. By overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, it spread the concept of democracy and promoted social changes in modern China by leveraging its massive shock power and profound influence.

However, due to the constraints imposed by historical processes and social conditions, it was unable to change the social nature of semi-colonialism and people’s miserable situation, nor achieve national independence and people’s liberation. It did, however, pioneer a full-fledged national democratic revolution, vigorously promoted the ideological emancipation of the Chinese nation, laid the groundwork for China’s progress, and explored the path for its future development.

Sun Yat-sen had a charismatic personality, a singular commitment to power, and a knowledge of the West unparalleled by any of his political rivals, which distinguished him and made him an icon of Chinese modernization. He was appropriately dubbed a “revolutionary pioneer” by the Chinese Communists.

This is a great historical process of exploring and realizing national independence, as well as the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, which has emerged after many ups and downs and various vicissitudes.

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