The rebellion in Hong Kong and its geopolitical effects
The rebellion in Hong Kong is more complex and politically relevant than we may think, both nationally and internationally.
In the elections held on last September in the former British colony, as many as eight openly pro-independence representatives were elected who, at the first meeting, shouted hate phrases against the People’s Republic of China and expressed clear rejection of its specific sovereignty.
The “students” and the other participants in the protests immediately attacked police stations and then closed the main tunnel that connects the island of Hong Kong with the rest of the former British colony’s territory. Finally ,in Wanchai’s Golden Bauhinia Square – a magnet for tourists from other parts of China – they spray-painted palaces and a statue with provocative statements such as “Heaven will destroy the Communist Party” and “Liberate Hong Kong”.
The operation, organization, stability and continuity of the rebellion, as well as the control and cohesion of its ranks, the elimination of undercovers, the military quality of the “students’ operation”, the excellent publicity and recruitment ability make us think that this rebellion is so well organized that it certainly has points of reference, sponsors and supporters abroad.
Who? Certainly, the United States – with its foundations for the globalization of democracy – which thinks of exploiting Hong Kong to destabilize China, especially given the proximity of Shenzen, one of the largest developing areas of Chinese economy and technology that could easily be “infected” by the rebellion.
Certainly, China’s current dilemma about its next military reaction and its impact on the world public is already a serious damage to Chinese national and foreign policy.
The United States has every interest in causing at least China’s global defamation before and after the Hong Kong rebellion, precisely pending the clash over duties and tariffs for the import and export of Chinese goods.
There is also Taiwan that, thanks to the large echo of the Hong Kong rebellion, is trying to publicize its idea of independence from China, as well as of reaction against China’s latest adverse actions against the Nationalist Island.
The countries interested in the destabilization of the link between Hong Kong and China may also include Japan, which is interested in weakening the Chinese strategic projection eastwards, and finally even Britain which -fallen prey to the retro dream characterizing the current phase of Brexit – could think of recovering the old colony or even merely taking revenge against China.
It all began with a major demonstration in late April against the extradition bill, which facilitated the transfer from Hong Kong to mainland China of Chinese people found guilty according to local regulations, as well as of Chinese criminals who could be protected by Hong Kong’s autonomy.
The rebellion has already forced Carrie Lam, the current Chief Executive and President of Hong Kong’ Special Administrative Region, to drop the extradition bill. But now it is too late to stop the rebellion.
One of the protesters’ objectives is also to “raise awareness” among the many Chinese tourists of their demands and claims, which have been magnified by the current crisis of the local economy.
Also the choice of this type of propaganda makes us think of an influence by Westerners. Indeed, a not casual influence.
Certainly one of the rebellion goals is also the attempt to radicalize and destabilize the Chinese areas on the border with the former British colony, which is the reason why President Xi Jinping has created a “cordon sanitaire” for the news coming from Hong Kong.
The longer the rebellion lasts, the more the goal – rather unrealistic but rational, considering the current political equilibria – is precisely that of “infecting” the most modern and productive areas of Southern China.
Overseas and in Asia, there are those who dream of even “disintegrating China”, by stirring up the major minorities present in the People’s Republic of China, and by destabilizing the centres of greatest industrial concentration in the South, as well as by infecting the areas of most difficult communication with the political Centre and with Beijing.
Three concurrent and simultaneous projects for destabilizing China, which have already been underway for some time.
With or without the Hong Kong rebellion, which – in any case – is currently strategic for the splitting up of the People’s Republic of China.
Otherwise, those who oppose the growth of China as a great power may think about strengthening the Islamist insurgency in Xinjiang and in Tibet or triggering another insurgency by one of the 56 recognized minorities of the People’s Republic of China, namely the Miao, the Dong, the Yao or the Koreans.
This is what really lies behind the idea of the “Hong Kong Nation” that is spreading among the leaders of the current rebellion.
The independence issue, however, still accounts for 20-25% of voters in the old British colony – and all this has nothing to do with “nostalgia” for Great Britain.
Hong Kong is an area of great importance for China: since the British takeover of the island in 1977, Beijing has always privileged relations with the powerful financial and industrial elites of Hong Kong.
Exactly in the phase of the Four Modernizations, this enabled China to actually have one of the major financial hubs in the world.
Goodness knows how important this was for the further and subsequent growth of China.
But the former British promontory is very important also from the geopolitical viewpoint.
Indeed, it is the fifth most important port in the world.
For years China has already been implementing the “Great Bay” project that will unite Hong Kong with China, both in fact and in law.
Moreover, there is already the project of putting Hong Kong in communication with Macau and Zhihai, but the promontory is also already a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and will hence play a remarkable role in the New Silk Road.
It should also be recalled that when control over Hong Kong returned to China in 1977, under Deng Xiaoping, the leader of the Four Modernizations (and of the repression of Tiananmen Square), the former British colony accounted for over a quarter of the GDP of the entire People’s Republic of China.
Hence the issue was not only strictly economic, but also strategic in nature.
For President Xi Jinping, however, the main issue is to avoid – both in Hong Kong and in China – what now appears to be an obvious “colour revolution”, similar to the Georgian and Ukrainian ones, and to the various Arab Springs that spread the jihad to a large part of the Maghreb region.
Currently the dilemma for China is radical and very hard to solve.
Should it come to terms and – as some Chinese leaders are envisaging –accept to meet some demands from the Hong Kong insurgents who, however, deeply hate China?
Or should it do the same as in Tiananmen Square? A likely, but still dangerous option – mainly for its international effects.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam will probably be held in power by China to avoid a new “election” by the Hong Kong Election Committee, a body of 12,000 members in a city of over 7 million people.
Moreover, 1.3 million of them live in deep poverty but, for the time being, the “rebellion” is entirely organized by the middle class – like the European protests of 1968, the best operation of destabilization in recent history that has many fathers.
Nevertheless, unlike the European protests of 1968, the Hong Kong rebellion still lacks official leaders. While, at the same time as the democratic and pro-Western “rebellion” is developing, the pro-China insurgency tries to invade the streets against the struggle of the “autonomists”.
We should not forget this part of the issue either.
The maximum pressure of the “rebels” will certainly last until October 1, the day on which the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China is celebrated.
In my opinion, this seems to be the key date beyond which a Chinese intervention could have the greatest political and economic impact.
After all, there are two real reasons underlying the autonomist and anti-Chinese “rebellion” in the city-State: the clear mistrust vis-à-vis China, on the one hand, and, on the other, the total distrust also vis-à-vis the current government in Hong Kong which is still – almost more than the Chinese power – the current objective of the civil war now underway.
China could still separate the two objectives of the rebels, thus sparking off a crisis in the local government and then reacting militarily against the rest of the “students”.
The rebels are aged 25, on average, and are equally distributed by gender.
Most of them come from the educated middle class, especially the part that already votes for the “pan-democratic” parties, those that have long been opposing the pro-Chinese government in Hong Kong.
The rebels even accuse the poor population of supporting China. According to them, the poor are not “true Hongkongers” – and this says a lot about the social nature of the rebellion.
The “movement” is also very decentralized. It publishes good magazines and it is even said that its cameras frighten the police.
None of the local universities, however, officially supports the “rebellion”.
There is not yet workers’ clear solidarity for the “rebellion” – not even by the many migrant workers.
For the current rebels in Hong Kong, the word “democracy” does not concern the creation of an electoral system with universal suffrage that, indeed, already exists – albeit to a limited extent – but it is a sort of universal “system”, without repression, restrictions and controls – and hence it will be difficult to face similar demands by simply extending political representation.
However, most of the citizens living in the city-peninsula still do not support the rebels – not even superficially.
With specific reference to the international support for the rebellion, certainly the United States views it favourably, but we should also mention the now known direct commitment of the NGO National Endowment for Democracy, linked to the CIA, while the Chinese press underlines that the bill that triggered the revolt was inevitable, otherwise the already judged and convicted Chinese criminals could have fled to Hong Kong, thus becoming untouchable.
Furthermore, seventy NGOs have already signed an open letter to stop the extradition bill, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Red Cross International.
Too many not to think badly. Moreover, the rebels’ slogans and messages seem to be produced with purely Western techniques and methods.
Many of them are already written in English, instead of Chinese, and Hong Kong has always been one of the main places of CIA’s action against China.
Moreover, the aforementioned NGO, namely National Endowment for Democracy, already operates mainly through the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the Civic Party, the Labour Party and the Democratic Party of Hong Kong.
There is also the cryptocurrency created by an obscure supporter of the rebellion, who calls himself “Dr. Dragon”, who has recently devised a “coin” to be distributed among the rebels to encourage and fund their actions.
As already said, Taiwan is certainly endeavoring to influence the rebels in Hong Kong.
There is also the Chinese Triads’ presence during the repression of the rebellion in the various cities of Hong Kong.
The Triads are essential to understand the economy of both Hong Kong and Macau.
Hong Kong is the traditional home of China’s major criminal organizations.
For example, the 14K, Wo Shin Wo and Sun Yee On Triads are essential in the entire world crime economy.
There are over 50 minor Triads in Hong Kong. Every economic activity in the former British colony is subject to bribery.
The major legal and illegal activities controlled by the Triads are gambling, prostitution, drug trafficking and dealing, as well as the counterfeiting of all kinds of products, ranging from drugs to toys.
Nevertheless, there is an economic sector in Hong Kong that is almost entirely in the Triads’ hands, namely the movie industry – mainly the genre related to martial arts and pornography.
Probably it is not by chance that the “rebels” often quote the old films of Bruce Lee, who was born in San Francisco but died in Hong Kong, and was a decisive figure in the martial arts movie sector.
Macau is the world capital of gambling. The city has five times the players of Las Vegas.
Moreover, as is well known, gambling is the main channel for money laundering.
While in China and Hong Kong gambling is forbidden – at least officially – the huge crowd of Chinese players goes to Macau for gambling. Also 47% of government officials and executives of Chinese state-owned enterprises go there for gambling and this allows to possibly blackmail a significant number of Chinese (and Hong Kong) bureaucrats.
However, there are also strong ties between the Triads and the Chinese government.
The activity of finding important civilian and military technologies is often “commissioned” to the Triads by the Department of the Chinese Intelligence Services, namely the Guoangbu.
The Chinese espionage relating to the World Trade Organization (WTO) is often carried out by the Sun Ye On Triad.
As part of the mutual assistance relations with the Chinese government, the Triads control and repress much of the petty crime in both China and Hong Kong.
Therefore, in all likelihood, there will also be the collaboration of some Triads in the future Chinese repression of the “rebellion” in Hong Kong.
China’s Game in the Arctic: A Tale of Deception?
In the past years, the Arctic has been drawing attention for the economic, strategic, and geopolitical implications that are deriving from its exposure to increasing temperatures. As the thawing of its ice cap, increase in sea levels and loss of ice gives rise to environmental concerns, this scenario has opened the door to both, new opportunities and tensions. The region that proved to be of tremendous importance throughout the Cold War, serving as a frontier between the Soviet Union and NATO and becoming one of the most militarized regions of the world (Huebert, 2019, p. 2), is remerging as a strategic trigger point. On the one hand, its untapped natural resources make it appealing for geopolitical and economic reasons. The presence of non-combustible minerals, industrial resources and the sea lanes of communication (SLOCS) that surround the region, together with the improved conditions for its extraction have caught the attention of neighboring States (Sharma, 2021). In fact, the projected volume of the Arctic’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves is believed to amount to 22% of the world’s undiscovered resources that can be harvested with the existing technology (Turunen, 2019). Thus, the access to these resources has the potential to ensure energy security for those States with legitimacy for its exploitation. On the other hand, the current climatic conditions have cleared the way for new navigational routes in the region. Whereas maritime routes such as the Northwest Passage (NWP) and the Northern Sea Route (NSR) are only operational for few months of the year, researchers have estimated that by 2040-2059 they might be free from Arctic ice (Smith & Stephenson, 2013). Hence, the commercial viability of the, so called, “polar Mediterranean” (Roucek, 1983) can minimize by almost a half the shipping time and maritime distance travelled between East Asia and Western Europe via the Panama or Suez Canals (Herrmann, 2019).
In this power play, with the Arctic attracting the attention of States that are quite far from the region, tensions regarding its governance are surfacing. Differently to what happens with Antarctica, the Artic is not a global common and no treaty regulates its legal framework. Aiming to ensure their claim over the region, the original Arctic Five (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) issued the Ilulissat Declaration, which reiterated their sovereign rights and jurisdiction over large areas of the Arctic Ocean (Sharma, 2021). This gave rise to questions concerning the rights left to non-Arctic nations to influence the region. Whistle this question remains unanswered, China is creeping into the region.
Since the Asian country conducted its first Arctic expedition, in 1999, and built its first research base, known as the “Yellow River Station” in 2004, it has progressively increased its investment (Lean, 2020). Nevertheless, from 2010 onwards, its pursue to be acknowledged as an Arctic stakeholder placed the region high in its foreign policy agenda. In 2013, its strategy began to pave the way for its endeavor and the PRC went from being a peripheral partner to being granted observer status in the Arctic Council (Chater, 2021). Little after, in 2018, Beijing published a white paper titled “China’s Arctic Policy” wherein it is described as a “near-Arctic state”, marking the first steps of its statecraft efforts to shape the region to its advantage (Lean, 2020). Thereafter, Beijing’s policy towards the Arctic is based on multilateral alliances and win-win gains between the players involved, which could eventually support China’s claim overt its legitimate presence in the region (Hossein, 2019, p. 4). In this regard, the State’s involvement in the Arctic has been directed at expanding its footprint in the economic and scientific fields. Pertaining to the former, in 2013 “MV Yong Sheng”, a Chinese commercial ship embarked on the first trip from a Chinese port to Rotterdam via the NSR (Jian, Thor & Tillman, 2018, p. 347). Ever since, Russia and China have collaborated closely to benefit from the melting of the Arctic and establish a safe and commercially viable transport corridor through the NSR (Lean, 2020). These ambitions were crystallized with the release of China’s “Vision for Maritime Cooperation Under the Belt and Road Initiative” in 2017, thereby reaffirming its desire to extend the BRI to the Arctic so as to connect Europe and Asia trough what was labelled as the “Polar Silk Road” (Manenti, 2017). Arctic shipping routes are estimated to be 40% cheaper than traditional ones (Baldassarri, 2014) and bearing in mind that the Asian country executes 90% of its trade through maritime transport, the advantage is considerable (Hossein, 2019, p. 4). Moreover, the diversification of routes might bring an end to China’s “Malacca Dilemma”. This refers to the vulnerability to a naval blockade and the lack of alternatives that China has to endure as consequence of the deteriorating relations with India and the power that the US Navy exerts over the Strait of Malacca, which currently accounts for 80% of its trade with Europe (Paszak, 2021). Similarly, China’s scientific research and cooperation with Arctic countries is a core component of its policy towards the region. Seeking to strengthen its legal right to expand its role and access to the Arctic, Beijing has resorted to science diplomacy (Sharma, 2021). Since purchasing the Xuelong icebreaker in 1993, the PRC has conducted more than 12 expeditions (Xinhua, 2021) and has strengthened the maintenance and construction of research, ice and satellite stations, vessels, icebreakers and other supporting platforms in the region. However, there might be more to it than scientific research.
The belief among Chinese strategists and scholars that the US is using the Arctic as a, yet another, front in its anti-China containment and concerns over the increasing security competition make China’s scientific interest in the region something that seizes no small amount of attention. Thereafter, while Chinese expeditions might be disguised as purely civilian research, a closer scrutiny reveals the dual implications (civilian and military) of most of its research programs (Lean, 2020). As an example, the People’s Liberation Army Navy decision to dispatch vessels to Arctic and US waters, including a fleet oiler, surface combatants, amphibious warships and a guided-missile destroyer and frigate, among others, together with the recourse to polar-orbiting military satellites, fails to justify their supposedly “purely civilian aspirations” (Dale-Huang, Doshi & Zhang, 2021, p. 29). In a similar manner, the testing and deployment of dual-use assets such as underwater robots, buoys for monitoring air-sea interactions, cloud-based online platforms, autonomous underwater glider and polar fixed-wing aircrafts evidence how Beijing is working towards its autonomy from foreign satellites and stations for Arctic data (Lean, 2020). What’s more, there are signs that herald China’s desire to invest in nuclear-powered icebreakers, which could ultimately lead to the transfer of that technology to military vessels (Dale-Huang, Doshi & Zhang, 2021, p. 30). Thus, the ongoing “weaponization of science” by the PRC has raised the alarms among Arctic littorals which have condemned the dual purpose of its activities (Buchanan & Glaser, 2022).
At this point, the question of whether Chinese ulterior motives for accessing the Arctic are realistic and attainable might come up. In this regard, everything seems to suggest that Beijing’s interests in the region are likely long-term. It is important to bear in mind that the Arctic is not the South China Sea, its number one priority together with Taiwan, with which the PCR has historic ties and is exercising a more aggressive policy. Moreover, the aftermath of the covid pandemic and its economic headwinds have slowed down operations in the region. Nonetheless, China still wants a seat at the table in deciding the Arctic’s future and, therefore, is expected to persist with its pursue of dual-use scientific research and protection of commercial interests. In fact, part of its strategy might be to quietly keep on establishing itself as a near-Arctic state, similarly to what it first did to advance its territorial ambitions towards the South China Sea (Grady, 2022). In the midst of the increasing tensions between Beijing and its Western counterparts the future of its Arctic agenda will presumably become “ever more salient to the future of trade, sustainable development, and international security” (Buchanan & Glaser, 2022). As a matter of fact, the best example of the seriousness with which major players in the region are reacting to China’s advance in the Arctic is found in the shift of the US Arctic policy. The new strategy released in October 2022, which complements NATOS’s, calls for the enhancement of military exercises, the expansion of the US’ military presence in Alaska and NATO States and the compromise to rebuild its icebreaking fleet (Grady, 2022). Few months later, in February 2023, US-led military exercises in the Arctic, hosted by Norway and Finland, brought together more than 10,000 military personnel from the UK, US, Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Finland (Bridenthal, 2023). Likewise, Denmark, owing to what the country’s Foreign Policy has described as “a new geopolitical battlefield”, has reviewed its security policy, increasing its military budget with the “Arctic capacity package” aimed at intensifying surveillance with radar, drones and satellites (Grady, 2022). In this increasingly assertive scenario, that resembles that of the Cold War, the Arctic is swiftly emerging as a region of militarized power politics.
China’s Ascendancy and its Influence on Global Structure
The rise of China is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most significant geopolitical movements that have emerged in the twenty-first century. This transformation of a civilization that was mostly agricultural into a worldwide economic powerhouse has had a great impact on the existing order of the international system, with repercussions extending from the economic sphere into the geopolitical sphere as well as the cultural sphere.
As a direct consequence of China’s progress, the global economic environment has been subjected to a fundamental adjustment. As a result of its fast industrialization and vast population, it has established itself as the world’s leading exporter and the world’s second-largest importer. China has been able to exercise a significant amount of influence on global trade and financial institutions as a result of its size and economic weight. As a result, China is often in a position to dictate the terms of trade agreement conditions and decide the course of global economic policy. In addition, China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to build a modern-day Silk Road by creating land and sea trade links between Asia, Africa, and Europe, implies that Beijing plans to strengthen its economic domination worldwide. The Belt and Road Initiative aspires to create a modern-day Silk Road by constructing trade connections between Asia, Africa, and Europe.
The growth of China has caused a shift in the geopolitical balance of power, which has the effect of challenging the United States’ long-standing hegemonic position. As a consequence of China’s substantial investments in the advancement of its military technology and capabilities, other strong nations are worried about the nation’s intentions. Its belligerent stance in border conflicts, particularly those in the South China Sea, is a sign of the country’s rising military confidence. As China takes on more responsibilities inside international bodies and creates strategic relationships, especially with undeveloped governments, its diplomatic power has been growing at an impressive pace.
The emergence of China has also had a substantial effect on the country’s cultural traditions. The media, the language, and the culture of China are now having an outsized impact on other parts of the world. One indication of this cultural diffusion is the proliferation of Confucius Institutes, which are institutions committed to promoting the development of Chinese language and culture. This cultural impact is shown by the growing popularity of Chinese literature, cinema, and food on a worldwide scale.
Nevertheless, issues have been brought to light as a result of China’s ascent. Concerns have been raised over China’s compliance with democratic values, human rights, and international agreements, as well as concerns regarding China’s intention to overtake the United States as the leading superpower in the world.
As a result of China’s ascent to power, there are a few potential outcomes for the direction of the existing order in the world:
The United States and China would work together to maintain the existing order in the world and develop satisfactory solutions to the many urgent problems facing the planet in this potential outcome. The stability of the globe might be preserved by doing this, despite the fact that it would require considerable sacrifices on both sides.
Competition between the United States and China: If these two countries were to have a conflict, it would be much like the cold war all over again. Unpredictability and instability are some outcomes that might occur from such an event.
If China were to take over from the United States as the dominant force in the world, the existing system of international relations would experience profound upheaval. Even while it is hard to foresee the consequences of this scenario, there would unquestionably be enormous shifts in the power relations that exist on a worldwide scale.
The emergence of China has unquestionably had an effect on the rest of the world, notwithstanding the unpredictability that surrounds the country’s future prospects. As a result, it is of the utmost importance for countries all over the globe to devise strategies that will enable them to navigate this turbulent terrain with composure and success, so assuring a future that is both wealthy and secure for everyone.
China Expands its Reach to Europe and Africa
For decades, Iran was firmly within the US ambit, but then came the revolution. The Shah, whose family had ruled for over half a century, fled abroad. And following a failed attempt at parliamentary democracy, the Iran Revolutionary Guards led by their cleric masters took over.
While there are elections now and an elected government, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sets the broad outlines of domestic and foreign policy. He also controls the judiciary and is head of the armed forces.
At present, Iran is further strengthening its ties with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) through its observer status with a view presumably to eventual full membership. The SCO embraces almost all of Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and Sri Lanka. It is a vast bloc including the two largest developing economies in the world.
Japan and Taiwan have already expressed their trepidations at China exercising muscle along its littoral regions and the coastal islands down to the Philippines. Their principal concern is for the shipping lanes up which tankers bring fossil fuels to them from the Middle East.
There appears to be no concerted US policy to deal with these issues other than random acts of petulance. Thus the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines exposed by the investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. It thwarted Germany’s desire for cheap Russian gas transported under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany. The result was a point or two drop in German GDP as it scurried to buy liquefied gas from the global market including the US.
If earlier, it had acquired half of its gas from Russia and a third of its oil,the invasion of Ukraine accelerated a move away from Russia. However, everyone is quite aware that when the Ukraine problem dies down, the gas and oil will still be in Russia as will Europe’s hunger for them and the added attraction of low prices. The multiplicity of routes including one via Turkey just across the Black Sea — more than one way to skin a cat as that awful expression goes — add to the temptations.
After all that has happened, is it any wonder Putin gave up on an impotent Europe and went east. So it is that China’s ravenous demand for energy in a fast-growing economy is to be supplied by its neighbor Russia.
China is also constructing roads (the Belt and Road Initiative) along Pakistan’s spine to its newly built (by China) port of Gwadar. It provides a direct road link from China. Of course, Pakistan is an old trusted friend and now dependent ally.
From Gwadar, the Gulf and the Gulf States are a stone’s throw away, and Africa just a hop, skip and a jump. China has been investing in Africa for quite some time and its entrepreneurs have been independently starting businesses there. Now travel just became that much easier — just a two to three day drive instead of the circuitous route across the Indian Ocean and up the Pacific coast.
Who wins? Who loses? It should not be difficult to discern.
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