Hong Kong is no longer what it was known for a few years back. The Chinese Communist Party continues to dismantle the city’s democratic ethos, the latest being the drama of Legislative Council polls. Beijing has also managed to erase its bloody past from public memory.
A week ago, on December 19, the people of Hong Kong went to polls to elect the members of its highest law-making body, the Legislative Council (LegCo) for the first time since the imposition of the controversial national security law in June, last year.
However, it was not a real ‘election’ in any sense of the term, as the candidates were ‘screened’ by the Chinese government in Beijing to clear the “patriotism test” before being declared eligible to run, according to a resolution passed by China’s rubber-stamp parliament known as the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March, this year.
The record-low 30.2 per cent turnout was the lowest since the UK returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997 under the promise of the policy of ‘one country, two systems’. The turnout in the previous LegCo election in 2016 was 58 per cent, while the second-lowest turnout was 43.6 per cent in 2000.
The division of seats in the LegCo
The current electoral overhaul, as envisioned in the March 2021 NPC resolution, included the expansion of LegCo seats from 70 to 90. Among these seats, 40 are filled in by the pro-Beijing Election Committee, consisting of 1500 members (risen from previously 1200), which until now only elected the city’s top-most official, the Chief Executive.
Only 20 seats are directly elected by the people of the city from geographical constituencies (reduced from previously 35). The remaining 30 seats are functional constituencies representing various sectors such as labour, trade, banking and so on.
Beijing’s terms set the electoral stage in Hong Kong
Anyone wanting to be a member of the LegCo or the Election Committee or even a candidate for the office of the Chief Executive will be vetted by a separate so-called ‘screening committee’. This is envisioned to bar anyone deemed as being critical of the CCP-led government in Beijing. Thus, the character of LegCo itself is being subjected to alterations, thereby diluting the influence of directly-elected members of the Council.
Only three of the 153 candidates contesting the polls have openly identified as ‘pro-democracy’, symbolizing the birth of a new political culture in the city, regulated under the authoritarian grip of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As expected, when the results were out, almost half of the seats went to candidates picked by the pro-Beijing Election Committee.
The latest in a series of crackdown attempts
Most of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy leaders and activists are now either in jail or in exile and journalists silenced. Calls to boycott the election or to leave the ballots blank as a form of registering protest were met with arbitrary arrests and detention. The national security law has been used to systematically target democratic aspirations and voices of dissent in the city.
In the last one decade, Beijing has been undertaking a series of interventions to undermine Hong Kong’s Special Administrative Region (SAR) status and its democratic character different from the mainland, as envisioned in the Basic Law that functions as a mini-Constitution of the city, which is in effect since July 1997.
A Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 guaranteed that Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs for 50 years from 1997, i.e., up to 2047. But, Beijing is apparently not willing to honour this commitment or wait to legitimately get hold over Hong Kong, which was first lost to Britain in 1842 under the Treaty of Nanking, following the First Opium War (1839-42).
Almost a decade ago, in 2012, Hong Kong’s school curriculum was tweaked in lines with the CCP’s propaganda. Two years later, in 2014, the city saw what was known as the ‘Umbrella Movement’, as pro-democracy protesters used umbrellas to protect them from the tear gas used by police and from the sun. It came as a response to Beijing’s unilateral attempt to tamper with the city’s free electoral system and universal suffrage, bringing parts of the city to a standstill for over two months.
But, the largest ever protests the city ever witnessed unfolded in 2019 with the outbreak of massive protests and rallies by tens of thousands of democratic activists against a proposed legislation allowing criminal suspects from the city to be extradited to mainland China in an arbitrary manner. On one day in mid-June that year, the number of protesters even went up to two million, according to Amnesty International.
Around 88,000 Hong Kong citizens, who have experienced the fruits of democracy for long and wishes to escape Beijing’s authoritarian rule, have applied for the new visa pathway to the UK (British National Overseas) in the first nine months since its launch in late January, this year, according to a latest report by the UK Foreign Office.
Beijing’s recent acts of erasing public memory
By turning the LegCo upside down, the Chinese Communist Party has almost accomplished the task of dismantling Hong Kong’s democratic institutions one by one. The most recent episode in a series of steps taken by the party was the removal of an eight-metre-tall statue named ‘Pillar of Shame’ from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) campus, a couple of days back.
The monument symbolically commemorated the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) tanks went on a rampage through Beijing’s central area, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians and innocent non-combatants, mostly students and the youth, aimed at ending weeks of pro-democracy protests.
The HKU incident was followed by the removal of artworks depicting similar message from two other universities in Hong Kong. This is a testament to the CCP’s continuing efforts to erase its bloody past from public memory. Commemorating the victims of Tiananmen Square massacre is already banned in the mainland by the CCP and it has been erased from Chinese history books.
It’s the turn of Hong Kong now, and it could be Taiwan sooner or later, as recent geopolitical developments in East Asia show. With a completely pro-Beijing ruling establishment, Hong Kong is incapable of effectively resisting the CCP’s historical revisionist agenda and the people remain divided into pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps.
Post Script: The region is squaring up to an untamed Dragon, breathing fire on one of the most desirable Asian Tigers. And next, it could presumably be heading east, as indications show, towards another one lying across the Strait. Can the mighty Eagle tame the Dragon and prevent another fire? Well, I’m leaving it here for another piece.
Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia and America’s hostile policy towards China-Russia rapprochement
The visit of Chinese President “Xi Jinping” to Russia will be organized, which will most likely take place after the end of the sessions of the Chinese Parliament, which are traditionally held annually in early spring in February of each year.
It seems to me that the Chinese comrade “Xi” himself deeply admires Putin on a personal level. But it seems to me that the most worrying thing about Putin himself is that China, despite the strength of its relationship with him, is also seeking to set a high price for support. For example, Beijing wants to restrict Russia’s highly lucrative arms sales to India, a sworn enemy of China across the Himalayan range on the Sino-Indian border. Despite this, the Chinese company, Huawei, is building Russian fifth-generation networks, while Russia requires Chinese cooperation on everything from aircraft parts to currency swaps in the local currencies of the two parties.
Relations between Russia and China, which the two sides describe as a “borderless” partnership, have gained great importance after the launch of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. While Western countries imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, China refrained from condemning Moscow’s military crackdown and merely emphasized the need for peace. Russian energy exports to China have increased dramatically since the outbreak of the war, and Moscow has become the single largest supplier of oil to China. However, there are very serious limits to the pattern of “boundless” relations between China and Russia. For now, China assures Western countries that at least it does not sell weapons or aircraft parts to Russia. Beijing is desperate not to fall victim to the same sanctions imposed on the Russians after the Ukraine war. So it sets limits to the relationship with Moscow.
Beijing has so far been careful not to provide direct support that could make it vulnerable to Western sanctions over Russia’s war against Ukraine. At a summit held in September 2021 in Uzbekistan, Putin acknowledged the concerns of his Chinese counterpart “Xi Jinping”, about the situation in Ukraine.
The visit of Chinese President “Xi Jinping” to Russia is an affirmation of Beijing’s solidarity with Russia during the continuation of its military campaign in Ukraine. This visit will show the world how close Russian-Chinese relations are.
With China’s readiness, according to what Beijing officially confirmed, about its willingness to increase strategic cooperation with Russia against the background of the difficult situation in the whole world. According to Chinese state media analysis.
In a previous video call between Presidents “Xi Jinping” and Putin, it was confirmed that the road to peace talks on Ukraine will not be easy, and that China will continue to uphold its objective and fair stance on the issue, according to the official China Central Television broadcast in Beijing.
It is expected that Russian gas supplies to China will increase after that visit. This was confirmed by Russian President “Putin” that Russian-Chinese cooperation is increasing as a factor of stability in the international arena with Putin’s statements about the importance of continuing joint military cooperation with Beijing, to enhance regional security and work to develop it in the future.
The visit of Chinese President “Xi Jinping” to Russia will be a joint declaration of the “borderless” partnership, which was announced between the two parties during the February 2022 summit, at the time of Beijing’s hosting of the Winter Olympics, as both sought to challenge the influence of the United States of America and pressure for a multipolar world.
Here, Moscow and Beijing present themselves as a geopolitical counterweight to the United States of America and its other allies. Moscow and Beijing also conducted several joint military maneuvers and exercises in their nearby areas of influence, including naval maneuvers in the East China Sea, as a warning message to America and its allies about the Taiwan Strait.
Likewise, during President Xi Jinping’s visit, China will try to increase the benefit from Russian supplies of gas to the Chinese economy, given that Beijing is the main consumer of hydrocarbons, at a time when the Europeans are trying to get rid of their dependence on Russian energy.
Here, China holds the cards when it comes to Russian gas. Just before invading Ukraine, Putin signed an agreement with Xi to increase Russian natural gas exports to 48 billion cubic meters annually as a future deal, instead of capping a modest 4 billion cubic meters in 2020. Russia is also planning to build a new pipeline, known as (Power of Siberia 2), which may lead to the transfer of Russian gas exports from Europe more easily to China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow will also reflect an affirmation of Beijing’s refusal to publicly condemn Russia’s war against Ukraine, with China instead accusing the United States of provoking Russia by pressing for NATO’s expansion to the east into the regions. direct Chinese Russian influence.
But on the other hand, with no indications that the conflict in Ukraine is about to end at the present time, President Xi has taken steps to distance himself from his Russian counterpart, including China’s signing of a statement during the G-20 summit, in November 2022 in Bali. Indonesia, China, along with its other member states, reaffirmed their strong condemnation of the war in Ukraine.
The summit that took place between President Xi Jinping and his counterpart, US President “Joe Biden”, on the sidelines of the G20 meetings, also helped ease tensions between the two largest powers in the world, as the two leaders jointly warned the Kremlin in Russia, because of a Russian statement, About the imminent outbreak of a nuclear war against Ukraine.
The first American comment on the event of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia came through a State Department spokesperson, in a statement, to express Washington’s concern about China’s alliance with Russia, in light of Moscow’s continued brutal and illegal invasion of Ukraine, according to the official American statements.
Here came the United States and Europe’s warning to China of the consequences of providing any military assistance to Russia in its war against Ukraine or helping it evade internationally imposed sanctions.
Here came the joint declaration between Moscow and Beijing to continue strengthening their strategic and comprehensive partnership relations, emphasizing the rejection of attempts to build a unipolar world dominated by Washington, because that American hegemony has acquired an ugly form in recent times. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s response also came with an emphasis on China’s support for Russia in strengthening its position as a major power in the international arena.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Russia, it will be emphasized that China is ready to continue to provide mutual support to Russia on issues related to their core interests, such as:
(Sovereignty and security, intensification of strategic coordination between the two countries, and strengthening communication and coordination in the main international and regional organizations in whose membership they participate, such as: “The United Nations, BRICS Group, Shanghai Cooperation Organization”)
Here, Russian President “Putin” opposes any attempts by any external forces to interfere in China’s internal affairs, such as the situation in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, with his Chinese counterpart, “Xi”, asserting that Beijing has always made independent judgments regarding Russia, foremost of which is its war against Ukraine.
During the visit, Chinese President “Xi Jinping” is expected to call on all parties to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to find a peaceful solution, with the Chinese leadership willing to play a constructive role in this process. And while the Chinese government called earlier to adopt peace between Russia and Ukraine, it stressed at the same time its understanding of Russia’s security concerns, and its condemnation of the supply of weapons from the West to the capital, “Kyiv”.
At the end of February 2022, Beijing abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Kremlin’s actions regarding Ukraine. And this is despite Washington’s pressure on Beijing to adopt a position more in line with the Western position, but China refused to take any hostile stances or measures towards Russia, which it always describes as a “strategic partner”.
Hence, we conclude the extent of the great Chinese political solidarity with Moscow. With the increase in the overall Chinese trade movement with the Russian side, and China essentially abandoning Ukraine’s support despite their previous relations in favor of Moscow, Beijing also expanded its financial transactions with the Russians without using the currency of the dollar or the euro, and doubled future cooperation for the development of military technology with Russia while conducting the Joint Russian-Chinese military exercises in the Pacific region. In my personal belief, the American concern itself is not from a joint official Russian-Chinese alliance, but rather the fear of the compatibility of the policies of the two countries, which follow two different authoritarian regimes according to the classification of America and the West, and oppose the world order that the United States of America controls internationally in the recent time. The two parties together may impede the ability of the United States of America to implement some of its international goals, and thus influence the American influence internationally.
Chinese Communist Party and the path of “high-quality development” at Guangdong Province
During the meeting of “Huang Kunming”, Secretary of Guangdong Provincial Party Committee mentioned that it is significant for Guangdong embark on a path of high-quality development fit for its own situation. According to my highly understand of China’s high-quality development and analysis to the nature of the Chinese society and the polices of the Communist Party of China regarding the development is meaning (all-round building a strong modern socialist country) and all-round rejuvenation of the Chinese nation still need to rely on development.
With the continuous development of the Chinese economy and the deepening of reforms, China put forward a new expression of “high-quality development” for the first time at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2017, which indicates that China’s economy has moved from a stage of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development.
Changing China’s economic development strategy is an inevitable choice in line with the law of development and the demands of its development. Now, China is seeking to change its previous development pattern of relying on a large number of factors of production to focus more on quality and efficiency. It has begun to adhere to the implementation of the new development philosophy that emphasizes innovative, coordinated, green and open development for all, and to build a new development pattern that relies on domestic trade and promotes integration between domestic and foreign trade to enable the Chinese society to complete the building of a strong modern socialist country in an all-round way, Chinese side should stick to advancing high-quality development as the top priority, as President Comrade “Xi Jinping” stressed in the report.
High-quality development mainly depends on the economy’s vitality, innovation and competitiveness. In order to improve these capabilities, China is accelerating the implementation of the innovation-driven development strategy, intensifying its efforts to achieve a high level of self-reliance in scientific and technological research, mobilizing forces and focusing on solving intractable problems in original and pioneering science and technology research to achieve breakthroughs in some crucial and pivotal technologies, which are guided by these strategies, China has achieved good results in manned space industry, lunar and Mars sounding, deep-sea and land exploration, supercomputers, satellite navigation, quantum information, electro-nuclear technologies, large-scale passenger aircraft, medicine, biopharmaceuticals and other fields over the past years, and joined the ranks of innovative countries in the world.
Green development is an important symbol of the transition of China’s economy from the stage of rapid growth to the stage of high-quality development. In recent years, China has pushed the green transition to a development mode, implemented the comprehensive rationalization strategy, developed green and low-carbon industries, and advocated green consumption.
The bright future of China’s economy stems from more flexible and high-quality development. In 2021, China calmly responded to changes in the world as well as the COVID-19 epidemic, took new steps to build a new development pattern, achieve new results in high-quality development, and achieve a good start for the 14th Five-Year Plan. China has maintained a leading position in the world in economic development and in epidemic prevention and control, accelerated the growth of national strategic scientific and technological forces, improved the flexibility of the industrial chain, continued to deepen supply-side structural reforms, and made solid progress in the green transformation of the low-carbon economy and prosperity subscriber.
Here, with the strong leadership of the Communist Party of China, the significant advantages of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics, the technological foundation accumulated since reform and opening up, the extremely large market advantage and domestic demand potential, and with huge human capital and human resources, the Chinese economy will continue to grow steadily on the path of high-quality development, enabling China to contribute in achieving a steady and stable progress in the recovery of the global economy.
China’s Deflating Population: The Economic Marvel in Eclipse?
So China’s population shrank last year. I admit my first instinct was … well, isn’t this a good thing? I mean, during the entire 1960s and 1970s, global discourse misted around how the world population kept growing beyond the finite resources of this world. And how food scarcity and poverty would create a social depression. China, with a population of roughly 1.4 billion people, was specifically a focal point of population reduction strategies. After the widespread catastrophe of the Great Leap Forward, a debilitating social program orchestrated by Mao Zedong in the late 50s, China’s population was on the up and up in the following decade, to the point that the infamous ‘One-Child Policy’ was introduced in the late 70s to inhibit the burden of a growing population – and concomitant poverty. Since then, however, China has dynamically transformed into an economic powerhouse – a factory floor for global manufacturing. And here lies the answer to this population conundrum: Shrinking population in China is a problem now!
According to the data released by the Chinese government last week, China’s population contracted by circa 850,000 people in 2022; with 9.56 million births against 10.41 million deaths, it was the first time in more than half a century that deaths outnumbered births in China. The initial thought would be to blame it on the pandemic. But that would be a blinkered assumption without gauging the stunted birth rate. It was the sixth consecutive year that the number of births fell, down from 10.6 million in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. Many demographers and statisticians warned for years about a population decline on the cards, albeit much later in this decade. This presage was why the government reposed its one-child policy in 2016 and extended the limit to three children in 2021. Local governments offered tax rebates and outright cash handouts to couples having children. The source of anxiety was partly social and partly economic – or maybe socioeconomic is the correct juxtaposition.
China is a rising economic power, the world’s second-largest economy, and the strongest contender to dethrone American supremacy. But in listing all the superlatives, we sometimes forget that China is still a developing economy. Despite its phenomenal evolution from endemic poverty, its average population still earns less than the average earnings in advanced economies. And the shrinking population is a two-pronged issue that could constrict China, like other leading developing economies, into a middle-income trap.
Just by simple inference, we can judge that a declining population is also an aging population. Impressive modernity in China’s healthcare system has led to an increase in life expectancy. Meanwhile, a decades-long hiatus in birth-conducive policies and changed mores of young Chinese couples, often antipathetic to having children altogether, have led to a sharp decline in births. A combination of these factors has invited a conspicuous outcome: Shrinkage in China’s working-age population. In fact, China’s working-age population has been in decline since 2015; according to a government spokesman, it could fall to roughly 700 million (approximately 23%) by 2050. This factor would be particularly problematic for China, which has long been a competitive labor market for manufacturing heavyweights like Apple and Microsoft. But moreover, a bulging elderly population amidst falling tax receipts would pose a challenge to government finances, especially given the comparably underdeveloped social safety net programs in China. Therefore, either taxes ought to be raised sharply or state pensions to old-age dependents would hit the skids – a spartan policy dilemma either way.
We can draw apt comparisons from Japan – the world’s third largest economy – which has notoriously suffered from a lopsided aging population and accompanying anemic economic growth since the asset bubble burst of the 1990s. I mean, China’s real estate market does look like a financial crisis just waiting to happen. But post-boom Japan has tried virtually every bizarre economic strategy – from negative interest rates to yield curve control – yet has failed to spark demand-led inflation. Strangely, however, China has sustained its bustling economy on prohibitive rates of investment rather than consumer demand, which has remained relatively lukewarm due to policymakers’ reluctance to pass the complete scope of economic growth to households. Nonetheless, a contracting labor force would perhaps accelerate the exodus of manufacturing from China unless the government finds alternatives to sustain China’s unrivaled productivity levels.
We could blame China’s ‘zero Covid’ policy for strangling economic growth. It is no surprise that China’s economy grew by a modest 3% in 2022, its slowest rate in nearly four decades, barring 2020. Intermittent lockdowns and pedantic mass testing regimes cast a pall over economic activities. And higher interest rates imposed by the Federal Reserve and other central banks have dampened global demand and diluted appetite for Chinese imports. According to government officials, year-on-year Chinese exports fell by 9.9% in December. While an economic turnaround is widely expected later this year, a falling working-age population; a skyward old-age dependency ratio; and the ongoing trade tussle with the United States could cost China many more decades to supersede the American edge. However, China has been an iridescent success story, an economic miracle of sorts. And therefore, if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could somehow prioritize economy over national security; social reforms over governmental control; and collaboration over confrontation, I reckon China can again defy the odds and achieve its dream.
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