This is Money, Lucy White, 12 July, 2019

Dr John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre at foreign policy think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said: ‘China has put a million Uighurs in camps and is building an Orwellian surveillance society.

‘Anyone who thinks a million people in camps are being served well needs to reflect on their moral compass.’


South China Morning PostKinling Lo,  4 July 2019

John Hemmings, director of the Asia studies centre at the British think tank the Henry Jackson Society, said that Brexit and the Conservative leadership contest had made Britain “vulnerable” to “displays of anger” from China.

“[Beijing] has noticed that because of Brexit and the oversize importance that London attaches to threats to investment, it can improve its leverage by showing strong emotions against the UK,” Hemmings said.

He said Beijing had been “introducing a rather toxic approach” in its approach towards London with Liu regularly threatening Britain in domestic newspaper articles and accused him of “interfering” in domestic politics.

“I think it is inevitable that the UK will also become more defensive toward Beijing if it continues this high-profile, strong-arm tactics approach towards both its people in Hong Kong and its economic partners,” Hemmings said.


‘People power victory’ in Hong Kong looks more like a tactical retreat

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The Telegraph, 18 June, 2019

Carrie Lam’s apology over the extradition bill would appear to be a victory of democracy and “people power”. People 1: Beijing 0. 

However, it’s worth looking a bit further into why the Hong Kong government apparently backed down in order to understand the wider implications of China’s impact on the city, and by extension the West’s relationship with Hong Kong and China.

There are a number of possible reasons for Lam’s climb down, which broadly fall into three categories: the democratic victory, external pressure and tactical retreat. In the first instance, it does seem that the government of Hong Kong was completely unprepared for the huge outpouring of dissent.

While it’s difficult to confirm that one million people did protest on June 9, as the organisers claim, the scenes of people marching to the Legislative Council are impressive and the shift to violence revealed a weak hand on the part of the Hong Kong government.

Furthermore, arguing the case for the rule of law with Beijing has become increasingly tenuous. One need only think of the booksellers – Gui Minhai, Lui Bo and Lam Wing-kee – all kidnapped or taken by Chinese forces in acts of extraordinary rendition.

The second reason, that of external pressure, also bears scrutiny – and if true, should have an impact on UK thinking and policy in future. The US move to reintroduce the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the wake of the protests was notable, as it threatens to remove Hong Kong’s special treatment afforded by the US Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, putting it squarely in front of the Trump administration’s US-China trade war.

Combined with statements made by the UK, Germany and the EU, this indicated that the tide of international public opinion was firmly with the protesters. And there are those like Grant Newsham, a former US government official with a long stint in Asia, who claim that the backdown is in fact a strategic retreat.

He notes: “Chances are they will wait and then punish who they believe are the ringleaders, just as they did with the ‘umbrella movement’ in 2014; jail time for ridiculous reasons; constant and pervasive harassment.”

As the controversy dies down, we will discover exactly which of the three of these played the largest part. For the UK, knowing which was the most important – particularly if it was the second factor – should play a driving force in future policy.


The Telegraph, Sophie Yan, 13 June, 2019

“As the Conservative Party gears up to choose the next prime minister, it is becoming apparent that a different kind of leadership is required, one that puts Britain’s principles and values back in the centre of the relationship with China,” wrote John Hemmings, deputy director of research at the Henry Jackson Society, a British think tank.


President Xi’s strongman tactics have severely backfired in Hong Kong

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The Telegraph, 12 June, 2019

Hong Kong’s reunification with the mainland looks increasingly problematic

This week’s scenes from Hong Kong are eerily reminiscent of another battle for Chinese democracy, one that took place just 30 years ago in Beijing. While it’s true that the clashes between Hong Kong’s protesters and the Hong Kong police have been nowhere as violent as that dished out by the People’s Liberation Army that warm June evening in 1989, the use of tear gas and rubber bullets against the crowds are a troubling sign.

From one perspective, this is just a battle between the Hong Kong government and its people over an extradition law, which might make it possible for people in the city to be extradited to the mainland.

Seen from another perspective, however, it’s a single battle in the war between closed, authoritarian states and open, democratic ones – a conflict between those who believe that a single party should be the arbiter of law, of social taste, of economic life, of education, and even, of thought – and those who believe that it is down to the individual to decide on much of this, and that dignity and happiness lay in the latter – not the former.

As one Hong Kong-watcher wrote this week, “It’s not easy to turn a million prosperous people into political dissidents. But that’s what China might have pulled off in Hong Kong.” Given the fact that Hong Kong’s approval rates for Chinese rule in 1998 were as high as 60 per cent, it is astonishing to think how Beijing has mismanaged the former British colony.

On the 20th anniversary of the handover, just two years ago, less than 3.1 per cent of Hong Kong youth identified as Chinese, while a University of Hong Kong poll found that less than 40 per cent of the city’s residents were satisfied with Chinese rule. It is astonishing, and tragic.

For despite the UK’s historic role in separating Hong Kong from the mainland in what Gladstone called a “most infamous and atrocious” conflict, the Opium War, there was some sense in 1997 that a wrong was being righted. History, however, is not always black and white. Handing over some five million souls back to the Chinese Communist Party now looks increasingly problematic.

To some extent, these current troubles have come not because of the expansion of democratic forces in Hong Kong, but because of the expansion of authoritarian ones on the mainland. The central figure in this push has been China’s President Xi Jinping, who since 2013, has done more than any other global figure to promote, protect, and expand authoritarianism. Personally, he is said to have more power inside China than Chairman Mao Zedong, outclassing his immediate predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin.

He has also been at the heart of a push to bring all aspects of Chinese society back under direct Party supervision and control; he has forbiddenthe discussion of “Western” ideas inside China, banning discussion of “seven perils”, including constitutional government, civil society, “nihilistic” history (read non-CCP history), universal values, neo-liberalism, and the “West’s view of the media”, instead promoting party thinking, such as the Three Self Confidences, defined as confidence in the political system, confidence in the party line, and confidence in party theory.

The impact on China’s media has been immense, and has seen a budding free media, with Chinese editors and journalists being sacked and replaced by those who tow the party line.

On Xi’s watch, China has promoted an expansionist and nationalist authoritarianism that is now undermining the US-China economic relationship. He has ended collective rule and term limits in China, and personally greenlit the militarising of the South China Sea.

His support for China’s state-owned enterprises and efforts to co-opt Chinese tech giants like Huawei into Beijing’s “going out” policy and civil-military fusion have created a backlash against the company in the US and Europe. And finally, he has become a symbol of fear and repression among the Uighur minority, directing and promoting a policy of mass incarceration and re-education.

Earlier today, Tsai Ing-wen, the president of Taiwan tweeted: “Taiwan stands with all freedom-loving people in Hong Kong”. As China’s Xi increasingly becomes a symbol of repression and of the closing of the Chinese mind, so will Hong Kong’s fate play on the minds of the Taiwanese.

It certainly is playing on our minds.


It’s time for Britain to find its spine and finally start standing up to China

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The Telegraph, 10 June, 2019

We have a legal obligation to Hong Kong that we cannot ignore

The sight of a million people marching down Hong Kong’s streets on Sunday was a remarkable spectacle. Perhaps even more incredible was the fact that it was paralleled by a further 29 rallies held in 12 countries across the world including the cities of London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Sydney and Taipei.

Predictably, Chinese state media accused “foreign forces” of being behind the event, but it was clear that with more than a seventh of the city’s total population on the streets, Beijing’s claim to speak for all Chinese rang hollow. While the protest was nominally motivated by new legislation that would allow extradition between the city and mainland China, it is really about the incremental dismantling of Hong Kong’s rule of law.

For many of those on the march, the timing of the bill is highly symbolic. Last week marked the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, when Beijing’s crackdown killed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Chinese citizens who wished for political rights. This year is also the 60th anniversary of the Great Leap Forward when Mao Zedong’s disastrous agricultural policies cost tens of millions of lives.

In a joint submission to a 2017 enquiry by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s former Chief Secretary, and Martin Lee, founder of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, stated that the “precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under ‘one country, two systems’ such as freedom of the press, of publication, and of academic thoughts, are being chipped away”. A report published by the Henry Jackson Society this week confirms this, showing that the legal, press and political rights are steadily being eroded by the Hong Kong Government under the direction of Beijing.

As the Conservative Party gears up to choose the next prime minister, it is becoming apparent that a different kind of leadership is required, one that puts Britain’s principles and values back in the centre of the relationship with China. The UK has, for too long, prioritised trade in the relationship. As a consequence, whenever China has pushed back – on, for example, Hinkley Point, Britain’s South China Sea transits or the banning of Huawei from the 5G network – the response has been recklessly weak. For too long, the British Lion has been a paper tiger.

In the case of Hong Kong, Britain has a clear and direct legal responsibility for ensuring  that the one country, two systems principle is upheld for the 50 years mandated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an obligation that won’t expire until 2047. This is not an obligation that can be ducked.

Not only is standing up to China the right thing to do, now is the perfect time to do it. China is currently desperate to diversify its trade partners as it reels from the Trade War with the United States, the world’s largest economy. In Beijing, this has sparked fears that the country could find itself diplomatically isolated and as such party leaders are now increasingly sensitive to global public opinion. So bad are these worries that President Xi Jinping has even taken to calling Russian President Vladimir Putin his “best and bosom friend”.

It is into this space that the new Prime Minister must step and recalibrate the Sino-British relationship. A reset in our dealings with China is now long overdue.

The UK must begin by speaking more forcefully in bilateral meetings. That means continually pushing for guarantees that Beijing will uphold the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. We may even have to threaten to internationalise the issue or sanction key individuals if China’s suppression of Hong Kong continues unabated. Frankly, we are going to have to find our spine. And what is true for Britain, is doubly true for the West writ large.

China is going to an important trade partner for many years to come; if the West is to really succeed in this relationship, we must ensure that an increasingly authoritarian China understands the importance with which we view our principles and values. Some are already moving in this direction, with Germany giving Hong Kong rights activists Ray Wong and Alan Li refugee protection status last week.

We are all going to have to redefine our China policies. If we do not, if we contribute to a worldwide diminishment of democracy and human rights, we will be letting down not only the people of Hong Kong but ourselves as well.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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