25 June 2019
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) meets Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in London in this June 2014 photo. Beijing wants good relations with UK, but says it doesn't want the former colonial power to interfere in Hong Kong's affairs. Pho
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) meets Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in London in this June 2014 photo. Beijing wants good relations with UK, but says it doesn't want the former colonial power to interfere in Hong Kong's affairs. Pho

China hasn’t done itself any good with curbs on British MPs

China’s decision to ban a British parliamentary group from visiting Hong Kong not only marks a violation of the spirit of a Sino-British accord signed thirty years ago, it will also prove to be counter-productive to Beijing in the long run.

The move, which China says was aimed at preventing foreign interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, reflects a short-sighted attitude on the part of mainland authorities, and will do nothing to enhance Beijing’s status as a world power.

The churlish action, which came amid continuing pro-democracy protests in the former British colony, will cause a setback to China-UK relations, which have been improving in recent years.

More importantly, it will shake Hong Kong people’s confidence further about China’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” principle, which was outlined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

With its head-in-the-sand approach, Beijing has also brought down the chances for Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland. As the Taiwanese watch the situation with regard to Hong Kong, their mistrust of Beijing will only grow. 

Sir Richard Ottaway, chairman of the UK House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said over the weekend that he and his fellow panel members had been told by the Chinese embassy in London that they would be turned back if they tried to enter Hong Kong.

The lawmakers had been planning to visit Hong Kong as part of a study into the former colony’s relations with Britain thirty years after the joint declaration of 1984, which sought to protect Hong Kong people’s rights and freedoms when the territory would be handed over to China in 1997.

By refusing entry for the British MPs, China faces new diplomatic tensions with the United Kingdom. As Hong Kong is a visa-free city for nationals of many countries including the UK, questions are being raised if Beijing even had any right to refuse permission to the overseas lawmakers.

Observers say it would have been better for China to allow the visit and used the opportunity to convince the British delegation that Hong Kong’s people’s interests are being protected and that the citizens are enjoying the same freedoms as before.

A case could also have been made out that Hong Kong is, in fact, doing much better now in terms of economic progress, compared to the years preceding the 1997 handover.

Suggestions by some mainland officials that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration doesn’t hold any meaning now, following the July 1, 1997 handover of Hong Kong, has caused alarm in Britain as well as Hong Kong people. 

The comments on the Joint Declaration would also mean disrespecting former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who witnessed the signing of the agreement and initiated the idea of “one country, two systems” with regard to Hong Kong.

As Hong Kong is under Chinese sovereignty, British lawmakers’ inquiry into the former colony amounts to intervention in China’s internal affairs, Beijing has argued.

The MPs did not want to visit Hong Kong for “a normal friendly visit but to carry out a so-called investigation on Chinese territory”, a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman said this week.

Following Beijing’s move, UK lawmakers held an emergency session and sought to emphasize the context and importance of their inquiry. 

While MPs outlined shared interests and an “indispensable relationship” with China, the fact is that they had deemed an on-site visit to Hong Kong imperative due to growing fears about eroding freedoms and tighter media controls in the former colony.

Rather than stop the delegation, China should have used their visit to bolster confidence about its commitment to the “one country, two systems” policy. That would have also helped its case for a Taiwan reunification. 

Right now, few Taiwanese believe that Beijing will maintain the freedoms if there is any reunification with the mainland. 

China appears to think that economic carrots will alone be sufficient to pave way for integration with the mainland, and that it need not emphasize the “one country, two systems” any longer. 

But it just has to look at the outcome of the recent local elections in Taiwan to realize how wrong it is in its thinking.

The rout of the Taiwan’s ruling Kuomintang, which has advocated closer links with the mainland, in the mayoral and other lower-level polls in the island last weekend, reflects the depth of people’s misgivings about China.

Now, will Beijing learn the lessons and take some corrective measures? And, will authorities show some statesmanship that is befitting of the nation’s power?

Given the latest rhetoric and the petty stance taken with regard to the British MPs’ planned Hong Kong visit, we can only say that the prospects for a rethink in Beijing’s mindset are anything but good at the moment.

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EJ Insight writer

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