Obama, Xi should put Hong Kong on their agenda

October 20, 2014 10:14
President Barack Obama ushers in his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, to a meeting in Sunnylands, California, during an informal summit last year. Photo: AFP

China’s relationship with Russia has strengthened in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, despite Moscow’s clear violation of the Chinese principle of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs.

Thus, the Sino-Russian relationship, described as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination”, is being deepened and is putting even greater emphasis on strategic coordination.

This was reflected in the visit last week to Sochi by Premier Li Keqiang, who met his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, for the 18th annual meeting of prime ministers of the two countries.

But even before Premier Li’s arrival in Russia, preparatory talks, led by Vice Premier Wang Yang, paved the way for closer strategic coordination. Wang told the Russians that China strongly opposed western sanctions against Russia.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Chinese official also told his Russian associates, in remarks unpublicized by the controlled Chinese media but reported by the Russians, that “some western nations are now supporting the opposition parties of Hong Kong and their goal is to launch a so-called "color revolution in Hong Kong”. 

That is to say, the Hong Kong demonstrations are not just a student-led protest for democracy but an attempt to overthrow the government, not only in Hong Kong but, ultimately, in China.

While Chinese officials are telling Russians about their concerns, they apparently are refusing to talk to the United States about Hong Kong, maintaining that it is a Chinese internal affair and Washington should simply keep its nose out of it.

However, if the Chinese are worried about what the Americans and Europeans may or may not be doing in Hong Kong, they are going about it the wrong way.

Instead of refusing to talk, they should confront the issue head-on and make public their allegations of western interference in Hong Kong and what evidence they have to back up such charges.

This is what US President Barack Obama did last year on the issue of Chinese cyber attacks.

The United States made clear its grave concern over the stealing of intellectual property by Chinese hackers, and announced that this topic was on the top of their agenda.

China, of course, denied that it was doing this, but at least the two sides talked about the issue and set up a committee to continue such discussions.

Now that Chinese and American officials are meeting to prepare for President Obama’s Beijing trip next month, they should agree to put Hong Kong on the agenda.

It is much better to talk about an issue that is really gnawing away at China rather than to smile for the cameras and pretend that there is no problem and then to spread the word surreptitiously to other countries that they should join together to guard against western subversion.

It is much better for the Chinese to openly press their charges and to give the United States a chance to explain and defend what it is doing.

Already, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which is funded by the US Congress and whose mission is to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through non-governmental efforts, issued an unprecedented statement on Oct. 14 to explain its activities in Hong Kong.

Noting that “in the wake of recent pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, state-controlled Chinese news outlets have published erroneous reports that the National Endowment for Democracy has played a central role in the protest”, the statement explained that “the projects that the Endowment has supported over the years in Hong Kong have focused on encouraging good governance, supporting informed citizen engagement in the political process, and protecting human rights”.

NED projects for Hong Kong in 2013 were worth US$695,031. This is a rather small sum, considering that it includes staff and rental costs, which are extremely high and which accounted for a majority of the spending.

There were only two Hong Kong-specific projects -- US$145,000 for Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor for protecting human rights and encouraging democratic representation, and US$150,031 for Solidarity Center for expanding worker rights and democracy.

In addition, US$74,000 went to a regional project, Asian Network for Free Elections Foundation, for strengthening domestic election monitoring in Asia.

If China has questions about other organizations, such as the National Democratic Institute or the Hong Kong America Center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the United States should be willing to provide information as well.

It is certainly much better for China to openly voice its suspicions and for the US to attempt to ally them than for China and Russia to carry out Vice Premier Yang’s proposal for the two countries to work on “mutually strategic partnership” as their “response to western nations”.

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Frank Ching opened The Wall Street Journal’s Bureau in China in 1979. He is now a Hong Kong-based writer on Chinese affairs.