Trou­ble­mak­ing not in UK’s in­ter­ests It would only be shoot­ing it­self in the foot if it tries to de­rail the con­sti­tu­tional devel­op­ment in the Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The United King­dom’s Par­lia­ment For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee is ex­pected to con­clude its in­quiry into Bri­tain’s re­la­tions with­Hong Kong in Oc­to­ber. The com­mit­tee said in a press re­lease on July 22: “As co-sig­na­tory of the Joint Dec­la­ra­tion, the UK re­tains an en­dur­ing com­mit­ment to Hong Kong fol­low­ing the trans­fer of sovereignty in 1997”.

The com­mit­tee said that the UK has strong, long-stand­ing links with Hong Kong, and it en­joys reg­u­lar ex­changes with the city on pol­icy is­sues “in­clud­ing global eco­nomic devel­op­ment, cli­mate change, fi­nan­cial ser­vices reg­u­la­tion, le­gal and ju­di­cial co­op­er­a­tion, and re­li­gious and so­cial devel­op­ment”.

It noted two in­ter­re­lated is­sues for its in­quiry. One is “the UK’s po­si­tion re­gard­ing progress on po­lit­i­cal and con­sti­tu­tional re­form in­Hong Kong as it moves to­ward uni­ver­sal suf­frage, tak­ing note of the wider con­text of so­cial and eco­nomic devel­op­ment in­Hong Kong”, and the other is “the UK’s pres­ence and its on­go­ing in­ter­ests in­Hong Kong, in­clud­ing the prospects for trade, busi­ness, and cul­tural ex­change”.

This means the UK is try­ing to strike a a bal­ance be­tween as­sert­ing it­self overHong Kong’s con­sti­tu­tional re­forms and main­tain­ing its long-term eco­nomic in­ter­ests in the city. But it is im­por­tant that the UK re­mem­ber­sHong Kong is now a spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion of China, and han­dles its bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship with China with the ut­most care in this re­gard.

When Chris Pat­ten, the last Bri­tish gov­er­nor ofHong Kong, re­cently went out of his way to praiseHong Kong’s op­po­si­tion camp in in­ter­views and ar­ti­cles, 10 Down­ing Street sen­si­bly chose to re­main silent.

Nev­er­the­less, in a free so­ci­ety with dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal par­ties, Bri­tish politi­cians have al­ways held dif­fer­ent opin­ions on var­i­ous is­sues in­clud­ing for­eign af­fairs. The cur­rent UK govern­ment is a coali­tion. Its Deputy PrimeMin­is­ter Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib­eral Democrats, re­cently crit­i­cized PrimeMin­is­ter David Cameron, leader of the Con­ser­va­tive Party, for fail­ing to back­Hong Kong’s op­po­si­tion de­mands for “gen­uine uni­ver­sal suf­frage”.

In the Bri­tish me­dia, there are also voices sup­port­ingHong Kong’s op­po­si­tion politi­cians.

The Econ­o­mist, an in­flu­en­tial weekly magazine, ac­cused Bri­tain of be­tray­ingHong Kong in its July 19 editorial. It ar­gued that it was time for Bri­tain to re­dis­cover its moral com­pass and con­front China over Hong Kong. In keep­ing with the cur­ren­tWestern in­tel­lec­tual tra­di­tion of em­pha­siz­ing po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness over eco­nomic and other is­sues, the editorial gave a rather neg­a­tive as­sess­ment of Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang’s re­cent visit to Bri­tain, where Bei­jing and Lon­don signed trade and busi­ness deals worth 14 bil­lion pounds ($24 bil­lion). “The con­se­quences of that pact are now be­com­ing clear,” the editorial as­serted. “This month the Bri­tish for­eign sec­re­tary is­sued the lat­est of his twice-yearly re­ports onHong Kong. He noted that some in­Hong Kong had said that the white pa­per threat­ened the city’s au­ton­omy. But it did not con­tain a word of crit­i­cism for the doc­u­ment it­self, nor for the govern­ment in Bei­jing.”

All those com­ments and crit­i­cisms are com­pletely wrong. Firstly, they are based on the false as­sump­tion that Bei­jing is reneg­ing on the prom­ise of “One Coun­try, Two Sys­tems”. The white pa­per on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the “One Coun­try, Two Sys­tems” pol­icy in­Hong Kong clearly out­lined the ba­sic guide­lines for the HKSAR. Chair­man of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress Stand­ing Com­mit­tee Zhang De­jiang reaf­firmed this in Shen­zhen at a meet­ing with Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Le­ung Chun-ying on July 19. Zhang said that the cen­tral govern­ment would res­o­lutely main­tain these poli­cies forHong Kong.

Se­condly, it is in the UK’s best in­ter­ests that Hong Kong’s con­sti­tu­tional re­form pro­gresses in ac­cor­dance with the Ba­sic Law and the NPCSC’s de­ci­sions. For ex­am­ple, two of Hong Kong’s main is­suers of bank notes, HSBC and Stan­dard Char­tered Bank, are con­trolled by Bri­tish stake­hold­ers. If Cen­tral— Hong Kong’s in­ter­na­tional fi­nance hub— is par­a­lyzed by protests or­ches­trated by Oc­cupy Cen­tral, Bri­tish in­ter­ests will likely be hurt. If the SAR’s fi­nan­cial op­er­a­tions were se­ri­ously dis­rupted its econ­omy could be af­fected for months— if not years. Bri­tish busi­nesses in Hong Kong— whose to­tal in­vest­ments in the SAR are sec­ond only to their lo­cal Chi­nese coun­ter­parts’— would suf­fer huge, po­ten­tially fa­tal, losses.

More­over, if the UK were to med­dle in­Hong Kong af­fairs by sup­port­ing at­tempts to de­rail the SAR’s con­sti­tu­tional devel­op­ment, its re­la­tion­ship with China would be the first to de­te­ri­o­rate. Two years ago, David Cameron re­ceived the Dalai Lama in Lon­don. In re­sponse, Bei­jing shut its doors to Bri­tish govern­ment lead­ers and busi­ness un­til later in 2013, when Cameron vis­ited China. The UK un­der­stands that mu­tual re­spect is the first step to­ward last­ing eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion and grow­ing Sino-Bri­tish bi­lat­eral trade. The au­thor is a vet­eran cur­rent af­fairs com­men­ta­tor.

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