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有關香港法治:英國須知習總掌權下的中國有甚麼特質 For Hong Kong, the UK needs to understand the nature of Xi’s China

2019/1/13 — 11:19

林鄭月娥、習近平

林鄭月娥、習近平

編按:正當英國國會開始對中國內政和外交政策進行調查時, Evan 認為,如果不了解習近平掌權的中國的基本特質,英國就無法理解其對香港的角色和責任。

As the UK government conducts inquiries into Chinese domestic and foreign policy, Evan argues that the UK cannot hope to understand its role and responsibilities towards Hong Kong without first understanding the fundamental nature of Xi’s China.

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廣告

Last Tuesday the Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament met for the first of two meetings on China.

This meeting, split over two sessions, focused on ways in which China’s domestic affairs interact with its foreign policy, and the implications for UK engagement; and the present status and future of Hong Kong, including the UK’s role and responsibilities. In choosing to group these two issues together, and given the committee wide-ranging remit, the UK government seemingly hints at several points.

廣告

Firstly, that whilst Hong Kong falls under the sphere of Chinese domestic affairs, it nevertheless warrants being an issue of separate and focused discussion. Therefore, whilst recognising that Beijing may view Hong Kong as an internal affair — a position both Beijing and the current SAR administration have repeatedly stressed — the UK government continues to hold by its own position that Hong Kong is worthy of particular note, and that the UK continues to have both a legal and historic role and responsibility towards the only former British colony not to be granted self-determination upon the withdrawal of British rule.

Secondly, it contextualises Hong Kong’s current situation within the emerging signs of a broader Chinese national policy to blur the lines between domestic and foreign affairs. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the more conciliatory approach to both domestic and international relations first adopted by Deng Xiaoping, and followed in spirit by Jiang Zemen and Hu Jintao, has been replaced by an increasing assorted and confrontational regime.

China today does not act as a confident and rising power, but an intolerant and oppressive one. Perhaps this is because the leadership is aware that a slowing and debt-ridden economy may no longer have the steam required to overcome the fast approaching structural challenges of an ageing workforce, environmental degradation and of lack of traditional investment opportunities. This would pose significant problems for a mature economy and workforce buttressed by a robust political system and legal institutions, but could prove disastrous to a regime that lacks representative legitimacy in a country like China. In consolidating power Xi has also consolidated responsibility, and The Sword of Damocles weighs heavily over this new imperial China.

Within the context of national hubris that hides domestic and international confrontation, Hong Kong’s limited freedoms now serve to highlight the meaning of Chinese nationalism and Xi Thought, and how these may be applied within a recognisable rules-based society. Hong Kong has become the point at which Chinese domestic and foreign relations intersect; where internal authoritarianism become external bullying; where methods and means of influence and control over a liberally minded Chinese people may be developed and applied for a Chinese diaspora; and where a liberal and rules-based system may be undermined from within.

This is not to state that there is a deliberate and calculated state policy to politicise the Chinese identity, infiltrate and weaponise the overseas Chinese diaspora, and to undermine a liberal world order that has served the Chinese so well economically. However, it would likewise be wrong to simply ignore the mounting evidence that Beijing’s new found assertiveness is played to a very different game. Until the object and rules of this game becomes clear, it would be unwise for the UK to ignore what is already assessed as representing a credible threat to the country’s traditional allies, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the European Union.

If the grouping of the issues to be discussed pointed to a ready dose of realism from Whitehall, the questions raised by the cross-party committee sadly did not, and betrayed a worrying naivety among much of the British political class as to the nature of this new politics.

Eva Pils and Sebastian Veg have first hand experience of the politics of Xi’s China, and of the changing realities not only within China but also among Chinese people. Steve Tsang and Chris Patten may, if we are to be fair, mostly watching from afar — and yet both, careful as they are with their words, could not have been more clear in their warnings of how China is no longer playing the game we in Hong Kong (and many in China) had hoped they were. The destination has changed. It is no longer good enough to question issues of human right abuses in Xinjiang or the disappearance of opposition voices. What matters today is not only the way a minority are treated, but also the way a majority, who continue to hold out on the China dream, are being conditioned to accept it.

This brings me to the crux of the Hong Kong experience: far more insidious and indeed effective than what has been actively done — interpretations of the Basic Law, disqualification of sitting legislators, electoral barring, legal persecution — has been what has been allowed to happen passively — the politicisation of our academic and legal institutions, a loss of public confidence in the police force, a hostile and increasingly restricted press environment, the erosion of our civic values and grass root society. To identify as a Hong Konger, a personal and social construct, has become political, as is any affiliation with a community organisation without official blessing.

Last November, at conference hosted by the Department of Hong Kong Studies at the Education University of Hong Kong, I asked a friend, one of Hong Kong’s leading academic, and several of his colleagues a very simple question: when was the last time he or any of them had spoke the words “universal suffrage” or 普選?

After a long pause, he smiled. “You know, saying that now is like saying a dirty words,” he told me. There was all round nodding of heads. No one said the words, though, as I pointed out, they continue to be a fundamental political term within the Basic Law.

The fact that there is nothing preventing Hong Kong people even discussing universal suffrage, and indeed many people continue to shout it out loudly from the street, is to miss the true tragedy of Hong Kong. It is also to miss the nature of the threat Beijing poses. By ignoring the spirit of the law has rendered the rule of law, in practice if not on paper, ineffective. The law no longer protects a people from politics, but has come to be understood by the people as a means by which the political rule.

No matter how robust Hong Kong’s judiciary has, in particular, been able to resist the tide of political interference, the rule of law does not begin and end with the character of those who are our judges. When people no longer trust in its independence, and when the way we relate to the law changes, the rule of law is broken.

Regardless of where people stand politically, I feel confident to state without doubt that for the vast majority of Hong Kong people the nature of the city that the UK handed over to Beijing in 1997 is broken. Not knowing where we now stand on so many levels has left us daring not to breathe for fear of crossing someone else’s line.

The most poignant moment of last Tuesday’s meeting came at the end of the first session when, as the chair begun to call time, Sebastian Veg interjected to urge that the UK declassify and publish all of the archives related to the handover negotiations. “The Hong Kong people are owed the exact information on who asked for what, who received what promise, who said what at that time,” he added.

The Hong Kong people are indeed owed the opportunity to piece together the truth of their own story. That Hong Kong people must ask from the UK for the truth only goes serves to highlight the following truisms: that Hong Kong Chinese people, like Chinese everywhere, understand with a heavy heart that the truth does not lie in either the official narrative we are fed nor with the Chinese Communist Party; and that the UK, for all it’s questions concerning the Basic Law, Belt and Road and human rights does not understand the fundamental as to what China and being Chinese means today.

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