The Indo-Chinese border stand-off which entered second month, the longest till date post 1962 is showing no signs of remission. China adept at playing victimhood card, cited 1890 Sino-British agreement on Sikkim in its defence and appealed for withdrawal of Indian forces from the tri-junction even as President Xi refused to abide by 1984 agreement signed between same parties. The 1984 agreement paved way for hassle-free handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Marking 20 years of hand-over of Hong Kong, President Xi made his first visit to Hong Kong after taking over as President in 2013 to swear in pro-Chinese Chief Executive Clarrie Lam. Xi, who is frantically adamant on “One China Policy” in unequivocal terms mowed down critical clause of “One Country, two systems” bedrock for Hong Kong’s promised autonomy at the event.
China vividly treasures July 1st, 1997, a day when Hong Kong was transferred to Beijing after 156 years of British Rule. The event symbolized the end of “century of humiliation” that began with Sino-British Opium wars and pushed country into successive imperialistic rule. Deng Xiaoping in a bid to win back the historical Chinese territories and realize Chinese reunification proposed “One Country, two systems” for capitalist economies- Macau and Hong Kong. He proposed that these territories will have their own political, economic, judicial, financial systems while foreign affairs and defense would be under the ambit of mainland China. To facilitate smooth takeover Hong Kong which had been an epitome of capitalism to an authoritarian regime, China and Britain engaged in negotiations for 13 years. In 1984, as per Sino-British Joint Declaration, registered under the UN, Britain was ordained to return Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty and China was obliged not to impose socialist regime on Hong Kong which will remain as Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China for 50 years, until 2047. Residents of Hong Kong had mixed feelings ranging from extreme jubilation at the prospect of reuniting with motherland to deep-rooted suspicion for being part of communist regime. To assuage apprehensions of Hong Kong, a mini-constitution was drafted which outlined the basic law governing the island, permitting it to retain capitalist economy and currency. China promised to preserve Hong Kong’s economic and cultural identity and defend Freedom of press, speech, religion and protest.
Interestingly, unlike Hong Kong, China remained reclusive for long. But in early 1970’s impressed by rapid economic strides of Hong Kong, China emulated the capitalist model and opened its economy. Hong Kong acted as conduit for development between China and the outside world and soon emerged as an outstanding financial center. After the transfer ceremony in 1997 Hong Kong’s economic integration with main land deepened. Consequently, Hong Kong became favored destination for many businesses. Rapid exodus of mainlanders and inflow of investments had changed the contour of Hong Kong and escalated the cost of living. Real estate businesses zoomed. Increased cost of living impeded dreams of own house for several youngsters of Hong Kong. Even socio-economic inequalities widened. Though the island had 95% of Chinese population, it had a unique identity, which began to weather under the authoritarian communist regime. Massive Chinese investments inadvertently brought political dominance which compounded fears of excessive Chinese intrusions into Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Economically, Hong Kong’s contribution to China’s GDP which was 25% in 1997 plunged to 3%. This critically changed China’s attitude towards Hong Kong. To diversify economy China relentlessly developed several economic hubs, like Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou etc. reducing reliance on Hong Kong. Beijing and Shanghai surpassed Hong Kong’s GPD reducing island’s economic preeminence. Slowly the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began to impose its own set of laws grossly undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong. Attempts were made to replace curriculum with communist leaning ideology through Patriot Act under article 23, slow but subtle legislative reforms were enacted.
Consequently, the abrasions between the China and Hong Kong became sharper and dissidence towards mainland began to escalate. By 2013, independence movements began to gain ground. China’s reluctance to grant universal suffrage heightened creeping mistrust. The “831 decision” of imposing selective nomination of Chief Executive and Legislative Council, triggered class boycott for unprecedented 79 days culminating in the famous Umbrella Movement of October 2014 (Massive Occupy Protest). In 2016, Legislative council oath taking controversy sparked by two law makers (Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-Ching) who took oath, bearing allegiance to Hong Kong Nation once again highlighted burgeoning dissent towards China. The legislator duo of Youngspiration party which emerged after 2014 protests are fighting for self-determination and aims to have a referendum by 2020 with the outcomes effective from 2047 when the “One Country, two systems” pledge ends. As of now, the legislators stand disqualified, but these young guns have been the heart of pro-democracy movement. Days before President Xi’s visit for handover ceremony, protestors draped black flag over the giant Bauhinia flower, a statue that symbolized Hong Kong’s transfer underscoring the 20 years of authoritarian regime of China.
Twenty years after the transfer on the eve of swearing-in of Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman remarked that, “Now that Hong Kong has returned to motherland for 20 years, the Sino-British Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any realistic meaning”. Responding to these remarks, British Foreign Office replied that, declaration is “legally binding treaty, registered with UN, and continues to be in force. As a co-signatory, the UK government is closely committed to monitoring its implementation closely”.
Unabashed artifice of China, penetrating aggression, coercion, and duplicitous twisting of facts substantiates Chinese desperation for a “Sino-Centric Asia” dream. High on power, China has incontrovertibly turned into bully of Asia. China’s deliberate infringement of standoff agreement with Bhutan testifies the same. Contemptuous warnings, fortification of border regions, aggressive deployment of submarines in Indian Ocean and a stubborn no for a compromise demonstrates a vicious rise of belligerent rise of China. Expansionist aspirations of China are threatening peace and stability of South Asia. China’s stubborn stance justifying illegitimate infrastructure development in the contentious India-Bhutan-China trijunction demonstrates Beijing’s belligerent rise.
The story of Hong Kong is no different from other autonomous regions of China- Xinjiang and Tibet where resistance in any form was crushed with iron fist. Increasingly hubristic, self-assertive China’s defiance to abide by international law and occasional reneging on bilateral agreements including the ruling of International Court on South China Sea dispute is indeed a message to all nations scrambling for bilateral developmental ties. Further China’s attempts to buy silence of international communities on human rights and issues of international law through trade-related sanctions bear semblance to China’s revisionism. For the first time EU failed to make a statement against China pertaining to human rights violation since Greece, Croatia and Hungary refused to vote. China invested heavily in Greece post 2008 recession.
China’s largest shipping company COSCO has major stakes in Greece port Pireus. Hungary and Croatia receive considerable Chinese investments. China is constructing nuclear reactors in these countries. China even forced Norway to fall in line by suspending diplomatic ties and imposing ban on import of Norwegian Salmon fish after 2010 as Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Nobel peace prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo. By imposing tight reins on freedom of press and speech China ensured that its unspeakable excesses in crushing resistance movements in Tibet and Xinjiang remain unquestioned. Though the judgements on human rights issues are often delivered by West but China’s attempts to alter the existing frameworks should alert nations of China’s Obstinacy. Having watched Chinese intemperate interventions in autonomous regions, Taiwan is vehemently turning down Beijing’s formula of “peaceful unification”. Strong-arm tactics, attempts to throttle democracy and reins on freedom of press, speech is turning Chinese territories increasingly hostile towards main land.
In the meanwhile, India’s reticence on Sikkim standoff is throwing Chinese off the gear. While Chinese has beefed up military at the border and aggressively rushed in submarines and ships into Indian Ocean, conflicting signals from China is throwing mask off its claims of “peaceful rise”. The true colors of Chinese belligerence are making its appearance in full glare. Series of impetuous articles by Global Times, indicated China wariness of India cozying up to US and New Delhi’s refusal to embrace OBOR (especially OBOR). OBOR was pet initiative of President Xi and India’s reluctance might threaten his credentials who was elevated as “core leader” on par with Mao Zedong. Until last decade, China acknowledged India as leader of South Asia. A retreating America has ceded ground to China. Hubristic China is now diplomatically escalating the situation to craftily encircle and contain India. Further, China fretted, Bhutan’s close ties with India and abnegation of diplomatic ties with Beijing. China blatantly violated the bilateral treaty of maintaining status quo in the disputed region with Bhutan and made deliberate attempts to provoke India by diplomatically upping rhetoric. Latest reports indicate that President Xi is unlikely to hold talks with Prime Minister Modi at Hamburg. Hence the stand-off is expected to continue as China refused to hold even flag meetings. In every likelihood, China would extend this impasse. But with East Asian cauldron simmering after North Korea test fired ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile) and US mulling military action against North Korea, expect the unexpected….