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19 June 2019

With Jonathan Pearlman

Choosing Hong Kong

A week ago, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam responded to the first mass protests against a controversial extradition law by claiming that relenting would be like spoiling her children. Days later, as the protests in Hong Kong continued, she suspended the law. After a further march on Sunday that was attended by almost 2 million people from a population of 7.4 million, Lam dropped the metaphor and apologised for her conduct, though many are still demanding that the law be withdrawn completely.

It was a stunning victory for the people and a humiliating setback for China’s Communist Party, which, thirty years ago, demonstrated an alternative method of ending public protests. But Hong Kong’s precarious future looms as a regional flashpoint, one that will increasingly force countries such as Australia to take sides, and to choose between values and expediency.

The Hong Kong protests have highlighted the island’s position as a society that clings to openness despite belonging to a rising power that curbs dissent. In recent years the Communist Party has attempted to exert greater control over the territory. It has detained Hong Kong–based critics of Chinese leaders, supported proposed anti-sedition laws, and constructed one of the world’s longest bridges to connect the island to the mainland. The attempt by Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing parliamentary majority (43 of 70 MPs) to allow extraditions to the mainland was viewed by the protesters as part of this creeping influence. And though the public may have won this round, the Communist Party is unlikely to cease challenging Hong Kong’s democratic impulses. This month’s conflict between the people and their pro-Beijing leadership is unlikely to be the last.

China agreed to a “one country, two systems” model for Hong Kong before Britain handed back its colony in 1997, a time when the island accounted for 16 per cent of Chinese gross domestic product. Last year, this was down to just 3 per cent. The Communist Party has overseen perhaps the greatest economic success story in history, and no longer views its blend of capitalism and authoritarianism as a potential barrier to Hong Kong–style prosperity. Accordingly, it no longer sees Hong Kong’s political freedoms as a trade-off for the territory’s contribution to China’s economy.

Australia also seems to be changing its position on Hong Kong – to a stance of caution and submission. Hong Kong and Australia have historically enjoyed close relations. The former British colony is Australia’s twelfth-largest trading partner and home to 100,000 Australians, making it one of the country’s largest expatriate communities. There are 87,000 Hong Kong–born people in Australia. As Chinese control of the territory continues to increase – and particularly if Beijing tries to use force to quell public dissent there – Australia could find itself taking in large numbers of Hong Kong immigrants, just as it welcomed 40,000 Chinese students after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Australia’s Hong Kong community expected Canberra to support the popular struggle, especially as many fear that they or their friends and family back home could be extradited to the Chinese mainland for public criticisms of Beijing. Yet Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, issued a tepid comment that was weaker than other international responses. She urged all sides to exercise restraint and insisted that any changes to the extradition laws should respect the territory’s autonomy. A leader of Australia’s Hong Kong community, Jane Poon, described the comments as bland, lacking in seriousness and “too neutral”.

As China grows, and as it becomes more assertive, Canberra’s incentives to remain quiet – and to neglect its support for democratic values – will only increase. It should not be left to the local Hong Kong community alone to demand a stronger response. Australian politicians, who are likely to err on the side of caution and silence when it comes to expressing differences with Beijing, will need to know where most so-called quiet Australians stand.


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Xi to meet Kim in Pyongyang

“Beijing appears to have been caught wrong-footed by recent mass protests in Hong Kong, and is also suffering from the fallout of a constantly escalating cross-Pacific trade war with the United States . . . Seen in this context, Xi might welcome a diplomatic win – such as by moving the North Korean denuclearisation process forward.” Andrew Salmon, Asia Times

Fasten your seatbelts, China has drawn its red lines against Trump

“Beijing then proceeded to unleash an avalanche of nationalist rhetoric against the US of a type I hadn’t seen in thirty years. America was now routinely described as a swaggering bully. The People’s Daily reminded its readers that the People’s Republic, less than twelve months after its founding, had fought the US to a stalemate in Korea.” Kevin RuddThe Sydney Morning Herald

US–Iran tensions are on the rise. Here’s what that could mean for Australia

“Experts warn that oil prices could dramatically rise as multiple countries – including Australia – could be drawn into a conflict that could wreak havoc across an already war-torn Middle East.” Tracey Shelton, ABC News

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Despite challenges, Australia and China should maintain law enforcement cooperation

“Today, Australia has one of the strongest police-to-police relationships with China of any Western liberal democracy . . . To ensure that Australia can continue to work with China . . . [it] should delineate what it’s prepared to cooperate with China on and what it isn’t.” Simon Norton, The Strategist (Australian Strategic Policy Institute)

Yemen conflict – why a British court ruling could matter for Australia

“The Australian and British governments continue to support defence exports to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – countries accused by the United Nations of committing war crimes in Yemen – despite mounting pressure for Western countries to halt military sales to the Saudi Arabian-led coalition . . . Of the various actions taking place globally, the UK litigation holds most significance for Australia.” Grace Williamson, The Interpreter (The Lowy Institute)

Free from Australian Foreign Affairs

Directorate S – The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, book review by Ric Smith

“So, what went wrong?

The answer matters because it explains why American and some other coalition forces – including Australia’s – are still in Afghanistan today. For readers less familiar with the Afghan project, Directorate S, Steve Coll’s successor to his Pulitzer Prize–winning Ghost Wars, offers a fascinating explanation.” Ric Smith, HERE

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HONG KONG
PROTESTS

Australia values Hong Kong’s unique advantages and freedoms.

Marise Payne, foreign minister (Australia)

Deficiencies in the government’s work . . . [caused] disappointment and grief among the people.

Carrie Lam, chief executive (Hong Kong)

We resolutely oppose actions and words by any foreign forces to interfere.

Geng Shuang, foreign ministry spokesperson (China)

Sources: DFAT, The Sydney Morning Herald, CNN



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