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Wednesday 6 November

With Jonathan Pearlman

How to deal with Hong Kong

The pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has been leaderless, partly to prevent authorities targeting the organisers. One of the few named activists has been Bonnie Leung, a 32-year-old district councillor.

Last month, Leung visited Canberra with a message for Australia’s MPs: she urged them to delay ratifying a free trade deal with Hong Kong. “If we are about to be killed, what good is the trade deal for us?” she told The Australian.

When the deal was signed in Sydney in March this year, it received little attention. Hong Kong has traded freely with Australia for years and, despite its small size, is Australia’s twelfth-largest trading partner. Three months after the signing, however, the protests in Hong Kong broke out, opposing a law that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland. Suddenly, Australia faced questions about whether to proceed with a deal that appears to endorse the city’s current administration.

Leung’s call to reconsider the deal was backed by members of Australia’s Hong Kong community. But their plea has been rejected. Instead, the government has defended the deal, saying it would help to affirm Hong Kong’s autonomy.

But this reasoning is flawed. China can undermine Hong Kong’s special status under the “one country, two systems” principle, yet still allow it to sign separate trade deals. This would be the Chinese Communist Party’s ideal scenario: to preserve Hong Kong’s prosperity and its position as a commercial hub, but to stifle the free and open dialogue that has led to the city being a source of strident criticism of the Party. In Hong Kong, unlike on the mainland, an internet search for “Tiananmen Square” leads to 1989.

Last month, the parliament’s joint standing committee on treaties delivered a report on whether to ratify the deal. A majority, consisting of Coalition and Labor MPs, said the deal should be adopted because it “would reaffirm and strengthen Hong Kong’s autonomous status”. The Greens dissented, saying: “This is an opportunity for the Australian Government to back up its words of concern with action, and demonstrate to the Chinese Government and Hong Kong authorities that repression will not stand.”

In principle, Australia should support free trade, particularly at a time when it is under threat. It should not make trade dependent on whether its partner has an unblemished human rights record – a position which would leave it with few or no partners, and, given its own recent blemishes, would be difficult to defend. Instead, the government has the harder task of balancing its competing interests – of deciding when violations of human and political rights become so unacceptable that they warrant sanctions or disruptions to trade flows. In the case of Hong Kong, this involves assessing when the city’s autonomy has been lost.

The treaty has been supported by Labor and the Coalition in the House of Representatives and is due to go to the Senate by the end of the year. The Senate should endorse the treaty, but not until the crisis in Hong Kong is resolved, and with this qualification: that it is dependent on China continuing to uphold “two systems”. Following the release of the treaty committee’s report, Labor’s trade spokesperson, Madeleine King, outlined such a position. She said that if Hong Kong’s government tried to reintroduce a bill to allow extraditions to China, or if China intervened militarily, these would mark a “clear line” and would require Australia to reconsider the bill.

The pro-democracy protests have continued for five months and are becoming increasingly violent. The future of the city, and of its freedoms, is uncertain. Australia should not pretend that it is business as usual with Hong Kong.


Violence in Papua could get worse

“If the Jokowi government was serious about addressing Papuan ills, it would try to do an accurate headcount, in a way that would document the true number of migrants, as the Papuans demand, but would also expose the amount of population inflation that has taken place in local statistics, especially in the highlands.” Sidney JonesThe Interpreter (Lowy Institute)

Wary of China’s embrace, India holds out in trade talks at ASEAN summit in Bangkok

“The scale of the trade pact is huge, covering sixteen countries, more than 30 per cent of global economic activity, and almost half the world’s population. India’s hesitation and anxiety over the deal has been fuelled by protectionist influences on the subcontinent, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi under pressure to avoid a deal which would undermine local manufacturing.” Matthew Doran, ABC NEWS

Malaysian PM says Australia’s European roots will give way to Asian influence

“Reminded of past comments where he described Australia as a European colony that was not part of Asia, and a deputy sheriff of the United States, Dr Mahathir said: ‘Whatever white Australians might think of it, the fact is geographically they are more in the Asian region than in Europe.’” James Massola, The Sydney Morning Herald


Japan, South Korea, and the politics of the present

“The rift has also extended to security relations; South Korea has withdrawn from an intelligence-sharing agreement that took the United States, their shared ally, years to broker.” Jennifer Lind, The Diplomat [$]

China’s Shenzhen is using big data to become a smart, “socialist model city”

“Li Shihua, head of the video division of the city’s public security bureau, said … ‘About 80 per cent of criminal cases are solved with the help of video surveillance. Almost all criminal cases can be solved in 24 or 48 hours with the help of these technologies.’” William Zheng, South China Morning Post

Free from Australian Foreign Affairs

How to Defend Australia, book review by David Kilcullen

“I agree entirely with White’s reasoning, but from my perch here in the United States things look a little different, and the premise seems a bit shaky. Just as China’s rise appears more complicated and less inevitable than White suggests, America’s current strategic posture is also more complex than retreat.” David Kilcullen, HERE



Never made sense.

Donald Trump, president (United States)

We need … to listen to the science and not ban or shelve gas techniques.

Matt Canavan, resources minister (Australia)

We cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.

Andrea Leadsom, energy secretary, (United Kingdom)

Sources: The White House, 2GBThe Guardian

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