Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

China and the Rhineland moment in Hong Kong

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : G-7 countries, TPP

Mains level : Paper 2- US-China relations and implications for India

While the world is busy battling pandemic, China has embarked upon completing its pet project: stripping Hong Kong off its special status. This article explains the significance of China’s actions. And the options the U.S. could explore as a response to China’s move.

Tipping points in History

  • In 1911 Germany sparked an international crisis when it sent a gunboat into the Moroccan port of Agadir.
  • Winston Churchill wrote in his history of the First World War, “all the alarm bells throughout Europe began immediately to quiver.”
  • In 1936 Germany provoked another crisis when it marched troops into the Rhineland, in flagrant breach of its treaty obligations.
  • In 1946, the Soviet Union made it obvious it had no intention of honoring democratic principles in Central Europe, and Churchill was left to warn that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

Analogies: Not perfect, but not inapt, either.

  • Analogies between these past episodes and China’s decision this week to draft a new national security law on Hong Kong aren’t perfect.
  • First, Hong Kong is a Chinese port, not a faraway foreign one.
  • Second, Hong Kong’s people have ferociously resisted Beijing’s efforts to impose control, unlike the Rhineland Germans who welcomed Berlin’s.
  • And lastly, the curtailment of freedom that awaits Hong Kong is nothing like the totalitarian tyranny that Joseph Stalin imposed on Warsaw, Budapest and other cities.
  • But the analogies aren’t inapt, either.
  • Beijing has spent the better part of 20 years subverting its promises to preserve Hong Kong’s democratic institutions.
  • Now it is moving to quash what remains of the city’s civic freedoms through a forthcoming law that allows the government to punish speech as subversion and protest as sedition.
  • The concept of “one country, two systems,” was supposed to last at least until 2047 under the terms of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
  • Now China’s rulers have been openly violating that treaty, much as Germany openly violated the treaties of Locarno and Versailles.

Rethink of the U.S. strategic approach to China

  • US administration has undertaken a sober rethink of it’s strategic approach to China.
  • The outlines of which are described in a new inter-agency document quietly released by the White House last week.
  • Gone from this new vision are the platitudes about encouraging China’s “peaceful rise” as a “responsible stakeholder” in a “rules-based order.”
  • Instead, Beijing is described, accurately, as a habitual and aggressive violator of that order.
  • It also describes China as a domestic tyrant, international bully and economic bandit that systematically robs companies of their intellectual property, countries of their sovereign authorities, and its own people of their natural rights.
  • A critic might note that this description of China’s behavior sounds a lot like Trump’s.
  • Sort of, except that the comparison trivializes the scale of China’s abuses and neglects the breadth and longevity of its challenge.

Why Now and what is the US response?

  • Beijing almost certainly chose this moment to strike because it calculated that a world straining under the weight of a pandemic and a depression lacked the will and attention to react.
  • On Friday, Trump said he would strip Hong Kong of its privileged commercial and legal ties to the U.S.
  • Issue with the move: That punishes the people of Hong Kong at least as much as it does their rulers in Beijing.

What’s a better course for the U.S.? A few ideas:

  • Sanction Chinese officials engaged in human-rights abuses in Hong Kong under the Global Magnitsky Act.
  • Upgrade relations with Taiwan and increase arms sales, including top-shelf weapons’ systems such as the F-35 and the Navy’s future frigate.
  • Re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)agreement as a counter to China’s economic influence.
  • Publicly press all G-7 countries to stop doing business with telecom-giant Huawei as a meaningful response to the Hong Kong law.
  • Give every Hong Kong person an opportunity to easily obtain a U.S. residency card, even a passport.

Conclusion

If all this and more were announced now, it might persuade Beijing to pull back from the brink. In the meantime, think of this as  Rhineland moment with China — and remember what happened the last time the free world looked aggression in the eye, and blinked

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