Published: 20:16, May 14, 2024 | Updated: 09:49, May 16, 2024
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Western narrative of political changes in Hong Kong is blatantly biased
By Lau Siu-kai

Over the past decade or so, Hong Kong has experienced turbulent political changes, but the overall situation has evolved from chaos to governance. This has much to do with the central government’s decisive and effective action to end chaos and defend the “one country, two systems” principle. However, Western politicians, experts and media with ulterior motives have persisted in propagating a biased and inaccurate narrative of these political changes. Behind this “alternative narrative” are the West’s attempts to contain and badmouth China including the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, their ignorance or distorted understanding of the historical background, original intention and basic principles of “one country, two systems”, and their disgraceful role in the turmoil in Hong Kong. However, this role has never been mentioned or admitted. This “alternative narrative” unmistakably also reflects the ideological and moral arrogance and prejudice of the West.

In the Western narrative, over the past decade or so, Hong Kong residents have spontaneously launched a series of peaceful protests to free themselves from the control of the Communist Party of China (CPC), strive for autonomy, democracy and freedom, and defend human rights. These struggles demonstrate Hong Kong residents’ recognition and admiration for Western political values. However, under the ruthless suppression of the CPC and the HKSAR government, these heroic actions failed. During the crackdown, the CPC enacted the National Security Law for Hong Kong, and the HKSAR government followed servilely to pass the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance. Under the new political and legal environment, Hong Kong’s degree of autonomy continues to decline. Its democracy, freedom, human rights, and the rule of law have also languished, and opposition forces no longer have the room to survive. This Western narrative has, in turn, become the “factual basis” and political rationale for the West to continuously denigrate, discredit, and sanction China and the HKSAR.

Earlier this month, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a well-known American think tank, published a research report penned by Scott Kennedy, Lily McElwee and Jude Blanchette, titled The Erosion of Hong Kong’s Autonomy Since 2020: Implications for the United States. The authors claimed that “this report aims to provide an objective analysis of Hong Kong’s status based on on-the-ground discussions with various stakeholders in the city, open-source research, and consultations with the business community, policymakers, and the Hong Kong diaspora.” However, after reviewing the report, I found that although the authors tried to write the report in milder language, its core content conforms with the Western “alternative narrative” of Hong Kong’s political changes in the past decade or so. This parroting by serious scholars of the official view makes me sad and regretful, mainly because the authors, who claim to be “objective”, show an absence of basic common sense about the history of and situation in Hong Kong and embrace many wrong perceptions. However, since this study received generous support from the US State Department, it is understandable or unavoidable that its findings are akin to the position of the US government.

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The three authors believe that Beijing and the HKSAR government enacted laws to safeguard national security because of “several years of increasing social activism and demands by Hong Kong residents on a range of issues, including for Chinese authorities to fulfill their pledge in the Basic Law to allow for universal suffrage by Hong Kong’s population for the members of the Legislative Council and the chief executive.” Here, the authors show that they do not know or pretend not to know the Chinese government’s longtime and consistent position on Hong Kong’s democratic development. Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of “one country, two systems”, emphasized more than once that Hong Kong’s democratic development must not endanger national security, the successful implementation of “one country, two systems”, the “executive-led” governance model and the principle of “patriots governing Hong Kong”. Democratic development must proceed incrementally and by actual conditions, so there can never be a rigid timetable for the popular election of the legislature and the chief executive. Since the handover, the vast majority of those “democracy fighters” and “human rights activists” are also anti-China, anti-communist and anti-government elements. In their vision, Hong Kong should enjoy not only a “high degree of autonomy” but also “complete autonomy” under “one country, two systems”, thus becoming an independent political entity. Therefore, they do not accept the central government’s interpretation of “one country, two systems” and refuse to recognize its powers over Hong Kong granted by the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law. They have attempted to seize power in the HKSAR through electoral reforms and, if successful, turn Hong Kong into a base of subversion that would endanger national security. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to imagine that the central government would meet their demands or allow them to control the HKSAR government.

Since the city’s return to China, the city’s anti-communist, anti-China and anti-government elements have never stopped organizing and launching political struggles against Beijing and the HKSAR government, propagating anti-communist ideas, disrupting the operations of the Legislative Council, creating political unrest, and hindering Hong Kong’s development

The authors claimed that a “key finding” of their study is that “an authoritarian turn in China under Xi Jinping has significantly eroded Hong Kong’s ‘high degree of autonomy’ that was supposed to be maintained until 2047.” Since the city’s return to China, the city’s anti-communist, anti-China and anti-government elements have never stopped organizing and launching political struggles against Beijing and the HKSAR government, propagating anti-communist ideas, disrupting the operations of the Legislative Council, creating political unrest, and hindering Hong Kong’s development. Accordingly, the authors should have asked, “Why did Beijing wait 20 years before taking action to end the chaos in Hong Kong?” In any case, if violent insurrection, a highly destructive riot, had not erupted in Hong Kong in 2019-20, and if external hostile forces had not been blatantly involved in this riot, Beijing probably would still have maintained its usual patience and tolerance in handling Hong Kong affairs rather than taking a decisive and thorough approach to eliminate all the possibilities of chaos in Hong Kong. Since 2012, the unrest in Hong Kong has become increasingly large-scale and violent, and this increasingly serious unrest occurred under the eyes of President Xi Jinping’s administration. When national security and “one country, two systems” were under severe threat simultaneously, no Chinese leader would sit idly by.

The authors are critical of the formula of “patriots governing Hong Kong”. In their eyes, “patriots governing Hong Kong” is unfair because it deprives the opposition of the opportunity to participate in politics. They are disgusted with Hong Kong’s new electoral system and lamented that “pro-democracy representation was largely snuffed out by the introduction of [the new electoral rules], in effect disqualifying those with a history of criticizing Beijing or the Hong Kong government for departing from the political reforms promised in the Basic Law.” This criticism, however, ignores the basic fact that most “democrats” in Hong Kong refused to accept the constitutional order of the HKSAR, composed of the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law. No country in the world would allow those who repudiate the country’s constitutional order or threaten to overthrow it to participate in the country’s governance. More importantly, as early as the 1980s, Deng Xiaoping repeatedly emphasized the indispensability of “patriots governing Hong Kong” to safeguarding national security and successfully implementing “one country, two systems”. In essence, the arrangement of “patriots governing Hong Kong” is a core component of “one country, two systems”. It is not a novel contrivance created to punish the “democrats”.

There are two serious deficiencies or omissions in this report. One is that it turns a blind eye to the disgraceful role played by external forces, including the United States, in Hong Kong’s unrest over the past decade. Western forces have always emphasized the “spontaneous” nature of the unrest in Hong Kong and denied that they had ever been involved. However, a large amount of evidence and phenomena have undeniably shown that the people and organizations who instigated and participated in the unrest in Hong Kong received a lot of instigation, organization, training, guidance, funding, cooperation and protection from the West. The case of tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying allegedly endangering national security is now being tried in a Hong Kong court. All witnesses who have worked with Lai have disclosed in court that many Western politicians, organizations and media had conspired and colluded with local rioters. The evidence shows that the riots in Hong Kong were not wholly spontaneous but were closely related to external forces deliberately causing chaos in Hong Kong to harm and contain China.

In the past, because of the absence of laws and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security, many incredible “freedoms” and “human rights” existed and were rampantly used by those who wanted to turn Hong Kong into a base for subversion

Another shortcoming of the report is that the authors are oblivious to the highly violent nature of Hong Kong’s 2019-20 unrest and the severe harm it caused to Hong Kong society and its residents. I believe that if such riots were to occur in the US, the US government would not hesitate to adopt more draconian means than the HKSAR government to suppress them. In Hong Kong, no one who participated in the riots ever lost their life because of police enforcement actions. Hong Kong’s penchant for treasuring human life did not appear in suppressing riots in the West.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the current state of Hong Kong is not a state that the authors believe “should not occur” but a normal state that complies with the requirements of “one country, two systems”. Now, Hong Kong finally has the legal system and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security that it lacked for a long time after its return to the motherland. Only when national security is guaranteed can Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” be implemented indefinitely. In the past, because of the absence of laws and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security, many incredible “freedoms” and “human rights” existed and were rampantly used by those who wanted to turn Hong Kong into a base for subversion. Many Westerners and Hong Kong’s “democracy fighters” and “human rights activists” have fond memories of Hong Kong’s past state of constant struggles and turmoil as a “normal” state. Accordingly, Hong Kong’s current state of order and stability is criticized as “abnormal” and unreasonably regarded as “evidence” of Hong Kong’s “diminishing autonomy”. Inevitably, some Hong Kong residents cannot accommodate themselves in the new or normal situation in Hong Kong, and have left the city because of this.

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All countries or jurisdictions in the world have laws to safeguard national security. These laws will certainly restrict personal freedoms and human rights to a certain extent, and Hong Kong is no exception. For Hong Kong, laws to safeguard national security are still new. Hong Kong must continue accumulating experience, learning lessons, and improving its work on protecting human rights and freedoms while preserving national security. Therefore, there is no need to take those less-than-satisfactory things too seriously or rebuke them, as they will be removed or improved as the new normal situation develops.

The author is a professor emeritus of sociology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a consultant for the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.