The globe is now more than 11 weeks into the gravest crisis associated with Hong Kong since the British withdrew from the colony in 1997. At that time, promises were made, agreements were concluded, and amity was exhibited between the British and the mainland Chinese governments to facilitate an uninterrupted status quo in Hong Kong as precisely as possible. The financial capacities and liberal freedoms that British rule brought to the enclave were to be preserved through these measures.
Now 22 years “past the mark” of the repatriation of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China, significant fractures are beginning to manifest in the much-lauded “one country, two systems” approach to this Europeanized metropolitan addition to the Chinese state.
Europe has left its imprint on many parts of the world. Removing the Western commercial and economic yoke from China in the 20th century helped bring an end to the perceived humiliation of the Chinese by European hands.
However, Hong Kong and Macao stood as continuing reminders of European colonialism. While these prosperous political entities contributed much to the economies of the surrounding areas and the world in general, Chinese leadership considered the continuing European presence a poke in the eye of the authority of China over its own territory.
The “lease” on Hong Kong expired in 1997 and the Portuguese were persuaded to surrender the sovereignty of Macao to the PRC in 1999. The return of these areas brought enhanced “national pride” to the Chinese populace as the last territorial vestiges of imperialism were wiped from the Chinese body politic.
The current tsunami of protest held in Hong Kong stands to resist the grasp of local proxies of the mainland communist regime. The Chinese could “roll in” at any moment, giving civil unrest as the pretext for mainland occupation of the former British colony. Complete Chinese control over Hong Kong might terminate past considerations of Hong Kong’s previous status.
What then? Will the nations of the world have any effective answer to such ham-handed maneuvers? Hong Kong is considered Chinese territory that is merely under a separate governmental and commercial system. Prosecuting a case against a developing country “throwing off” the vestiges of colonialism in its territory is likely to receive a cold reception from countries that were nearly all at one time under the “European heel.”
If China is not punished sufficiently for abrogating its responsibilities in Hong Kong, will Russia be emboldened by this development regarding its resurgent territorial aspirations? Will encouraged Russian armor roll again into the Baltics and further into the Ukraine? Will stronger nations more ruthlessly exercise their territorial prerogatives over their weaker neighbors?
Some global political analysts are referring to the world as “gyrating out of control.” It is possible that there is a degree of accuracy to these perennial observations as they pertain to Hong Kong. The dissolution of the effective governance of Hong Kong, even in the iron grip of Chinese communists, may interdict the full restoration of this invaluable commercial hub to its exalted status in the world economy.
International norms of sovereignty could see some changes depending on the resolution of the Hong Kong matter. Controversial internal political questions, often created by countries with less than stellar human-rights records, may be less addressable.
Weak international agreements may be further emasculated by an unfavorable resolution to the Hong Kong crisis. Pending the outcome of this confrontation, will the little normative control that exists globally over human-rights and self-determination issues become nothing more than a specter of past good intentions?
Much of the world is pensive over what may happen if Hong Kong is “invaded” and concurrently depreciated from its financial status and power. In various corners of the globe, many may rest more uneasily on this August night. Some may do so rightly.
John M. Thomas Jr. of North Charleston graduated from The Citadel with a master’s degree in social science in 2012. He has written extensively on international issues including African and Middle Eastern politics.