“Self-determination is not a mere phrase. It is an imperative principle of action; which statesmen will henceforth ignore at their peril.” Much has changed since Woodrow Wilson uttered these words, and so too has the tendency of the US to intervene in crises of self-governance. The 4th of June reinforced the perception of many as to China’s level of authority over Hong Kong, with America having only exacerbated the situation days before. A candlelit vigil, held every year since 1990 to commemorate the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen square massacre, was disrupted by police using pepper spray to disperse crowds, also making several arrests. Many viewed this as yet another attempt by Beijing to impede discord in the region, raising once again the all-important question: will Hong Kong ever escape from the clutches of China, or is the semi-autonomous state witnessing a brutal culling of whatever sovereignty it had left?
As far as Hong Kong is concerned, the future certainly does not look as bright as its streets were just over a week ago. Donald Trump’s act of removing exempt status for the region on trading, customs and travel as a ‘free city’ has left the region caught between the ongoing power struggle between America and China, which could see economic problems piled on top of those created by Covid-19. As Hong Kong has control over its economic outgoings and is dependent on free trade agreements, a change of US economic policy towards it would always be problematic, however the wider implications seem to be yet more worrying for the 7.5 million people that reside there.
Behind Trump’s alteration of economic policy were, primarily, increased security measures imposed by the Chinese government, designed to prevent and castigate terrorism, secession, subversion or foreign interference in Hong Kong. Concerning the latter, these security measures have clearly performed their function, albeit with unintended economic consequences, as by removing the region’s exempt status, yet more power has been ceded to the Chinese government. The US refusal to do business with Hong Kong due to increased Chinese control over the area serves to legitimize the takeover to a certain extent, therefore providing China with the political tools it may need to take back even more control in years to come.
It was, of course, another Western nation that first facilitated higher levels of Chinese exertion in Hong Kong, with the former British colony handed over to its larger neighbour officially on the 1st June 1997 under Tony Blair’s newly formed government. As part of the agreement, a date was set for 50 years time in 2047, before which it was agreed that its liberties would be maintained. To suggest that many liberties, including those such as freedom of speech, have already been compromised by the Chinese government presents greater foreboding for what may occur after the fateful date in 2047 when there is no longer any sense of an agreement to fulfill, highlighting the possibility of a level of central control previously unprecedented. Although economic freedoms are unlikely to be interfered with, the ability of the government to curtail all other liberties -including those of religion- in just 27 years time serves as a reminder that the clock is ticking and action would need to take place now to avoid an inevitable outcome.
Fear of 1st June 2047 has led to a number of films produced, as Hong Kong’s population attempts to predict what life may be like come the end of their liberties as they know them now. The production of ‘oxygen’, ‘2046’ and ‘Ten years’ all served to highlight these concerns, for fear of losing what the region prides itself on. Sentiments of this pride surround primarily the independent judiciary, the well-trained police force and wider freedoms, although increased levels of police aggression and mass arrests have served to alert those who may have been previously unaware of the stranglehold Beijing is attempting to gain. The independent judiciary also appears to be under threat, with new Chinese legislature in November of 2019 stating that only Beijing was able to decide what was constitutional in Hong Kong. Although the people don’t elect their officials in the region, judicial independence is seen as a way of guaranteeing freedoms to a greater extent, and with this sovereignty looking shakier than ever, the alarm bells are beginning to sound in a similarly alarming fashion.
Not only does Hong Kong’s fate look so set in stone that even King Arthur would be unable to yank them to safety, but it also seems there is next to nothing that can be done about it. Beijing is willfully imposing whatever control they can, knowing that no other nation will come to Hong Kong’s aid, with their prospects of self-determination rapidly disappearing into the distance. The noose is tightening. Hong Kong will be left to be enveloped under Chinese control, with no chance of a great escape.