For months China has been trying to rein in an increasingly restless Hong Kong protest movement. The movement which sprung up last year was originally intended to stop the Hong Kong legislature passing laws that would enable Beijing to extradite dissidents, instill pro-Beijing views into children and station security forces there. The laws led to a protest movement that caught the attention and respect of much of the free world. They were men and women of all ages who had made home in Hong Kong and were prepared to put their livelihoods and lives on the line for their freedom.
Initially they succeeded. The laws were shelved and when elections were held, pro-democracy candidates swept the ballot in one of the most comprehensive routs I can remember. But in doing so, they angered the dragon. They angered Beijing, which resolved to bypass the legislature altogether and simply impose the law, which was done last Friday.
New Zealand has a long relationship with China. In its early days Chinese gold miners worked in harsh central Otago conditions to lay down water races so they could sluice gold, and were the subject of considerable discrimination whilst doing much to enrich the history of the province. It has a tricky balancing act to maintain as China is now our biggest export market and could cause massive damage to the economy if it chose to stop tourists coming here; stop taking our exports.
At the same time, China must learn – and New Zealand must participate in this teaching – that what it is doing in Hong Kong is not acceptable. It is not acceptable to bully other territories into submission simply because they have an alternative thought. Which is why the condemnation yesterday of China’s moves on Hong Kong and the fact that every party in Parliament spoke out against it, is to be applauded.
In 1972 the then United States President Richard Nixon visited China and re-established relations with the Peoples Republic. Following the vision of Deng Xiaoping, Paramount Ruler, China began opening up. It realized that command economics could not work and started developing a market economy. Chinese businesses were encouraged to innovate; Beijing joined the W.T.O. and began to show an interest in helping poor countries develop their natural resources.
But for all of China’s huge economic progress and the improvement of living standards in the worlds most populous nation, the Chinese Communist Party rules the country with an iron fist. Its tolerance for dissenting views of Beijing and in particular for those expressing a desire for democratic reform is quite frankly atrocious. It is not uncommon to have police officers awakening people in the night and taking them down to the local station “for a chat”, which may be more accurately described as a warning to cease and desist. Many a human rights lawyer, journalist, activist has been arrested and put in state run “re-education” camps. Its 1989 Tiananmen Square crack down in which the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army was deployed in huge numbers and killed or wounded 3,000 people
Hong Kong for the most part has been a model of people power and peaceful protest. Some days hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens have been on the streets. Much of the violence seen on television has been the result of security personnel agitating the protesters into committing acts of violence so they can be arrested. The Hong Kong Police Force by contrast have increasingly become a model for how not to deal with protesters. In the last two years the protests and protester movement putting up the protests has increased dramatically following attempts by Beijing to increase its level of control over Hong Kong . The new law change that I have described will no doubt see that distrust increase further.
Similarly China is becoming increasingly annoyed with Taiwan. The island nation that has grown rich and powerful and has been one of the true highlights in the global war against COVID19, is widely seen by Beijing as a renegade province that it wants back. Beijing fails to recognize that Taiwan is an independent nation. Formosa was never been a part of China, prior to becoming Taiwan. Ever since the Nationalists left the mainland to the Communists in 1949, Beijing has been plotting how to take the island nation without triggering a war. Taiwan’s very success and the high level of respect around the world for what it has achieved could be described as inducing Beijing’s envy. The rejection of the “One Nation Two Systems” rule which meant in return for China having control of Taiwan it could maintain its free and democratic governance, has been seen as an affront to Beijing. Although Beijing’s dream of taking Taiwan by force is unlikely – not least because it could a massive U.S. military response – as long as Taiwan is not directly ruled by China, Beijing will have designs on it.
New Zealand, like other nations, must stand firm against them.