British Prime Minister Boris Johnson registered a faint sheeplike note on his view of Trump’s Trade War against China. Sheeplike, even though he was very much against the American’s disruptive and destructive methods of negotiating trade deals. That the PM of the once great Great Britain can describe his stance on a major issue that may cause the next global recession – perhaps even depression- sheeplike is sheepish indeed. Where is the tenacity and leadership? The heroic bluster of the leader of a country that was once an Empire? Once upon a time, they had the temerity to send warships to bombard the Middle Kingdom. Having forced the weak Opium addicts to sign the Treaty of Nanjing, Hong Kong was theirs to rule and pillage as a British Crown colony. The meek surrender of the Qing Dynasty after the First Opium War in 1842 only made the Brits more ruthless. 18 years later China was again forced to cede more territory – Kowloon, after losing the Second Opium War. Two years before that, the British colonised the Indian subcontinent and named it the British Raj. They were there for 90 years during which they sent much of the riches to England and demolished India’s economy in the process, it went from contributing 20% of global GDP to less than 5%. Despite a famine that claimed some 6-10 million Indians, the export of wheat to Britain continued. The Brits left India a poorer country than when they first ruled it. In 1898, the Chinese leased The New Territories to their conquerors for 99 years, and did not reclaim Hong Kong until 1997. The One Country Two Systems model espoused by Deng Xiaoping was to satisfy the conditions imposed on China in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. It ensured that Hong Kong although returned to Chinese rule will still retain its own Basic Law, capitalist economic system, its own currency and legislative system. Most importantly, the citizens were assured of their freedom and basic human rights for the next fifty years.
Whilst Boris Johnson may be sheepish, Gandhi was no sheep in his loincloth. Immediately after the 1919 Amritsar massacre in which hundreds of unarmed Sikh civilians were ruthlessly killed by the Brits whilst celebrating their New Year, Gandhi abandoned his support for British rule. He was a giant in adopting non-violent civil disobedience in his struggles for civil rights and led nationwide campaigns to achieve self rule, although his non-violent methods were met with British brutality and repression. Although Indian independence was reclaimed in 1947, the ill-contrived Mountbatten Plan with its arbitrary and badly drawn up map caused the biggest displacement of some 20 million people and death toll of between 200,000 to two million civilians. Divide and rule was a deliberate policy of the Brits when the India Raj was their colony. The same strategy was also adopted when they handed over the country. The breakup of India Raj into India and Pakistan was deliberate, it weakened and divided the subcontinent along religious lines.
Where were the howls and protests by the western media then? Did the world show any indignation to how the Indians were abused in their own homeland for almost a century under colonial rule? Was there any uproar in the West over the treatment of Hong Kong? The people were not given any universal suffrage under British rule. There was no free public education and health care was minimal. Was life under British rule so much better? They weren’t granted British citizenship by their rulers nor were they provided cheap public housing to better their living conditions. Under British rule, there were no mass protests in the streets of Hong Kong. Yet, we have been witnessing the massive crowds of protestors every weekend since 31 March this year. Why are the protestors taking to the streets, causing civil unrest and depriving the majority of their basic rights to live and work in harmony. Carrie Lam announced “the bill is dead” , an acknowledgment to the protestors that their demand to scrap the Extradition Bill aka Fugitive Bill of 2019 has been met. What is wrong with the government wanting an extradition agreement to add China, Macao and Taiwan to the existing eighteen countries that have such an agreement? Especially when there are safeguards in the proposal that require the courts to approve extradition requests for major crimes such as murder, rape and kidnapping. The escalating violence on property and police has met with restrained response from the police, yet western media continue to report news of disproportionate police violence. Armed with knives, sharpened ends of umbrellas, bricks, smoke bombs, petrol bombs, and even military-grade grenade launchers, many policemen have sustained severe injuries. Barricading roads and blocking exits and egress to trains caused chaos to transport systems and even led to the closure of Hong Kong airport for two days. Rampant mob violence and destruction of buildings cannot be allowed to continue. These protestors would all have been incarcerated in any other country. Gandhi won his country’s independence with non-violent ways. Why do these protestors think they can achieve more with violence? What will they achieve by destroying what they – the Chinese – have built up in Hong Kong? They in fact have successfully demonstrated that they have the freedom to exercise their right to protest yet they resort to violence against their own police and anyone who they suspect do not agree with their views? A video showing Steve Bannon, President Trump’s one time White House Chief Strategist, standing side by side with Guo Wengui, the latter assuring on-the-ground student leaders of continued US financial support does lend credence to China’s claims of the black hand instigating subversion against a sovereign country. Let us hope there won’t be blood on these black hands. It is a blatant act to cause destabilisation in a previously prosperous and peaceful country. Hong Kong, wake up before it is too late. Don’t be manipulated by parties that do not have your interests at heart. Learn from the sheepish. Learn from the great man in the loincloth. We can achieve greatness without violence.
On the other hand, China also can help their own cause by being open and accountable with the treatment of their citizens. This morning’s news that Australian writer and political commentator Yang Hengjun has been formally arrested in China on suspicions of espionage more than seven months after he was detained, reflects poorly on China’s legal system. This is precisely what sends shivers up the spines of Hong Kong residents. No one should be incarcerated for such a long time before being formally arrested. He has been deprived of access to his lawyers and the denial of his right to family visits is draconian and unnecessary. There will be unavoidable accusations of admissions obtained under torture. China can do better, to demonstrate to the world that basic human rights are respected. The presumption of innocence should be a legal right, properly observed in China. Instead, this morning’s news about Yang reinforces the concerns the Hong Kong protestors have about China’s opaque and secretive legal system.