The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has taken its all-too-familiar stand on the issue of unrest in Hong Kong remaining consistent with its standard approach to managing and negotiating issues of sovereignity over its territories.
“I’d like to reiterate that Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of China, and Hong Kong affairs fall entirely within China’s internal affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a press conference.
“We urge relevant countries to be prudent in words and deeds, refrain from interfering in Hong Kong’s internal affairs in any way, and do not support the illegal activities such as the ‘Occupy Central’ nor send any wrong signal,” she said in the briefing, the transcript of which was uploaded on the foreign ministry website.
Fair enough. Today’s Hong Kong residents just happen to be unlucky enough to have been born at the wrong time at the wrong place. Hong Kong is part of Chinese territory. The deal surrounding Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories was progressively sealed between the British Empire and China over the years since 1842 albeit under foggy circumstances considering some of the lines drawing these agreements were blurred by the onslaught of changed circumstances brought about by time.
Hong Kong’s territory was acquired from three separate treaties: the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, the Treaty of Beijing in 1860, and The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory in 1898, which gave the United Kingdom (UK) the control of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon (area south of Boundary Street), and the New Territories (area north of Boundary Street and south of the Shenzhen River, and outlying islands), respectively. Hong Kong Island and Kowloon had been ceded to the United Kingdom in perpetuity. Control over the New Territories, on the other hand, was a 99-year lease.
As the end of the term of the 99-year lease on the New Territories approached, then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher negotiated with her counterpart in the PRC Deng Xiaoping for an extension citing the terms of the original agreements. But Deng took the view that those treaties were entered into under “unfair and unequal” terms with China, at the time, situated at the wrong end of the British Empire’s cannons. So, understandably, he then took the position that there was no room for compromise on the PRC’s stand that Hong Kong and Kowloon despite being leased “in perpetuity” under those agreements will also be subject to recovery by the PRC when the lease on the New Territories expired in 1997.
Deng was said to have told Thatcher bluntly that China could easily take Hong Kong by force, stating that “I could walk in and take the whole lot this afternoon”.
And therein at that point in recent history lies the bottom line. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can simply march in and crush the Umbrella Revolution. Tomorrow. Hong Kong may be important to China economically. But it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, irreplaceable. The Hong Kong economy accounts for only 3 percent of China’s economy. And at the rate the Chinese economy expands annually (thanks, funny enough, to the generous investments of the “free world” economies), it can simply “grow” another Hong Kong within less than a year.
The Economist “explains” (rather lamely) that, even if so, Hong Kong remains “vital” to China citing that it is an important “staging post” for equity investments in the mainland but, at the same time, admitted that “much of this money is simply passing through.”
That rosy picture is debatable at best. Regardless of where or what these “staging posts” for investment money pouring into China are, the whole world’s investment community salivates over the treasures available for the picking in the vast Chinese market. With or without Hong Kong, investors will find a way to establish their presence in the Middle Kingdom. A huge and switched-on expat and ethnic Chinese community based all over the region already serve as such alternative conduits for cash and equity inflow into the PRC. The feared mass exodus of everything Hong Kong into Singapore will simply mean that Singapore will become — what else? — the new Hong Kong. Beijing wins just the same.
Thus Beijing is unlikely to back down on its position regarding the future “autonomy” of Hong Kong. If it can take the same non-negotiable position with foreign countries such as how it does with its claims to territories in the South China Sea, certainly a rogue territory within it will be no match to the PRC’s resolve to consolidate its power over its assets. Indeed, China has long long been renowned for its ability to outstare even its most powerful foes. If Beijing will not parachute in the PLA to finish the job tomorrow, it can choose to take an equally effective approach: simply wait for the protest movement to starve to death.
Realising China’s resolve to recover Hong Kong in 1982, Thatcher warned Deng back then: “there is nothing I could do to stop you [from taking these territories by force], but the eyes of the world would now know what China is like.” Ask China if it cares. The governments of the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, et al — claimants to the contested South China Sea territories China is progressively annexing — already know the answer to that question.
[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the Wikipedia.org article “Transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site.]
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