Twenty-five years ago Britain ceded the crown colony of Hong Kong to China. Then there was an exceptional situation in 2000 when both the end of the century and the millennium were celebrated with the party spirit achieved a few years later. From there we saw Chinese military vehicles approaching from the mainland. At the same time there were lavish fireworks and celebrations and assurances that Hong Kong’s independence would be guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” principle.
But the thumb screw was soon tightened and today it is clear that Hong Kong’s freedoms are severely restricted, although some have been described as “coronary restrictions”. As Hong Kong pushes harder and harder into Chinese rule, pressure also mounts on Taiwan, which China does not recognize and has long threatened to annex.
In the twenty-five years since Hong Kong became a Chinese state, freedom of movement for citizens has been severely restricted except for Xi Jinping’s strictly regulated visits. Demonstrations of all kinds are banned, and those who try to move freely are detained.
Xi has not traveled for the past 900 days, according to people recording his movements.
China was discussed at the NATO conference
NATO’s Madrid meeting coincides with Hong Kong’s anniversary and is a very timely opportunity to show Chinese strength. NATO brings together not only 30 member states, but also interested parties like Sweden and Finland and countries with observer status in the European Union. But it is visitors from Japan, South Korea, New Zealand and Australia that have piqued China’s interest. This is the first time NATO allies in that part of the world have been invited to a formal meeting. China was also discussed in a NATO document at this year’s meeting. Earlier, China was not mentioned in the official document.
The United States, Britain, and Australia also formed a military alliance called Agus a year ago to protect their common interests in the Pacific region. China views it as a hostile act and threatens severe reactions if Acus supports Taiwan in any way in a possible Chinese move.
Xi Jinping pointed out that there are many reasons for his appearance in Hong Kong, and that the outside world has nothing to do with political developments there. He knows enough to signal to NATO and those invited to Madrid that the Chinese leadership does not appreciate the expanding Western defense alliance and its invitation to countries in China’s immediate vicinity.
Ukraine is a balancing act for China
China has been cautiously balanced since Russia invaded Ukraine in February. Russian President Vladimir Putin visited China and the Olympics ahead of the invasion and is believed to have perceived his meeting with Xi as supportive of the planned move. But China doesn’t want to end up in a Russian cage, with all its sanctions and isolation from the West. Nor does China care to portray itself as the nation with which the United States should primarily engage when Russia weakens.
While the West is busy warring in Russia and Ukraine, Chinese leadership sees an opportunity to emerge. But, like Hong Kong, ramp up political repression when the outside world is busy with other things.
read more: Xi is talking about two more systems – in Hong Kong
read more: Hong Kong’s New Leaders Look to China
read more: Xi Jinping in Hong Kong: “Reborn from the fire”
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