Irish Times view on China’s moves in Hong Kong: Extending influence

Activists alarmed at what they see as undermining of Hong Kong’s special autonomy

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, speaks while wearing a protective mask during a news conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Photograph: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, speaks while wearing a protective mask during a news conference in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Photograph: Paul Yeung/Bloomberg

 

Simmering discontent in Hong Kong is coming to the boil again. No longer inhibited to the same extent by pandemic fears, angry citizens are returning to the streets to protest new legislation from their own notionally independent legislature and a creeping coup by Beijing.

Reports suggest the summer could be a hot one ahead of September legislative elections which China fears, like last November’s locals, could be won outright by pro-democracy forces.

Riots in the streets over the weekend followed physical clashes in the legislative council as pro-Beijing legislators tried to force through a controversial law criminalising disrespect of the national anthem and an overhaul of the education system. These are a prelude, democracy activists believe, to more repressive measures.

Activists are also alarmed at what they see as the undermining of Hong Kong’s special autonomy, the “one country, two systems” agreement which was negotiated with Beijing when the UK relinquished the territory in 1997 and which is the basis of the territory’s Basic Law. That is supposedly guaranteeing the promised “high degree of autonomy” which is being steadily unpicked.

Article 22 proscribes interference by central government in affairs over which the Special Administrative Region (SAR) government has autonomy. Unhappy that the SAR is unable to control the territory effectively, President Xi Jinping in

February appointed a former close aide to oversee the city’s affairs from Beijing. Since then, China’s top agencies responsible for the city – the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the Liaison Office – have insisted they’re not covered by Basic Law provisions. China’s de facto embassy in Hong Kong, the Liaison Office, has grown exponentially in size and influence since its establishment in 2000. Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed chief executive, Carrie Lam, has acquiesced.

The heightened level of Chinese aggressiveness reflects what many in the region perceive as part and parcel of its determination, using the coronavirus crisis as cover, to extend and entrench its power and influence.

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