Thu, Sep 05, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Manifest destiny and Xi’s HK policy

By Vishal Ranjan

The indication that the Chinese military might use force a la Tiananmen to put down the ongoing protests against the extradition bill in Hong Kong raises questions on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) strategy.

Although the proposed bill was put on hold, prompted by the firestorm of protests that followed, harking back to the 2014 “Umbrella movement,” Hong Kongers have only upped the ante this time around.

It is no secret that the bill, a “Trojan horse” of sorts (apparently envisaged at sending criminal fugitives to other jurisdictions including China), is susceptible to being misused by the territory’s administration in cahoots with People’s Republic of China (PRC) authorities — the former quite likely in thrall to the latter — at the expense of the civil liberties of ordinary Hong Kongers.

Not surprisingly, the bill has not been scrapped altogether.

While the shelving of the bill depicts a partial victory for the voices of freedom in the territory and indeed mainland China, it is, more importantly, a sure sign of how Xi’s attempt to force the pace of the “proceedings” might have suffered a critical blow. Blinded by his zeal to expedite the accomplishment of China’s so-called “manifest destiny,” Xi might have actually done a disservice to the cause that he holds so dear.

The Greater China project roughly embracing mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan might only get more distant. This is especially in the context of the global uproar that ensued over China’s gunboat diplomacy in the South China Sea and the limits to what such diplomacy can pull off.

The taking over of absolutely uninhabited slivers of land and the attempt to create a legal case for itself, already rejected by international courts, cannot be a sustainable template for forcible incorporation of more than 7 million Hong Kongers, or even worse, 23 million Taiwanese.

Within the mainland, the way Xi has ruthlessly concentrated power in his own hands in recent years, anointing himself as “core leader” and now set to rule indefinitely, has hardly inspired much confidence. It is no coincidence that the progressive (read regressive) whittling down of civil liberties in Hong Kong in the past few years has been coterminous with Xi’s creeping consolidation of power in the communist country.

Barely a year after Xi assumed the presidency of the largest communist state in the world, the Chinese State Council issued a white paper on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region explicitly undercutting the supreme principle that an independent judiciary was at the heart of a “democratizing” polity.

With the white paper terming judges as “administrators” while calling on them to be “patriotic,” this was a brazen and rather blithe reneging on what the PRC had committed to in the course of the negotiations on the handover of the former British colony.

Article 85 of the Basic Law had clearly laid down for the courts to exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference, with Article 88 prescribing that an independent commission comprising of local judges, persons from the legal profession and eminent persons from other sectors would recommend to the chief executive on the appointment of judges in the territory.

With such fine print laid down in law, the attempt to foist nationalistic fervor on judges by way of the white paper was nothing short of constitutional subterfuge.

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