The extradition bill protests in Hong Kong have resulted in a series of large-scale demonstrations that have shaken Beijing and the world. It is clear that the implementation of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration has run into fundamental problems.
A mere five years after Hong Kong was returned to China, Beijing initiated a legal battle on Hong Kong. First, it demanded that Hong Kong implement Article 23 of the Basic Law by proposing a national security bill.
That was followed by denying that Hong Kong had retained certain rights not available elsewhere in China and insisting that Hong Kong’s autonomy was bestowed upon it by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and could be withdrawn at any time.
After Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) was made president for life, he turned to the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area in an attempt to blur Hong Kong’s borders. Now he wants to push through the extradition bill to expand control over Hong Kongers and even foreigners passing through the territory.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt has issued a strong statement referring to the Joint Declaration, saying: “There will be serious consequences if that internationally binding legal agreement were not to be honored.”
Beijing responded by saying that the Joint Declaration ceased to have an effect with the handover of Hong Kong.
The word “treaty” is not required in a treaty. The UK and Chinese governments registered the Sino-British Joint Declaration with the UN on June 12, 1985, making it a treaty.
China made a commitment in Annex 1 that “after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region the socialist system and socialist policies shall not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and that Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and life-style shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”
China’s responsibilities under the declaration will remain in place until 2047. Until then, the declaration is legally binding, and the UK has a legal responsibility and a moral duty to oversee its implementation.
Pro-Chinese academics are trying to denigrate the Joint Declaration by saying that international treaties have no binding force.
However, the legitimacy of international law does not only depend on whether a treaty has binding force; it is the free will and consent of the signatories that add legitimacy to a treaty.
It is said that as talks between the UK and China reached an impasse, then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) issued a threat, asking what the UK could do if he stopped supplying water and electricity, and sent the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and its tanks to Hong Kong. Then-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher is said to have responded that he was free to do so if he wished, but that the whole world would then know what kind of country China really was.
Following this exchange, talks resumed and the declaration was signed. In other words, Beijing accepted the validity of international law.
Pacta sunt servanda — agreements must be kept — is the basis of international law. Still, Beijing in its greed thinks that “if it is mine, I can do whatever I please.”
Beijing also has not developed conditional contracts, something that is very common in the West. In a property sale, for example, the seller can stipulate that the buyer is not allowed to cut down trees or change the exterior. Beijing today clearly has strong views on keeping commitments and implementing contracts.
Beijing’s lack of respect for treaties is the result of fundamental civilizational differences. Russia better be on its guard. The day that Beijing starts to criticize former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and metaphorically flog his dead body will be the day it will tear up the 1991 Sino-Soviet Border Agreement and cast its covetous eyes at Siberia in its wish to become an Arctic nation.
HoonTing is a political commentator.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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