HK and China’s National Security Law
The National Security Law for Hong Kong just enacted by Beijing will have far-reaching effects on world affairs, including on our so-called independent foreign policy. One Chinese official likened the law to an “anti-virus software” designed to quell the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The law nullified the “one country, two systems” doctrine under which Hong Kong has been governed since 1997. By taking this step, Beijing is also writing off unification with Taiwan through peaceful means. Evidently, the Taiwanese will not give up voluntarily their freedoms in exchange for dictatorial rule. An added negative outcome of this development is the erosion of Beijing’s international image. Beijing is already under severe criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. With this new development, Beijing will project the negative image of not living up to its treaty obligations. The “one country, two systems” doctrine is a treaty between Great Britain and China and was registered as such with the United Nations.
That Beijing took this step, ignoring its adverse outcomes, must have been motivated by a compelling reason. What comes to mind is the fear by China of the doctrine propagated by Vladimir Lenin that revolutions come in waves. Russia experienced upheavals in 1882 and 1905 before the successful 1917 Revolution. Thus, the morbid fear of a Tiananmen II must have loomed large in Beijing’s decision. In 1989, Tiananmen failed because it was mainly a student movement. China was then still a Third World country, with no middle class. A replay staged by students and supported by the Chinese middle class could have a different outcome.
A common assertion by Chinese Communist Party rulers is that Western-style democracy will not flourish in China. However, the prolonged unrest in Hong Kong indicates that the movement is not limited to students, and had already garnered support from the mass of the population. In short, it has become a dangerous virus that should be extinguished.
But the downside is, unification with Taiwan could be done now only likewise by force. This is an expensive and uncertain option: Firstly, the United States has committed to assist Taiwan in case of an armed confrontation with Beijing; and secondly, there are obstacles posed by geography. The Allies in World War II massed an enormous invasion fleet to land in Normandy. However, the English Channel is only 20 miles wide while the Taiwan Strait is 100 miles or five times wider. In addition, the firepower available to the Taiwanese now is greater than that available to the Wehrmacht in 1944. A conventional war sans nuclear weapons will not be a cakewalk for the People’s Liberation Army.
On our part, the action of China in junking its agreement with Great Britain guaranteeing Hong Kong autonomy forecloses our pursuit of an independent foreign policy. Such policy will require us to deal with China mano a mano, without any allies to assist us. The only way we can settle our dispute with China on the West Philippine Sea is by negotiations. In this regard, one must note that the treaty between Great Britain and China was an agreement between two lions (both are nuclear powers). Nonetheless, China has now junked this agreement like a mere scrap of paper.
Any treaty we conclude with China will be an agreement between a lion and a rabbit; the lion, at his pleasure, can grab the lion’s share in any such agreement.
We hope the Duterte administration will explain to the Filipino people, based on the foregoing facts, how we can pursue an independent foreign policy. Such policy requires us to reclaim our sovereign rights to the West Philippine Sea. Absent a satisfactory explanation, our so-called independent foreign policy becomes a cover-up for the de facto abandonment of our claims to the West Philippine Sea. This is an unprecedented act. A country’s leaders are not supposed to deceive its citizens on issues involving foreign policy.
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Hermenegildo C. Cruz is a retired career ambassador who served in the United Nations, the Soviet Union, and in Chile. He is the only Philippine career diplomat who took graduate studies in Sovietology.
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