Hong Kong protests escalated into a new phase. Last week, Kerry Lam, the head of the special administrative region, complied with the protesters’ main demand: repealed the unpopular bill that provides for extradition of Hong Kong residents suspected in crimes, to any country.
Currently, issues related to extradition are being resolved in Hong Kong through bilateral agreements with 20 countries. However, the Hong Kong people don’t want to go home and last Sunday they staged a rally at the US consular building. Activists called on US President Donald Trump to support the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Bill and make the region “great again.”
This bill will be considered in the US Congress this week and to some extent, it differs from the principles of international law. The protesters also demand from Beijing an amnesty for all detained residents of Hong Kong, an independent investigation into cases of police brutality against citizens, and the provision of the right to independently elect the local government.
The situation in Hong Kong is heating up and could lead to further deterioration of US-Chinese relations. Also, it can create a precedent for legalizing the interference of some states in the political processes of other countries, which creates certain risks for Ukraine.
Protests against the extradition bill were a lesson for many Hong Kong residents. For 14 weeks of protests, Chinese law enforcement officers arrested over a thousand Hong Kong citizens. The Chinese authorities are tough and use rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons against protesters. Over 2 000 local residents were injured.
When the British authorities transferred Hong Kong to China in 1997, after the expiration of the 99-year lease agreement, it was agreed that over the next 50 years the region would remain broadly autonomous and develop according to the “two systems - one state” model.
Hong Kong Basic Law guarantees the protection of political freedoms and the transparency of commercial law.
Hong Kong is developing as a neoliberal market economy, while in other parts of China state interference in economic processes is observed.
27 years remain before the expiration of Hong Kong autonomy. The Hong Kong people themselves believe that China has long been interfering in the internal affairs of autonomy. The Communist Party of the People's Republic of China wants to see Hong Kong closer to other regions in political and legal terms.
The bill on extradition is not the only attempt to limit the autonomy of the autonomous region. Discontent among local residents was caused by Beijing's decision to give high-speed passenger rail lines between China and Hong Kong under Chinese police jurisdiction.
The Chinese authorities are demanding that local Hong Kong authorities persecute opposition parties advocating greater autonomy from the PRC and adopt a law to protect the national anthem. On the territory of Hong Kong, Chinese intelligence agencies operate contrary to the Basic Law.
The leaders of Hong Kong are people loyal to Beijing. Kerry Lam is a supporter of centralization. Another issue is that liberal Hong Kong has become a haven for various criminal elements. However, local residents believe that this is not a reason to limit autonomy.
A recent rally near the American consulate suggests that Hong Kong protesters are interested in attracting the United States as a guarantor of their autonomy. It is no coincidence that the protests were attracted by the American Bill on Democracy and Human Rights in Hong Kong, first proposed in 2015.
According to the bill, the US government will be able to determine those responsible for the suppression of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong, introduce personal sanctions against them (freezing accounts in American banks, banning entry into the United States).
The US Secretary of State will annually check how substantial Hong Kong’s autonomy is and whether there are any violations and report to Congress.
The bill stipulates that the United States supports the holding of democratic elections for the head of Hong Kong and the local legislature, which is also one of the protesters' demands.
If both houses of the US Congress vote in favor of the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act and are supported by Trump, then the Chinese region will be in the custody of America. The Chinese Communist Party will have to act with an eye on the United States before making any decisions regarding Hong Kong in order to avoid sanctions.
In fact, American lawmakers propose limiting China's sovereignty over Hong Kong and thwarting attempts to abolish the region’s original political and legal system, which was formed under the influence of British traditions. The US Congress wants to become an arbiter of democracy in Hong Kong.
Most Hong Kongers are against integration into the legal field of China and prefer to develop as a "state in a state." According to the University of Hong Kong, 53% of the region’s inhabitants do not have a Chinese identity.
They consider themselves Hong Kong citizens. About 70% of Hong Kong residents do not consider Chinese citizenship a cause for pride.
Basically, such views are among Hong Kong youth aged 18-27 years, which makes up the backbone of protesters.
White House dilemma
In the USA there is no unequivocal attitude to the "Act on the observance of the norms of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong" and the conflict of local residents with the central government. On the one hand, the bill aims to protect the British-Chinese agreements guaranteeing the autonomy of Hong Kong.
The bill is supported by Congressional Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Republicans are among the supporters of the bill: Congressman Chris Smith, Senator Marco Rubio. US lawmakers act in the interests of American business in Hong Kong.
Over 1.3 thousand firms with American capital work there, 85 thousand US citizens reside permanently. Hong Kong is the 9th largest importer of goods from the United States.
The Americans are interested in preserving the existing liberal development model in Hong Kong and do not want Beijing's growing influence and toughening laws in the field of doing business. The Chinese authorities lobby the interests of national state enterprises and give them the most profitable orders.
On the other hand, the US authorities are aware that legally they have no relation to the return of Hong Kong to the PRC.
Therefore, the bill considered in Congress is contrary to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states, in accordance with paragraph 7 of Art. 2 of the UN Charter, specified in the "Declaration on the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of states, on the protection of their independence and sovereignty" of 1965 (any state has the right to choose a political system without the intervention of another state).
Chinese President Xi Jinping believes that the events in Hong Kong are an internal issue of China and called on the United States and Great Britain to refrain from interference.
If the bill is passed, then the already complicated relations between the United States and China will reach a boiling point in the conditions of a trade war. All hopes of trade representative Robert Lightheiser and US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to convince the Chinese to agree to the terms of the draft trade agreement will be non-profitable.
In the current environment, the US’s priority is not to protect democracy in Hong Kong, but to get Xi Jinping to free American companies from the mandatory transfer of technology and commercial information to the Chinese authorities in exchange for obtaining permission to do business in China.
Americans are interested in increasing their exports to China and reducing the trade deficit. The Trump administration raised import duties on Chinese goods, unleashed a trade war to persuade Beijing to make concessions.
On the eve of a new round of trade negotiations, the Chinese side expressed a desire to buy a small batch of agricultural products from American farmers if the US lifts restrictive measures from Huawei and refrain from raising duties on Chinese laptops and other electronics in the amount of $ 250 billion.
The position of the White House on the situation in Hong Kong is different from the mood that prevails in Congress. Trump reacts quite restrained to the use of force against protesters, confines himself to commenting that the situation in Hong Kong is tense, urges the opposing parties to act restraints and claims that Xi Jinping knows what needs to be done.
No wonder Pelosi criticized Trump for not paying enough attention to this issue. As an experienced businessman, Trump understands that political ideology and economic interests do not always go hand in hand.
Unlike former Democratic presidents like Jimmy Carter or Barack Obama, Trump is not prone to criticize authoritarian regimes that violate human rights.
Trump's style is open to negotiations with leaders who have an influence on decisions, regardless of their ideological orientation. This is evidenced by the intensification of the negotiation process with North Korea, with the Taliban Islamic movement before the latest terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the annual session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
It is not beneficial for the United States to pass the Hong Kong Democracy and Human Rights Act, as it could spoil the climate of ongoing trade negotiations with China.
Hong Kong precedent’s meaning for Ukraine
The situation in Hong Kong sets a dangerous precedent for countries that have problems with territorial integrity, fueled by neighboring states. This primarily concerns Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, where there are unrecognized republics sponsored by Russia.
There is its rebellious "Hong Kong" in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the form of autonomy of the Bosnian Serbs, the Republika Srpska, which gravitates towards Serbia and Russia. The Hong Kong rally near the building of the American Consulate is a good example when a separate region openly calls on another state to intervene in the internal affairs of its country.
It’s something from the category of “Russian spring” in southeastern Ukraine at the beginning of 2014, when pro-Russian separatists at their rallies called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops.
We can’t compare the separatists from the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Luhansk People’s Republic Transnistria, Abkhazia and South Ossetia with the residents of Hong Kong, one of the world financial centers. However, the process of interference in the internal affairs of independent states can be implemented according to a similar scheme.
Political-military observer Ilya Ponomarenko believes that discussions about the end of the war in the foreseeable future have intensified recently in Ukraine. One of the campaign promises of president Zelensky was to bring peace to Ukrainian land.
A new round of negotiations in the "Normandy format" is planned. The actions of the US Congress and Hong Kong protesters can be used by the Kremlin and the leaders of Donbas separatists in order to demand big concessions from Ukraine.
The Hong Kong precedent can be used by Russia to demand not only a special status for the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics with the ability to veto bills in the Verkhovna Rada but also to monitor the observance of the rights of the Russian-speaking population of Donbas.
Under the guise of the "Act on Observance of Democracy and Human Rights in Hong Kong", Russian lawmakers can develop legal grounds for legalizing their interference in the political processes of Ukraine.
The Kremlin is interested in Kyiv being accountable to Moscow as in the years of the USSR. Russia's goal is to strengthen its influence in the former Soviet republics, and Ukraine is no exception.
The political situation in Hong Kong is taking a dangerous turn for Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries, where there are centrifugal trends.