Joshua Wong: Hong Kong Cannot Prosper Without Autonomy

Joshua Wong

By passing the resolution to develop legislation to “safeguard national security” in Hong Kong in its rubber stamp parliament, Beijing initiated “political mutual destruction” for itself and Hong Kong. Beijing’s plan to rein in Hong Kong—defying a worldwide outcry—is revenge on the democratic movement in Hong Kong which has been protesting since March 2019. It is also retaliation against the U.S. for passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019.

On 27 May, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement certifying that Hong Kong no longer warrants differential treatment under U.S. law. At the same time declaring, “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.” He also filed a report to the Congress, in accordance with the Act, grounding from the fact that Beijing assert its right to interpret all laws in Hong Kong in November 2019; the Liaison Office’s claims that it was exempted from Article 22 of the Basic Law in April 2020; and the national security law announced last week. He further added that the deployment of tear gas and the mass arrests and the dispatching of the People’s Armed Police into Hong Kong, all constituted a violation of the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration. President Donald Trump will later have to invoke the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 to respond with appropriate measures, possible approaches range from economic relations, to restrictions on immigration to cultural and educational exchanges.

The U.S. response to the events over the last year signifies that it has shifted from an appeasing “change for trade” to an unyielding foreign policy towards China. From the 1980s, the free world had been hoping China would liberalize and democratize itself as trade rapidly grew between it and the world. It was a false belief that opening up the Chinese market would lead to opening up of the Chinese mindset. However, such optimism has proved to be in vain.

The special arrangement under which the U.S. treats Hong Kong differently from China on politics, trade, commerce, and other areas, stems from Hong Kong maintaining sufficient autonomy. As a holdover from its time as a British Colony, Hong Kong has a different legal and economic system. Now as Beijing tightens its grip over the city, depriving Hong Kong of its last little bit of freedom and autonomy, the basis of that special agreement is compromised. Therefore the U.S. has every right to change its policy towards Hong Kong, regardless of Beijing’s snarling about “foreign intervention” and its attempts to use Hong Kong as a bargaining chip.

Beijing has long taken advantage of Hong Kong to gain access to foreign capital and other state-of-the-art technology products. Hong Kong, enjoying special legal treatments, is the favourite channel for mainland Chinese to ship funds offshore in defiance of Beijing’s control on cross-border capital flows, taxation and corruption inspections. Distrusting their own currency, many Chinese find the Hong Kong Dollar, which is linked to the U.S. Dollar, to be more reliable. Chinese companies have swarmed into Hong Kong, pretending to be “Hong Kong companies,” amid the Sino-American trade war. Leaders in Beijing continue to reap the benefits of this arrangement while the freedoms of Hong Kongers deteriorate.

A couple across from illuminated skyscrapers on Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong on May 28, 2020. | Roy Liu—Bloomberg/Getty Images.

Hong Kong has long proven its strategic role in the China-U.S. dynamics. The city can be used as a loophole against the free world if the special status remains unchanged while the city is totally subject to authoritative China. The act of inserting this new national security law in a top-down manner now risks all the benefits Beijing could and did exploit, but it is all of Beijing’s own doing. Beijing is dragging Hong Kong into a “political mutual destruction” that will costs us a high price, yet the hit is necessary.

As Hong Kong loses its special status, Beijing will lose its trump card against the free world. In response to American pressure, Beijing’s short-term reaction will be more forceful. It will further crack down on the political protest movement— targeting activists, electoral candidates and legislators who have participated in international advocacy. Yet, China’s economy will be hindered in the long run, even though China will surely pretend that it is “business as usual.” It remains to be seen how severe Washington’s measure regarding Hong Kong will be, but the global repercussions facing China in the aftermaths of the pandemic will also have a serious impact on its economy.

The U.S. termination of the city’s special status is aimed at stopped Beijing’s rogue behaviour and encouraging it to reverse course on Hong Kong. The prosperity of Hong Kong is based on its autonomy, not Beijing’s dictatorship. Beijing’s decision will drive our city into dire straits in all aspects—the stock market may plunge, unemployment numbers may rise and foreign businesses may flee. But at the same time we must acknowledge there is no room for a prosperous Hong Kong without adequate amount of freedom and human rights protection.