The US and China could benefit the world if they try to find ways of working in concert.
Dr David Monyae, the Co-Director of the University Of Johannesburg (UJ) Confucius Institute (UJCI), penned an opinion piece entitled “The developing world will acknowledge Chinese sovereignty on Hong Kong” published on the Business Day, 23 March 2021.
From March 3 to 11, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) held one of the two “sessions” that are marquee events on China’s political calendar. The National People’s Congress (China’s parliament) holds the other session.
2021’s sessions were important as they came at a time when the world faces unprecedented challenges and opportunities. The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted economic growth, leaving China as the only major economy to register positive economic growth in 2020. The CPPCC affirmed the stellar performance of the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China (CPC) in improving China’s fortunes, both domestically and internationally. In February President Xi Jinping announced that China had achieved its goal of eradicating poverty in the country.
China’s strides in poverty reduction have provided an alternative model for many countries in the developing world, which find themselves in the circumstances that once bedevilled China. A prosperous China is important to ushering in an international world order in which the world will not be forced to kowtow to the dictates of single players and their traditional allies.
The Alaska Talks that were held between the US and China in March 2021 were a portent of what it to come in the international system. As usual, the US sought to pontificate to China by raising controversial issues such as the treatment of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region. China has always promoted a foreign policy that respects the internal affairs of countries. At the Alaska talks the Chinese delegation asserted that the US was intent on attacking China’s image. Correctly, China reads American hostility to Chinese growth as one of several machinations calculated to contain China. One of them is the Quad, comprising India, the US, Japan and Australia.
If China continues its multilateral posture, which argues that economic growth challenges call for synergy among nations, it will secure the support of the developing world. Like China, the developing world is concerned about external interference, especially from the West and former colonisers. It is thus expected that the developing world will, by and large, acknowledge Chinese sovereignty on issues such as the Xinjiang question and Hong Kong.
Expectedly, the US and its allies have been vocal about China’s reaction to Hong Kong’s electoral system, arguing that “the National People’s Congress decision today to unilaterally change Hong Kong’s electoral system is a direct attack on autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.” This criticism comes as China wants only patriotic Hong Kongers to participate in elections.
This should not be surprising as any country would choose to secure its security and interest by insisting that only those committed to the development and unity of the country be elected into government. The US government argues that China’s requirements for prospective office-holders could limit political participation. This, they argue, is an abrogation made with Britain in 1997 to leave the Hong Kong system intact at least until 2047, 50 years after Hong Kong’s return to China.
CY Leung, former CEO of Hong Kong and one of the people who attended the CPPCC, has reiterated the importance of treating Hong Kong as China’s domestic issue. It will be unnerving to China’s critics that Leung is not ruling out a return to office; his attendance at the two sessions points to the possibility that, should be decide to run for office, he might do so with China’s favour.
He has also stated that changing the electoral system in Hong Kong could be crucial because an election that does not have vigilance on who is running for office could produce legislators who are neither loyal nor patriotic. Once elected into the legislature, such members could be a problem for mainland China and could imperil the one country, two system framework that has been in place since Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997.
Hong Kong remains a significant part of China and hosts one of the world’s busiest ports. It is telling that when post-apartheid SA was deliberating on whether to sever relations with Taiwan in favour of China, SA’s significant trade partnership with Hong Kong was one of the factors under serious consideration.
It is thus imperative that Hong Kong is stable, and that global players who are vying for dominance do not use it as a pawn. The US and China could benefit the world if they try to find ways of working in concert; an insular international system is likely to be fractious and could have devastating effects on the world’s least developed countries.
The call for the promotion of human rights in Xinjiang and commentary on Hong Kong’s electoral system should be done in such a way that they are personal projects promoted by the US to disrupt China’s ascent to global prominence. Where genuine concerns abound, they should be raised through international channels. Finally, though, China deserves the courtesy that other sovereign states are given over their domestic affairs.
*The views expressed in the article is that of the author/s and does not necessarily reflect that of the University of Johannesburg