Protests in Hong Kong (II)

BERLIN/BEIJING/HONG KONG | | china

BERLIN/BEIJING/HONG KONG (Own report) - Monday evening, activist Joshua Wong arrived in Berlin from Hong Kong for talks with German politicians, including Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Wong represents an opposition party that calls for a referendum, including a vote on Hong Kong's future secession from China. Just before his trip to Berlin, demonstrators rallied on Sunday in front of the US consulate in Hong Kong calling on US President Trump to intervene in their favor with the city authorities. Already since March, high-ranking members of Hong Kong's opposition have repeatedly visited Washington for talks with US Vice President Mike Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Berlin is now following suit and receiving leaders of the Hong Kong protests for talks with top government officials. Washington is preparing new legislation for sanctions providing for punitive measures against Chinese officials and putting Hong Kong's special economic status into question. Billions in German business transactions are also at risk.

 

The Next US Sanctions Legislation

Under the title "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" Washington is preparing new sanctions legislation. Its draft was initially introduced on November 16, 2016 - during the administration of US President Barack Obama.[1] This past June 13, US Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican hardliner from Florida, along with Jim McGovern, Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts reintroduced the bipartisan Act in Congress. The Act would require the State Department to issue an annual report on the situation in Hong Kong and "certification of Hong Kong's autonomy to justify special treatment afforded to Hong Kong by the U.S." It would also require the US President "to identify persons complicit in suppressing basic freedoms." Their punishment would be a denial of entry into the United States "and a freezing of their US based assets."[2] The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is thus in line with the rapidly growing number of other US sanction laws, Washington imposes at will, to bully those abroad it considers objectionable.(german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3])

A Double-Edged Sword

Washington's threat to deprive Hong Kong of its special economic status is a double-edged sword. The former British colony is an important economic gateway between western countries and China, through which trade and investments are still being transacted with the People's Republic of China on a large scale. Hong Kong is the United States' 10th largest goods export market. Last year, it purchased around US $37.5 billion in US goods. At the same time, the US goods trade surplus with Hong Kong was US $31.2 billion. According to government data, US foreign direct investment in Hong Kong (stock) was US $81.2 billion in 2017. All this would be at risk, if the US administration deprives Hong Kong of its special status. Not only the Chinese, but the US economy would suffer serious damage. Most likely, Hong Kong would also be affected by this measure. Companies in the metropolis are already complaining of business losses due to the protests. Economists estimate that the city could face a recession.[4] Revoking the special status would massively worsen the situation. Hong Kong would run the risk of losing its economic importance. Already last year, neighboring metropolis Shenzhen’s gross domestic product surpassed that of Hong Kong. Soon Guangzhou, the second neighboring metropolis could catch up with Hong Kong’s gross domestic product.[5]

A Classical Escalation Strategy

It is all the more astonishing that the pro-western opposition in Hong Kong is so adamantly campaigning for the passage of this Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Since March, at the latest, talks have been documented between leading officials of the Trump administration and representatives of the opposition. For example, March 22, Anson Chan, who had served as Chief Secretary of the British Colonial Administration from 1993 - 1997 and later from 1997 - 2001 in the same office for the decolonized Hong Kong government, held talks with Vice President Mike Pence, to discuss "human rights" in the city. May 16, Martin Lee, founder of Hong Kong's Democratic Party, held talks on the same subject with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. July 8, Hong Kong's media tycoon Jimmy Lai met with Vice President Mike Pence, and shortly thereafter with John Bolton, President Donald Trump's National Security Advisor. In mid-August, parliamentarians of the liberal Civic Party were in Washington for talks.[6] Last Sunday, in front of the US consulate in Hong Kong, a few thousand demonstrators demanded the passage of the law. We "trust" the Trump government, one of the demonstrators explained at the rally held under US flags.[7] Thereafter, protesters vandalized subway stations, attacked subway attendants, erected barricades, and attacked police stations. One Subway entrance was set on fire.[8] This is the classical escalation strategy - also used during the Maidan Protests in Ukraine - to provoke a reaction from the police and furnish the western media images for their anti-Chinese reporting.

Gateway to the Chinese Market

The passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would have grave consequences also for Germany. With its trade volume of nearly eight billion Euros, Germany is Hong Kong's largest trade partner in the EU. According to the Bundesbank, German companies have invested around five billion Euros in the city. This metropolis, in which around 600 German companies have a presence, is still considered - as confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - to be "an important gateway to the Chinese market."[9] Therefore, Germany's Foreign Chambers of Commerce (AHK) in Hong Kong is strongly advocating a peaceful settlement of the conflicts. Particularly the "episodes of unprecedented violence and vandalism" during the protests were "indefensible" and "harmed our city’s reputation," the institution declared.[10] During her visit to Beijing at the end of last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose top priority was to promote German business interests, (german-foreign-policy.com reported [11]) spoke in favor of solving the conflicts through "dialogue." "Everything must be done to avoid violence," the chancellor declared.[12]

Reception by the Foreign Minister

Simultaneously, transatlantic oriented circles, in particular, are pushing for an escalation of the conflicts. For example, the Chair of the Greens, Annalena Baerbock, asserted that Beijing's pressure on Hong Kong must have "consequences" for German-Chinese business cooperation. The Foreign Policy Spokesperson for the FDP Bundestag Group, Bijan Djir-Sarai, had even suggested that Chancellor Merkel renounce her trip. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[13]) Yesterday, Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the Hong Kong opposition, arrived in Berlin, where he claims to be exploring, whether Germany could be a suitable asylum country for Hong Kong protesters. He also seeks to convince Germany to ban all Chinese from entering the country, who are responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong and to freeze their accounts. Should Germany do this, it would be anticipating the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. A massive conflict with Beijing could be expected over such open interference in the domestic affairs of the People's Republic of China. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas had already announced yesterday that he was prepared to receive Joshua Wong for talks.[14]

Foreign Hub of the Opposition

With the enhancement of its relations with the Hong Kong opposition, Germany is developing its role as the second important foreign hub, alongside that of the USA, of the opposition to the Chinese government. german-foreign-policy.com will soon report.

 

Please note our video column on the conflict with China.

 

[1] Rubio, Cotton Introduce Hong Kong Human Rithgs and Democracy Act. rubio.senate.gov 16.11.2016.

[2] Commissioners Reintroduce The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. cecc.gov 13.06.2019.

[3] See also The Era of Sanctions Warfare (II).

[4] Hongkong steuert auf Rezession zu - "Erhebliche Störungen". reuters.com 16.08.2019.

[5] Chai Hua: Shenzhen surpasses HK in GDP. chinadaily.com.cn 28.02.2019.

[6] Jodi Xu Klein: Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers in US to discuss city's crisis with politicians and business leaders. scmp.com 16.08.2019. See also Proteste in Hongkong.

[7] Simone McCarthy, Minnie Chan, Victor Ting, Yujing Liu: Hongkongers march on US consulate to call for human rights help. scmp.com 08.09.2019.

[8] Hong Kong protests: peaceful pleas for United States' support quickly descend into usual mayhem as tear gas fired and MTR station trashed and burned. scmp.com 09.09.2019.

[9] Deutschland und Hongkong: bilaterale Beziehungen. auswaertiges-amt.de 12.03.2019.

[10] FAQ - 2019 Hong Kong Protests. hongkong.ahk.de 02.09.2019.

[11] See also Die Widersprüche der China-Politik.

[12] Pressekonferenz von Bundeskanzlerin Merkel und dem chinesischen Ministerpräsidenten Li am 6. September 2019 in Peking.

[13] See also Die Widersprüche der China-Politik.

[14] Friederike Böge: Für Frieden. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 10.09.2019.