Contemporary Hong Kong Politics, Put Simply

hong-kong-1990268_1920 By Campaign Agent Will Fawcett

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to Hong Kong has once again ignited tensions between pro-democracy protesters and Chinese Government officials and supporters. The former British colony, ruled for 156 years until the eventual concession of the territory to the Chinese in 1997, is a bastion of capitalism and wealth vastly overshadowed by its Socialist neighbour. Under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, the UK relinquished Hong Kong to China as a Special Administrative Region (SAR), meaning that Hong Kong would retain autonomy from Chinese interference and Socialist practices for at least 50 years. Although foreign policy and defence are provided by the Chinese, Hong Kong retains executive, legislative and judicial authority over itself and many of its 7.3 million residents wish for the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement to continue.

However, whilst Hong Kong’s companion Macau, located across the estuary and another ex-colony handed over by the Portuguese in 1999, has remained obedient to the Chinese, Hong Kong has proved to be the more troublesome sibling. Yet the fact that Hong Kong is one of the world’s most important financial centres and a bulwark of the capitalist world is water off a duck’s back to the Chinese. Instead, it is the growing resentment towards the Communist regime that Xi Jinping has claimed has ‘crossed a red line’, even protesting that attempts of sabotage have been made against the mainland. Most notable was the arrest of Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, a critic of the Chinese one-party system and advocate of a free Hong Kong, representing the increasingly authoritarian nature of the Chinese regime.

Since HMY Britannia departed Victoria Harbour in 1997 with last governor Chris Patten and the Prince of Wales, Hong Kong has had a long and proud history of upholding the democratic process. These included the 2003 1 July Marches which called for the resignation of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, with protestors opposing legislation to limit freedom of speech and the student-led Umbrella Movement in 2014 which reduced Hong Kong to a standstill for 79 days. Not only is this issue a great nuisance to the reputation of the Chinese, the Communist regime is continually struggling to retard the growing calls for democratisation amongst its 1.8 billion citizens. Democracy and freedom is a serious threat to the very survival of the one-party system, despite the welcoming of the free-market that China has embraced over the past decades. With China soon to become the world’s largest economy and already enjoying its status as a world superpower, it is likely attitudes will harden to uphold these great expectations.

Hong Kong also represents the humiliation and embarrassment that China endured in the 19th century. During this time the European Empires and Japan carved China into spheres of influence following the First and Second Opium Wars. The Chinese were forced to concede territory and trading ports to the invading powers, and as such regions like Hong Kong epitomise the century of shame that casts a shadow over China’s mostly rich and prosperous history. On the 30th June, preceding Xi’s unique visit, the Chinese foreign ministry officially rebuked the 1984 Joint Declaration, essentially paving the way for increased interference and erosion of freedoms amongst the Hong Kong population, demonstrating that China can act unchallenged and independently.

Despite pro-democracy supporters taking part in ever-greater numbers year on year to mark the 1997 handover, this time the ‘welcome’ of the Chinese premier has truly fanned the flames of creeping authoritarianism in the region. The introduction of Mandarin over the native Cantonese (and English) is a sign of things to come for many Hong Kongers, and recent opinion polls have found that the vast majority of young people do not identify as Chinese, whilst a select few advocate independence from the mainland altogether. The semiautonomous region is also split amongst its own government, whereby 40 seats of the 70-seat Legislative Council are held by a plethora of political parties who support Beijing, meanwhile, various pro-Democracy parties hold only 26 seats. Hong Kong’s first female chief executive was sworn in early this year, Carrie Law, yet Xi’s visit is less a celebration of her appointment but more a display of authority.

With the future of Hong Kong yet again in the balance, many of its residents have looked to the UK to intervene and uphold its responsibility as the other actor present at the 1997 handover. Unfortunately for many, Britain has its hands tied elsewhere and the dominance of the Chinese in economic and diplomatic matters has rendered any UK response meaningless. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson responded with a rather nonchalant response, arguing only for the continued progression of the democratic process, without a sole mention or criticism of the Chinese government. Interviews with Hong Kong residents represent a complete mixture of opinion and paint a rather divided picture. Whilst some advocate a stronger rapprochement with China, others are more pessimistic and believe Britain ‘sold them down the river’ 20 years ago, especially after the weak response from the UK government to the recent developments. Under the Joint Declaration, Hong Kong has another 30 years left until 2047 to enjoy its status as a paradise of wealth and freedom (and economic inequality). Yet with the official reversal of this agreement by the Chinese, met with a lackadaisical response from Britain, perhaps the people of Hong Kong may start to look elsewhere for help.

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NATO, Put Simply

What is it? NATO stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is a military alliance of 28 different countries in North America and Europe.

When was it formed? 1949.

Why? It was formed to give collective defence and security to North American and Western European states against an expanding Soviet Union and the threat of communism.

But the USSR is long gone - what does it do now? NATO has expanded in recent years. Just like the EU it has moved eastwards, encompassing nations that were formerly part of - or allied to - the USSR. It currently has an ongoing presence to promote peace and stability around the world in the likes of Kosovo, the African Union and Afghanistan.

What's Article 5? I've heard of that. Article 5 is a fundamental component of the organisation. It states that if one of the NATO countries is attacked then such an attack will be viewed as an attack on all participating countries. For example, if France was attacked then the other countries in the organisation would see the attack on France as an attack on them all. Which countries are members?

In total there are 28 members spanning two continents. North America: Canada, USA. Europe: Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom.

The majority of the European countries in NATO also belong to the EU, however, there are notable exceptions.

What was the Warsaw Pact? The Warsaw Pact - now defunct - was a similar alliance for collective defence made up of the USSR and a number of other communist nations in Eastern Europe. How do people feel about NATO?

The organisation is popular in the UK with a recent YouGov poll suggesting that 68% of voters think that NATO still has a role in the world compared to 21% who disagree. However, according to the same poll the organisation is apparently less popular in the USA with just 46% of US voters thinking it still has a role to play in contrast to the 16% who have the opposing view.


No USSR, but NATO still has a place on the world stage! The USSR may be no longer exist and the Cold War may be officially over, but many argue that there is still a threat from Russia, making the alliance more relevant than ever. Russia's 2014 advances in the east with the annexation of Crimea show that the organisation still has some merit as the threat of Russian advancement is real. Furthermore, NATO is relevant in other areas due to its operations in the likes of Afghanistan and Kosovo.

Cross-continental cooperation is key One argument in defence of NATO is that it is vital that countries from both sides of the Atlantic cooperate on defence due to shared values and interests. It has been argued that the EU and the US should go their separate ways when it comes to defence, however, a Transatlantic military alliance goes deeper than geographical defence and reflects shared ideals and values that countries from both sides of the Atlantic wish to protect and promote.

Nuclear protection Another advantage of NATO is that although just three of the NATO nations (the US, UK and France) have nuclear weapons, the other countries in the alliance benefit from their deterrents as they are shielded by collective responsibility. For example, the likes of Germany and Turkey, who do not have their own nuclear weapons benefit from the deterrents of the nuclear nations due to being part of the military alliance. The USSR may be long gone but there are new nuclear powers such as North Korea which remain a threat. Disadvantages

NATO is outdated You may have heard Donald Trump argue that the organisation is "obsolete". The president has since back-tracked, having reaffirmed his commitment to the organisation alongside UK PM Theresa May when she visited Washington DC. The president's former views however are not completely unheard of, with many people calling the alliance unfit for purpose in the 21st century. Without the threat from the USSR, many argue that NATO is now irrelevant and should be put in the history books.

Most NATO countries fail to pay their fair share A strong argument in opposition to NATO's continued existence is that many countries fail to pay what they should. NATO countries are recommended to commit 2% of their GDP to their defence budgets. However, the majority of NATO nations do not meet this target, prompting criticism from Donald Trump during his election campaign. The UK and the US are some of the few countries that meet this annual target, but the majority fail to contribute, adding to the idea that the US is shouldering the biggest burden, even when proportionality is taken into account.

Europe should go it alone! One argument against NATO is that the EU should go its own way on defence and cooperate with far less reliance on the USA. There have even been recent proposals for even closer defence links within the EU, suggesting that NATO is less relevant than before and that the EU should focus on its own defence. Under NATO, the US pays the most for defence spending, but free from NATO, EU countries could place more emphasis on defence cooperation.

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