Derek Yuen Mi-chang, Honorary Lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, in Ming Pao Daily (December 24, 2019)
Summary by Alan Yang Gregory
Beyond the US-China trade war and the Hong Kong anti-extradition amendment bill protests, the US has been applying pressure on China on issues relating to Xinjiang, Tibet and Taiwan. Today, China is at an inflection point. To determine its future direction, look to the country’s rich history.
There are parallels between the Opium Wars of the 19th Century and the protests in Hong Kong. Although 180 years apart, they both involved a clash between China and the West. The Opium Wars had as much to do with Britain’s assertion of “universal values” such as private property ownership and free trade as it did the selling of opium. Today’s tensions in Hong Kong are also about contending claims for “universal values” (such as human rights and democracy) and for principles of sovereignty and non-interference in a country’s internal affairs. Hong Kong is therefore a microcosm of the conflict between democracy and authoritarianism.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s reaction to the situation in Hong Kong has been to deploy nationalism, thus impeding China from continuing Deng Xiaoping’s reform path. The reason why the US is able to interfere over issues such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong is that the Communist Party’s grip over China has weakened and the “One-China” policy is unable fully to assimilate these places.
China’s situation today is not so different from the Opium Wars. The US has identified Hong Kong as a magic button. Once it is pressed, China will inevitably tighten its grip internally and feel compelled to promote nationalism to maintain its system. As a result, China looks inward, and its society regresses backwards to the ways of the past. If China wants to avoid this fate, it must think hard about how to address the Hong Kong issue as soon as possible.