Pro-democracy protesters gather in the Occupy Central zone before clashing with police outside the Hong Kong Chief Executive’s office, at the end of November, 2014. Source.
First, some background: The UK acquired what is now Hong Kong during the era of the Opium Wars. The UK and China signed several treaties, giving them control for parts of it 99 years, and permanently for another part. The UK did not run Hong Kong as a democracy but their rule was benevolent and they encouraged free-market capitalism and Hong Kong boomed, becoming the financial centre of Far East Asia. The economy took off after WW II — the Hong Kong Stock Exchange is now second in the Far East only to Tokyo’s.
The Chinese wanted it back, and threatened to seize it in 1982: this was while China was just beginning to shake off decades of Communism which killed millions of people (some in famines, others murdered). It was very poor compared to Hong Kong. Nearly a million people left Hong Kong during the run-up to hand-over in 1997. The Anglo world the most popular choice: Canada, Australia, the US and the UK.
The UK did manage to get the Communist Chinese to sign an agreement stating that they would rule by “One nation, two systems” for 50 years. China is now trying to break this agreement — hence the visit by UK diplomats, during which China refused to let them set foot in Hong Kong.
Britain must accept that Hong Kong is no longer a colony
…The clashes in Hong Kong this past weekend were among the most violent since the street protests began two months ago. Police used batons, water hoses and pepper spray to keep protesters forcibly at bay.
Trumping these scenes in many reports, though, was parochial indignation that Beijing had banned a group of British MPs from making a planned visit to Hong Kong. Diplomatic protocol now dictates that rather than making a scene on arrival at Hong Kong airport, the MPs will call off their mid-winter trip to the tropics…
The UK can, and should, treat democracy-minded envoys from Hong Kong with the respect they deserve. But if there is to be political change there, it is the people of Hong Kong who must press their case – as, perhaps, a new generation is starting to do…
Hong Kong as a British colony is no more. The UK has no “legitimate interest” there beyond a natural concern for human rights. Its MPs can go around the world advocating “values” but they have no special hotline to Beijing, and any preaching about “democracy and the rule of law” from the former colonial power is unlikely to convince.
The UK may have a particularly guilty conscience about Hong Kong – as indeed it should have… The British empire is over. For a medium-sized country, the more productive course is to seek allies, and for the UK the ideal source of support over Hong Kong is the EU, whose economic clout at least is more equal to Beijing’s. As so often, too, a little more self-knowledge would not go amiss. It is not only Russia that finds it hard to let go.
From my reading of UK sources over the years, it is hard to find any interest in Hong Kong or any other colonies at all. No one — and I do mean no one — is interested, except as a historical topic.
The comparison with Russia is absurd. The million people who left — most to the ‘enemy camp’ in the Anglo world, seem to find life under China’s rule particularly unappealing.
Even the Guardian commenters are unimpressed. As of today, the protests continue.