China braces for international fallout over HK national security law

01-Jun-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Beijing is bracing for an international storm over its controversial national security law for Hong Kong, with expected repercussions to be announced by US President Donald Trump and a European Union meeting on the issue.

While Beijing likely anticipated the global outcry over the proposed legislation on Hong Kong, it appears to have determined that the costs from not taking a harder line on nearly a year of anti-government protests in the city outweighed the consequences from international fallout, analysts say.

China’s foreign ministry has vowed to take “necessary measures” over potential sanctions from countries such as the US, but observers believe Beijing has limited options to do so. China may reduce its imports of agricultural products from the US in retaliation, Reuters reported, citing three sources.

Trump will on Friday hold a press conference on China, a day after the Chinese legislature approved a resolution for the national security legislation to ban secession and subversion in Hong Kong a move critics say will end the city’s semi-autonomy and further erode its freedoms.

In a bombshell announcement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from Beijing, paving the way for the US to end its special trading status for the city and enact sanctions on officials in Hong Kong and China. Pompeo said the US was preparing to “take on” the problem of Chinese students engaging in espionage in America.

The 27 foreign ministers of the European Union convened on Friday via videoconference to discuss the impact of the national security legislation on the bloc’s relations with China. The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said afterwards that member states expressed “grave concern” over the decision, and that it called into question the EU’s relationship with China “based on mutual respect and trust”. But he added, “I don’t think that sanctions are the way to solve problems in China.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said earlier on Friday that any attempt by the US to obstruct the national security law for Hong Kong was “doomed to fail”, and insisted the legislation would only target violent radicals and those supporting Hong Kong independence.

Yun Sun, director of the China programme at Washington-based thank tank the Stimson Centre, said Beijing had likely prepared for US moves to revoke Hong Kong’s special trading status and enact sanctions on specific officials, but did not find these actions “intolerable”. While Beijing could retaliate, any sanctions on US companies would hurt China’s own interests more, she said.

“Since the turbulence last year, many in China had argued that removing Hong Kong’s status will turn it into just another Chinese city, as it should be, and all the international attention, outcry, support for the Hong Kong demonstrations, using the special trading status as leverage to hold Beijing hostage, will gradually come to a stop, as they should,” Sun said.

“There will be economic impact, but that impact will be shared by everybody, including the US and Hong Kong. The mainland still has the Greater Bay Area development plan, but Hong Kong will have little left.”

Pompeo on Thursday released a joint statement with the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada and Britain raising “deep concern” about Beijing’s national security law, stating it was “in direct conflict with its international obligations” under the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed to transfer Hong Kong from British colonial rule to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, on Friday said Hong Kong had facilitated the influx of global capital and hi-tech products into China, and leaders in Beijing could not benefit from the arrangement while allowing Hong Kong’s freedoms to deteriorate.

Chinese analysts defended the national security legislation as necessary to counter the ongoing Hong Kong protests which flared up following a lull during the coronavirus pandemic after the proposed law was announced last week and insisted US sanctions would have little impact on China.

Lu Xiang, a specialist on US affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing had to take strong measures to stop further damage to Hong Kong’s economy from hardline protesters who had not shied away from more violent tactics. National security concerns outweighed economic interests, he added.

“Hong Kong’s financial position cannot easily be replaced, and the central government does not intend to replace it,” he said. “But it cannot allow the violence to continue any more. If the ‘die together’ strategy by Hong Kong’s opposition forces continues, the damage will be greater than the damage that the US can do by cancelling its special trade status for Hong Kong.”

Beijing would “seek cooperation but prepare for a break-up” with Washington, he said.

Wang Huiyao, founder and president of Beijing-based think tank the Centre for China and Globalisation, said US sanctions on China would hurt US business in Hong Kong, and see the city integrate further with the Greater Bay Area, the government scheme for an economic hub between Hong Kong and cities in southern China.

“China will of course condemn [US actions], but I don’t think there is any drastic action that China needs to take because this action is really not good for the US itself,” he said. “I don’t see how sanctions will really help Hong Kong or help the US it will only make Hong Kong and China diversify more to other countries, so I really don’t worry about this because … the US trade war didn’t really hurt China and China is still doing fine.”


Category: Hong Kong

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