Friday, June 05, 2020

The Situation in Hong Kong: Marco Rubio, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and the International Response Creating the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (對華政策跨國議會聯盟对华政策跨国议会联盟対中政策に関する列国議会連盟)

IPAC Co-Chairs, Pix from Website

We have been chronicling the measures taken by Chinese central authorities to re-frame the basis on which Hong Kong's status, going forward to full absorption in 2047, under the "One Country, Two Systems" principles, from one grounded on international law guarantees, to one grounded on national constitutional principles and protections (e.g., 2019 Hong Kong Situation).  We have also suggested that all of these measures will produce not just reaction in Hong Kong, but also among those members of the international community who continue to hold a different view of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and its continuing international character through 2047.

One of the most interesting responses has been informal, bt potentially no less powerful for its character.
Marco Rubio, in a video posted on Twitter announcing the launch of the group
Lawmakers from several countries announced on Friday the formation of a new coalition formed to counter the “challenge” presented by China’s ascendancy on the world stage. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) [對華政策跨國議會聯盟对华政策跨国议会联盟対中政策に関する列国議会連盟] is comprised of 18 politicians, including U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez. Other members represent Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, Sweden, the U.K. and the European Parliament. The group’s stated mission is to increase collaboration between “like-minded legislators” to craft a “strategic approach” on issues related to China, according to its website. (Lawmakers Form Global Coalition to Tackle the China 'Challenge').
 IPAC members hace developed a credo:

Members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China subscribe to the following principles:
  • Democratic states must maintain the integrity of their political systems, and actively seek to preserve a marketplace of ideas free from distortion.
  • A free, open, and rules-based international order that supports human dignity is created and maintained through intention. The persistence of such an order requires like-minded countries to participate actively in its governance and enforcement. (IPAC Website HERE)
The object of IPAC is to create a "Democratic International"--"to foster deeper collaboration between like-minded legislators. Its principal work is to monitor relevant developments, to assist legislators to construct appropriate and coordinated responses, and to help craft a proactive and strategic approach on issues related to the People’s Republic of China (PRC)." More specifically, IPAC is based on the belief that China represents a global challenge which must be countered by the principles of traditional Western liberal democracy .  This was expressed in a video widely circulated on Twitter (it seems that Twitter has become the most important means of political communication in this decade) in which Marco Rubio,  and legislators from a number of other states make this clear (Marco Rubio and others,  video posted on Twitter announcing the launch of IPAC).

What specifically are the elements of "Democratic Internationalism"?
Safeguarding international rules-based order: The People’s Republic of China must be held to the standards of the international legal order, which itself must be protected from distortion.
Upholding human rights: Relations between states and the PRC must give due prominence to universal human rights.
Promoting trade fairness: The PRC must be held to the standards of the rules-based order, especially those as set out by the World Trade Organisation.
Strengthening security: Democracies must develop complementary security strategies to address challenges presented by the PRC.
Protecting national integrity: The PRC must not be permitted to compromise the sovereignty or institutions of any developed or emerging markets through lending, investment, or by any other means. (IPAC Website HERE)
These are to be applied not just to the situation in Hong Kong but elsewhere in defining global relations with China.  But also in disciplining political elements within the liberal democratic order who stray from these core organizing principles.

This post considers the establishment within the context of the transformation of Hong Kong, and the significance of its formation around the time of the June 4th Incident 1989 at Tiananmen Square.  Both Chinese and Western liberal democratic actors have sought to amplify their actions against each other and within Hong Kong around this anniversary and for very good reason. But each draws different lessons, and each seeks the alignment of the anniversary with the legitimization of the two diverging poles of rationalizing Hong Kong's status--the one centered around its national character, and the other around its international status.

The anniversaries of events which in retrospect are constructed as significant--that is whose meaning acquires political and cultural importance for collectives--tend to serve as important objects, signs, which become critical elements of collective meaning making.  That meaning making has both active and passive aspects.  Its passive aspects are historical--int he sense that the event becomes a past object whose meaning produces principles, taboos, and ways of thinking about the world--socio-political lessons--which can then be taken by those who must measure the risks of their behavior or choices against the "lessons" of the event now encased in governance meaning. In this aspect it serves as a regulatory device--the meaning of the event provides the measure against which current actions can be assessed.  Anniversaries reinforce the legitimacy and continued power of collective meaning making through the rituals of memory--these are pageants for the reaffirmation and reinforcement of meaning making through which a society constitutes itself. They make the assessment and disciplinary aspects (the meaning) of the commemorated event self-evident.

As important, anniversaries have increasingly important positive or active aspects. It is in this aspect that the anniversary (and the lessons of the underlying event commemorated) is invoked to extend meaning--to leverage its lessons for application to another event.  As well, anniversaries can be used to align new meaning making with the past event, and in that way to seek to legitimate it. This extension by analogy or invocation has played a powerful role in social or political movements.  Mass society tends to prefer the development of collective meaning through the construction of analogy and the exercise of aligning current triggering events (that can be exploited for these ends) to past events which have been invested with cultural-political significance. It is in this sense that an anniversary provides a means of signifying a current event. Here the anniversary brings the event forward as a meaning-object (a bundle of meaning) that can serve to contribute (and shape) not just the interpretation of current events--but also to legitimate reactions and responses to them. 

It is important here to distinguish between the anniversary as an amplifying object, and the underlying event that is commemorated. The underlying event provides meaning and legitimacy. The invocation on the anniversary provides the necessary alignment between the past event (and its "lessons" teaching, directions, commends, etc.) and current action.

The anniversary of 1989 Tiananmen Protests of 1989, the June 4th incident (六四事件) has become a powerful anniversary both within and outside of China. The underlying event involved the eventual suppression of the '89 Democracy Movement involved in popular manifestations demanding political change and occupying Tiananmen Square in central Beijing.  The popular manifestations had started in mid April 1989 and ended on June 4 when the government declared martial law and sent the military to occupy central parts of Beijing. The event acquired greater symbolic importance because during the course of events on 4th June 1989 military units ordered to clear out Tiananmen Square fired fired into the crowd  trying to block the military's advance causing substantial death and injury to the protestors. The lessons drawn form the events by Chinese officials was very different from tjat drawn by officials elsewhere.  For Chinese officials, the incident reinforced a wariness of more open and robust popular manifestation and of the danger of the forms of liberal democratic expression for the integrity of its political-economic model. It is a reminder of the need to protect that system from reactionary elements who use the cover of popular manifestation to seek revolution. For liberal democrats it was interpreted in almost the opposite way, as the suppression of democratic expression and the thwarting of the will of the people through disproportionate use of force. 

The June 4th Incident remains highly sensitive in China, where its commemoration is not encouraged.  But it is also highly sensitive elsewhere where its commemoration is encouraged, especially in liberal democratic Western states, and Hong Kong. And, indeed, the anniversary of the 4th June Incident has been used increasingly as a marker of the transformation of Hong Kong.  

From the Chinese side, the anniversary is the time to reinforce, by action, measures which tend to reinforce the core lessons and meaning of the event. This is the time to reaffirm the paramount importance of the stability and integrity of the state, of sovereignty and the suspicion that instability is at base a manifestation of foreign interference or the corruption of foreign ideas, of the reaffirmation of the political-economic system and particularly the leading role of the Chinese Communist Party. The anniversary would be the time to reaffirm the supremacy of responsibility for the advancement of economic, social, and cultural rights under the guidance of the vanguard, and to reinforce the lesson that civil and political rights may be best manifested through the established institutionalized collective in the service of economic, social and cultural objectives. It is no surprise, then, that the period around the June 4th Incident would be the time that Chinese authorities would move forward the National Security Law for China, then block commemoration of the June 4th Incident within its national borders (as something bordering on declarations of disloyalty to the state and its governance order), and then push through the National Anthem Laww for Hong Kong.

From the side of the Hong Kong democrats, and leading elements of liberal democratic states, the anniversary of the June 4th incident is the time to reaffirm the lessons of that event as well.  But those lessons are very different--the inevitable progression toward the rejection of the Marxist-Leninist political-economic model, the illegitimacy of violent suppression of popular manifestations of political will, and the reaffirmation of the supremacy of civil and political rights within any governance order. The anniversary, for liberal democrats, is also the moment to reaffirm their conviction of the illegitimacy of vanguard governance (at least when institutionalized within a Leninist organization), the primacy of individual over collective rights, and the supremacy of human rights discourse in the ordering of states and societal orders. Lastly, it is a time, for certain elements of this liberal democratic collective, to advance a positive aspect of the anniversary--the ideal of the supremacy of international law and norms, and of international collective constraints on national organization and manifestations of political power.  It is no surprise, then, that this would be the time to establish the  Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) as an informal international organization of leading political figures acting informally but always able to marshal national political authority at the appropriate moments.  It is the time when states can (whatever their motivation or objectives) impose sanctions on Chinese officials under cover of the de-legitimating lesson commemorated in the West around the June 4th Incident. 

(Pix Credit: Lawmakers Form Global Coalition to Tackle the China 'Challenge')
And lastly, it is the perfect moment for the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (created by the U.S. Congress in 2000 "with the legislative mandate to monitor human rights and the development of the rule of law in China, and to submit an annual report to the President and the Congress) to reinforce its mission directly through statements, which appear on its website.  And this year more pointedly the bipartisan resolution on the anniversary of the June 4th Incident (Press Release HERE: Tiananmen at 31: Commissioners Introduce Bipartisan Resolution and Condemn Imposition of National Security Law in Hong Kong (4 June 2020) and full text of this year’s resolution which also appears below).

And, of course, the anniversary powerfully amplifies the message of one of the CECC co-chairs, and a past candidate for the presidency of the United States, in forming the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and directing its work.  IPAC will be as powerful a force for the disciplining of liberal democratic principles as it presents a challenge to Chinese authorities.

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