Friday, July 03, 2020

Sneak Peek: "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems': Essays from the Year that Transformed the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (June 2019 – June 2020) "

I wanted to share a sneak peek at a book to be published this September "Hong Kong Between 'One Country' and 'Two Systems':  Essays from the Year that Transformed the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (June 2019 – June 2020) " (Little Sir Press).  In an effort to avoid the prohibitive cost of hard copies, the book will be made available first as an EPub (iBook, Kindle, Amazon) and priced at $8.88 (USD) (ISBN: 978-1-949943-03-0 (ebk). My thanks to the Coalition for Peace & Ethics for making this possible. 

The draft Preface Follows.  As we get closer to publication summaries of each of the 28 essays will be posted along with the table of contents.


                  It will be hard to  forget the late afternoon of 9 June 2019.  I had been told that protests were scheduled that day against the Extradition Law that had been the subject of intense discussion among Hong Kong people.  It was not clear what the Central Authorities in Beijing had planned  or what the local government would do in the face of mounting disquiet on the street and, surprisingly, among Hong Kong’s business leaders.  Everybody had an opinion, of course.  Few thought that the protests would amount to much.  This was a city now used to mass manifestations of opinion, and as well, a city seemingly now beyond the large scale protests of the 2014 Umbrella Movement.  I was not prepared for the scale of the manifestations, even the very small glimpse of which I could see standing on the pedestrian bridges  crossing Hennessey Road near the Wai Chai station.

                  Of course, a year later, one can at last see what the ultimate consequences are likely to be of the events set in motion, at least symbolically, by those protests that started on 9 June and extend to the present.   The protests appeared to mark a turning point, and the start of an end game, around the issue of the character and prerogatives of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) within China and in the world.   An end game because one could trace the origins of this discussion  back to the negotiations between the United Kingdom (perhaps as proxy for the international community) and the People’s Republic of China for the return of land leased to the Hong Kong Crown Colony at the turn of the 19th century, and the ceding (back) of sovereignty over the smaller territory ceded to the United Kingdome by the last imperial dynasty in the 19th century.

The compromise reached to make those transfers possible became known as the “One Country, Two Systems” model.  That model reconstituted the Crown Colony as a Chinese Special Administrative Region, to which the Chinese government agreed to preserve certain features of its political-economic model, features that were incompatible with the political-economic model of the China. This arrangement was memorialized in an international agreement between China and the United Kingdom  But the essence of that agreement conceded that Hong Kong was an integral part of the People’s Republic of China and thus that its constitutional ordering would be related to China.  And thus the tension at the very outset of the arrangement—a piece of national territory, but one subject to international constraints on the authority of the national government with respect to its governance.  

                  One Country, Two Systems started life with a heavy emphasis on the “Two Systems” portion of the model.  China was still at the start of what would be the wildly successful project of “socialist modernization.”  The emblem of that future was marked by the establishment of Shenzhen, just across the border from the Hong Kong SAR.  And indeed, from the 1980s, one might even measure the relative position of Chinese economic development by noting the growth of Shenzhen as part of what became the great Pearl River delta manufacturing hub for transactions at first negotiated mostly in Hong Kong but then gradually migrating across the SAR border.

                  And, indeed, as Chinese economic power grew and along with it, China’s political confidence and the elaboration of its political theory, the status of Hong Kong became increasingly focused, on the Chinese side, on the cultivation of the “One Country” art of the formula, and the stricter management of the “Two Systems” elements of the arrangement.  But this impulse grew even as Hong Kong developed its own unique political culture, and it sense of its relationship with the rest of the nation. As central authorities increasingly thought of integration and domestication, Hong Kong people (intellectuals, workers, and others mostly) increasingly cultivated the unique political culture of Hong Kong as an international city, one that had absorbed substantial elements of international political sensibilities. For them, “Two Systems” served as an internationally guaranteed right to develop autonomously, and as a constraint on the power of the Chinese central authorities of “misuse” One Country principles to absorb Hong Kong into the Chinese political-economic model.  Hong Kong was part of China, to be sure, but a separable part, and one whose uniqueness would be guaranteed not by the Chinese state but by the international community. 

                  That difference of view proved to be increasingly explosive after the end of the 20th century. That was a period marked by increased political differentiation—especially respecting the cultivation of civil and political rights—even as an increasingly frustrated China sought to more tightly align the Hong Kong SAR to its national goals and cultures, under the leadership of the vanguard.  There were explosions almost from the start of the 21st century. Efforts viewed by the masses as threatening Hong Kong political “liberties” especially as against the central authorities, were the subject of political agitation.  Many of them successful enough to constrain substantial threat the central elements of Hong Kong’s political self-conception. 

But all this changed after 2014 and the Umbrella Movement.  What started out as an effort of the central authorities to aid in the reform of Hong Kong’s government, its forms of representation, and the relationship with national organs, became a mass response against threats to the democratic governance (such as it was and as it was understood within the broader constraints of the original One Country Two Systems deal) in Hong Kong.  What was particularly notable was both the leadership of young people, mostly students, and their alliance with elements of the working class. Also notable was the way that the international foundations of the One Country Two Systems deal appeared to permit the internationalization of the Umbrella Movement. I suspect that 2014  marked a sort of moment of clarity for the Chinese central authorities—one in which they realized the extent to which the One Country Two Systems arrangement might pose a threat to their overall authority over Hong Kong.  That threat was made more immediate given what appeared to be the emergence of policy that sought to align all of the cities of the Pearl River delta into a sort of aggregated whole. That planning also required a greater control  over the entire region, and perhaps also likely, a greater emphasis on the One Country portion of the deal.  As well, one enters here a time of increasing government suspicion of the projection of international arrangements, special procedures and the like into Chinese territory.  Notions of foreign interference, especially as global discourse became increasingly critical of the Chinese political-economic model, begin to loom larger.  And suspicions only grew in the aftermath of the Umbrella Movement.  

                  By 2019, then, the stage appeared to be set for explosion.  On the one side was the alliance of Hong Kong elements, along with significant portions of the international community, who saw Hong Kong as an international city, one whose foundation was built on international law and treaty that constrained national power to reshape its political-economic model.  This was the Hong Kong of Two Systems—pluralist, centering political and civil rights, transnational constitutionalist, and aligned with the sensibilities of global society. On the other side were the Chinese central authority and Hong Kong nationalists, who saw Hong Kong as an integral part of China, who were worried about separatist tendencies, and who sought greater integration with the rest of the nation. This was the Hong Kong of One Country—nationalist, focused on security and economic, social, and cultural rights, and seeking greater alignment with the rest of the nation (subject to protection of peculiarities that would over the generations perhaps disappear).

Still,  as 2019 began, this contradiction and its explosive potential were  viewed by many through the lens of past events—it was the natural order of things.  There were expectations of re-alignment between One Country and Two Systems, but no one expected a challenge, and especially a successful challenge)  to the fundamental principles or their application.  That is, no one expected the need or desire to resolve the fundamental contradiction of Hong Kong as an international city within China. But then, little notice appeared to e taken of what was going on beneath the polished surface of conferences, press events, and the routine of politics and bureaucracy in a city focused on prosperity. Hardly anyone, then, was prepared for the spiraling of events that was triggered by yet another point of friction (like so many before) between Hong Kong internationalists and nationalists—the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 (2019)(the “Extradition Law”) .

Over the year that began in June 2019, Hong Kong became a nexus point global conflict.  What started as dislike of the Extradition Law, became part of a larger struggle on several levels. On one level the struggle pushed both internationalists and nationalists to more extreme positions and to give them the space to push for change that would have been unpalatable even a year earlier.  Hong Kong also became a battleground in the conflict between the United States and China over  the shape of the international trade order.  And lastly, Hong Kong became an even more important battleground over the legitimacy of the internationalization of politics and constitutionalism. At the end of the process, Hong Kong was no longer faced with the adoption of an Extradition Law.  Instead  a year later Hong Kong adopted a National Anthem Law and was forced to accept adoption of a National Security Law for Hong Kong (one which it had successfully avoided for decades). At the same time Hong Kong internationalism appeared to collapse, or at least to evidence its weakness in the face of a resurgent Chinese national government. By the end of June 2020 it was becoming clear that there would be a fundamental shift from Two Systems to One Country; more importantly there would be a shift from the management of that arrangement form the international community to Chinese national authorities. It will take years to understand the magnitude of the changes and to see its effects in Hong Kong, and its effects on Chinese efforts to move to the center of shaping international affairs.  As important, by the end of June 2020, Chinese political ideology had also evolved—the deepening of New Era theory, and its expression as policy, was decisive in shaping the increasingly muscular approach of the Chinese authorities toward both the nationalization of the Hong Kong issue and the significant refocus of the governing principle from Two Systems to One Country.  To understand this shift one must understand Chinese Marxist-Leninism in transition to the New Era from 2012 to the present. 

These essays were written as the events unfolded.  They are offered here in part as contemporaneous history, and in part as a chronicle of a rapidly changing analytical framework.   They are both a chronicle of events, and a record of the way that the way of thinking about the situation of Hong Kong changed radically over such a short period of time. It’s also, in part, a chronicle of the way in which larger events—the US -China trade war, and the COVID19 pandemic, can have a substantial effect on what would otherwise be a localized affair. My hope that these may provide some perspective not just on the events in Hong Kong, but on the evolution of Chinese political ideology in this crucial period of history. The object of these essays is not so much truth as context. It is meant to provide a record of thinking at the time the evets were occurring, full of the presumptions, prejudices and perspectives of the times.  And that, I hope, may, be their ultimate value to those who read the essays in the years to come.

No comments: