Hong Kong in middle of US-UK-China triangle

MUHAMMET ALI GÜLER
Published 20.09.2019 00:53

Over two decades have passed since Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997. According to the hand over agreement between China and Britain, Hong Kong would have its own currency, legal system and parliamentary system for 50 years.

It is due to that agreement that Hong Kong has its own currency, passport and legal system ever since the agreement was signed. It should be noted that the official languages are Cantonese and English.

Its parliament is partially elected by the public while Beijing appoints the chief executive in Hong Kong. There have always been questions on what is going to happen after the agreement brokered between Britain and China over the special status of Hong Kong expires.

It seems the time for answers has come sooner than expected. Until the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, the small nation was a colony of the United Kingdom from 1842 to 1997 and occupied by Japan between 1941 and 1945. It was governed by a governor appointed by London during the colonial period.

In the middle of the ongoing economic war between the U.S. and China, most people focused on this face off, each side trying to explain, justify and not justify it from several approaches and perspectives. However, there is another vital issue that needs more attention in which a new bloc between Washington and London may emerge.

There have been claims that the current ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong have been masterminded by the United States. The protesters have been demanding more democratic rights and an end to the increasing authority of mainland China.

The current protests broke out because of the bill which inferred that Hong Kongers would be subject to extradition to Beijing over criticism of the government. Therefore, in the light of current protests, some noticeable demands by protesters are the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the unconditional release of protesters, the resignation of the chief executive and independence.

The critical triangle

Will Hong Kong become another front line in the battle between the possible U.S.-Britain bloc against China? Britain, in accordance with the result of the 2016 referendum, has been trying to distance itself from the European Union, an economic and political alliance of 28 countries which would continue to expand over the years.

Arguably, there is a universal consensus among world citizens that the EU is one of the best and most successful alliances that has lasted for quite a long period of time. If it is a successful partnership, why have British politicians failed to convince the public during the run-up to the 2016 referendum?

I have thought over this question many times. Britain obviously wants to keep its economic relations with the union for its interests. However, there are many question marks in my mind, many of which include questions over its departure from the EU.

Does Britain want to be among the most influential world powers as it once was? Is Britain going to build a stronger partnership with the U.S.? Has Britain gotten bored of the institutionalization of the EU? These are some of the more burning questions in my mind. Britain has been stuck in the Brexit process ever since the 2016 referendum. It was believed that Britain would leave the EU on March 29, 2019. And that date has come and gone with no Brexit.

As a result, Prime Minister Theresa May resigned over the failure of the Brexit process, leading to the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson taking office on July 24, who dreamed of becoming a world king during his childhood. Now the deadline for when the United Kingdom should leave the EU is this coming in October.

Furthermore, there are quite a number of people in the United Kingdom who have shown displeasure over the replacement of the prime minister without the will of the British people and the election.

The latest development of the suspension of Parliament by the Queen (requested by Boris) is another huge blow to British democracy. Should we interpret this as the British Empire uploading? Thus, Britain's unsolved internal and external issues may be interpreted as an admission that it is simply not possible for Britain to stand against China alone anymore.

The dragon in the EU

China has already started to divide nations in the EU with its vast economic offers. For example, Italy became the first G7 country to sign an agreement with China for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Additionally, there are many other nations working with China in different fields; for example, there are some European countries that have allowed Huawei to establish 5G infrastructure.

Therefore, these kind of events in the EU have irked the U.S. over the increasing relations between their long-term allies who are EU members and Beijing. Thus, Washington may look down at this disobedience by EU members while Britain may believe that the European Union may not defend its national interest on the global stage anymore. So, London may need to take more of an imperialistic approach to rule the world once again.

Challenges ahead

We may see a new kind of global dominance contest in the coming years. The changes affecting the globe, such as the direct economic confrontation between Washington and Beijing, Brexit, as well as the decreased influence of the British empire over the years, among others, may breed a new era in the world order.

The U.S. has a major challenger in China, and so it needs an obedient partner; while, at the same time, Britain needs a Trojan horse to get back to its glorious times. Therefore, it may bring a new alliance which would include Britain and the U.S. to leverage the global order in favor of the American and British bloc.

In this regard, there would be many tests, namely through accelerating and increasing confrontations which may include political, economic discourses and unexpected military accidents or skirmishes anywhere around the world. This would be particularly true in the Asia-Pacific region over the issue of Hong Kong.

Some officials from both the United Kingdom and China have already exchanged intimidating remarks regarding Hong Kong. For instance, former Secretary of State of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs of the U.K. Jeremy Hunt warned China to prepare for serious consequences if China does not abide by the agreement signed in 1984 between the two pertaining to status of Hong Kong.

On the Chinese side, it has been emphasized that Hong Kong is no longer a colony of Britain and will harm bilateral relationship between the two countries if London keeps interfering internal issues of China.

Military threats

On the other side, China has already signaled many times that it would use military force to extinguish the continuing and pervasive protests in Hong Kong. To this end, China has already broadcast the dispatching of Chinese armed forces to Shenzhen, a neighboring city to Hong Kong, on the State-owned China Global Television Network (CGTN).

The armed forces that have been dispatched could very well be reinforcements for China's People's Liberation Army, which has so far been inactive, in Hong Kong for the possible use of force to disperse the protesters. Additionally, the Chinese government claimed that the Hong Kong protesters have been equated with signs of terrorism in China. Others still see the protesters as being peaceful.

A conflict between the British-American bloc and China in regard to Hong Kong may be detrimental and devastate regional and global peace, prosperity and stability. Could Hong Kong become as divided as the Korean peninsula, which differs in system and ideology between North and South?

What is next if China uses a military crackdown in Hong Kong?

* Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia

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