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The EU warns China for changing election rules in Hong Kong – What is the qualification vetting system?

The EU warns China for changing election rules in Hong Kong – What is the qualification vetting system?

Relevance:

  • GS2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || China

Why in the news?

  • China had recently introduced legislation to allow the communist government to vet all election candidates in Hong Kong in the latest move to eliminate dissent and ensure a “patriotic” government in the city.
  • In response, the European Union warned China that it may take “additional steps” in response to Beijing’s increasing measures to alter the status quo in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: A brief history

  • Modern-day Hong Kong is best known for its sprawl of skyscrapers, a bustling financial hub off the southern coast of mainland China and a regional conduit for trade.
  • Hong Kong is located on the ‘Kowloon Peninsula’.
  • In 1898, following the second Opium War between the British and China, the British took control of the country through a lease agreement of 99 years.
  • Hong Kong was part of the British empire until 1997, when the lease on the New Territories expired and the entire city was handed back to China.
  • It was under the British rule that Hong Kong transformed into a commercial and financial hub boasting one of the world’s busiest harbours.
  • Anti-colonial sentiment fuelled riots in 1967 which led to some social and political reforms.
  • By the time it was handed back to China in 1997, the Hong Kong city had well-developed democratic institutions such as a partially elected legislature and retained an independent judiciary.
  • Hong Kong boomed as China opened up its economy from the late 1970s, becoming a gateway between the ascendant power and the rest of the world.

Hong Kong and China:

  • The leaders from both sides Deng Xiaoping from China and the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher held long negotiations.
  • After that, they signed an agreement in 1984 known as “Sino-British Declaration” which effectively transferred the administrative control from the British to China.
  • According to the declaration, Hong Kong would be made a “Special Administrative Region” of China, and would retain its freedoms and way of life for 50 years after the handover date on July 1, 1997.
  • After the handover, Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China with its own “mini constitution,” legal system, and some democratic rights like free speech and the freedom of assembly under its Basic Law.
  • In the present situation, Hong Kong residents cannot elect their own leaders; rather, a chief executive is elected by a 1,200-member election committee.
  • In 2003, the first major pro-democracy protest took place when the Hong Kong government first tried to enact the national security law.
  • In 2014, over one lakh city residents took part in the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ to protest against China’s denial of democratic reforms.
  • In 2019, the largest protest till now, took place against a proposed extradition law, and continued with pro-democracy marches even after the legislation was withdrawn.

Issues between Hong Kong and China

  • Other than the continuous undermining of the ‘Sino-British declaration’ by China, the immediate reason for the situation going worse in Hong Kong is the new security law passed by the People Republic China (PRC).
  • The new law gives sweeping powers to law enforcement authorities to maintain law and order in the city.
  • It make changes in the Basic Law, the mini-constitution which defines ties between Hong Kong and China
  • Basic Law allows Hong Kong to enjoy executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication, barring matters of defence and foreign affairs.
  • Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong has to enact a national security law to provide security to the city as well as mainland China.
  • Article 23 aims at preserving national security but it will also allow China’s national security organs to formally operate and set up institutions in Hong Kong.
  • But as per the Basic law of Hong Kong, only Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) can make and repeal laws.
  • Over the years, China has taken up several measures which have weakened the independence of the City.
  • China brought in a National security law bypassing the Legislative Council (LegCo) by inserting this legislation in Annex III of the Basic Law.
  • Under Article 18 of Basic Law, national laws can be applied in Hong Kong if they are placed in Annex III, and must be confined to defence, foreign affairs and matters outside the limits of autonomy of the region.
  • Once listed in Annex III, national laws can be enforced in the city by way of promulgation (automatically being put into effect) or by legislating locally in the SAR.
  • The controversial law also empowers China to set up a national security agency in the city, staffed by officials who are not bound by local law when carrying out.
  • Hong Kong’s mini-constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but China’s new security law will change this.

Impacts:

Any coercive move by Chinese to change the status quo of the City’s autonomy  may have far reaching geo-political and other implications. They are:

  • Violation of human rights on a very large scale: The people of Hong Kong have democratic spirit and they would place their democratic rights way above their lives. It may result in violent suppression by the Chinese authorities causing bloodbath on a very large scale.
  • The economic activity in the City, China and outside world would get affected: The move to enact the national security law could also undermine Hong Kong’s position as an East Asian trading hub, and invite global disapproval for Beijing, which is already being accused of withholding key information related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Strategic fallout and arms escalation: China already has tense relations with Taiwan, India and other southeast Asian countries over territorial claims. Any unilateral actions by China also have potential to draw a military action and economic sanctions on China.
  • Uncertainty over the future of Hong Kong: The continuous hostile attitude towards the City may also adversely affect the future of the City as the Sino-Britain declaration is set to expire in 2047. Hong Kong may become another Taiwan for China’s communist party.

Response of India:

  • Earlier, China had sent demarches to India as well as other nations explaining the reasons to draft new legislation and to seek support amidst the widespread criticism over the National Security Law.
  • Despite being the largest democracy in the world, India stays silent on the National Security Law for Hong Kong by China.
  • This is because India has a ‘non-interference’ policy and it doesn’t interfere in the internal matters of foreign countries.
  • Both countries have also signed a ‘Panchsheel Agreement’ which forbids both countries from interfering in each other’s internal matters.
  • Another reason is the mutual understanding between the two nations– China doesn’t comment anything objectionable against India over Kashmir and in return, India doesn’t comment on Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.

Way ahead:

  • The complete transition of integration of the City with China still has another phase ahead: the expiration of China’s agreement to honour Hong Kong’s Basic Law in 2047.
  • The world community has to contemplate whether it will be in the global interests to let China rule over the Hong Kong city through coercion.
  • The stakeholders including Chinese government, people of Hong Kong, the UK, and the responsible global powers need to draw the action plan in concuss manner so that the democratic rights of the people of Hong Kong are preserved and the city continues to prosper.

Model Mains Question:

  1. Discuss the geopolitical fall outs of the coercive move by China to take more control over the city of Hong Kong. In this context, examine India’s stance over the issues.