China and Hong Kong

Commentary: The Chinese choice on the Hong Kong Security Law means only one thing: the end of the old Cold War between the West and the PRC, and hence the beginning of a new phase between China and the United States, which will be "hot" or "cold" depending on the circumstances. Therefore, China has no need in the future - not even financially - to have Hong Kong as a buffer zone with a relatively peaceful, but always radically adverse West

Hong Kong skyline. Photo: Reuters

The real crucial event in China's current policy, not only for Hong Kong, was the document on "State Security in the Hong Kong Territory", voted in the recent National People's Congress at the end of May.

The document drafted by the National People’s Congress regards above all the Chinese national security and hence the internal security of the Fragrant Harbour, as well as the direct control of the strategic and public security situation of the anti-Chinese political opposition in Hong Kong, and, in particular, the reform of Article 23 of the Basic Law which governs the former British colony.

It should be recalled that two Opium Wars started from there only against mainland China. The opium was cultivated by the British East India Company in its territories in Bengal.

From 1839 to 1842 and from 1856 to 1860, as many as two trade and military conflicts allowed the actual British monopoly of the British and Indian opium throughout the Chinese territory. 

Let us revert, however, to Article 23 of the Basic Law, which formally prohibits any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the State of the People's Republic of China, as well as the theft of State secrets.

Therefore, the Chinese government now acts autonomously, in the territory of Hong Kong, for the defence of its interests. This also paves the way for a wide geopolitical transformation, in some ways more "radical" than the one which Deng Xiaoping carried out in 1978 with the Four Modernizations. It should be recalled that they ended with the most important Modernization for China, namely the military one.

The first attempt to adopt national security legislation in Hong Kong was made as early as 2003, when at least half a million people demonstrated against said legislation - very similar to the present one - proposed and established by China. Later there were several other security bills and, again, other large mass demonstrations.

Until the demonstrations of April 2019 against the Chinese bill to stop the extradition of PRC’s citizens to the Fragrant Harbour

At the time demonstrators shouted "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times".

Certainly China has often stated it sees Hong Kong’ security severely affected by the operations of various and unspecified "powers", which (undoubtedly) use Hong Kong to penetrate China and later possibly carry out separatist operations (Uyghurs, Tibetans and other riotous and unruly minorities), as well as infiltrations - sometimes military ones - and finally what China calls "harmful operations". 

Certainly these "harmful" operations also include those by Europe and the United States, which already repeatedly urge many "partners" and companies of the Global Value Chains (GVC) already present in China to move to the small territory of the Fragrant Harbour. This is also an objective cause of the improbable request for an "independent" investigation on the causes of the outbreak and spreading of the Covid-19 pandemic from the Chinese laboratories of Wuhan, Hebei.

A real attack on global economic development, and on China's economic security, right now that China is quickly transforming its production formula.

China wants to thwart such a move by bringing many production chains directly back into its territory, and by increasing the Chinese strategic (and hence financial and economic) pressure on the U.S. traditional allies in South-East Asia and the Pacific. 

Not necessarily the Southern Pacific only.

However, we will come back also to this point. As can be easily guessed, for China this is a strong point for the direct control of the Fragrant Harbour’s territory. 

However, a historical and ancient condition is no longer in place, i.e. the separation of Hong Kong’s legislation from Great Britain’s and currently China’s.

Obviously the Chinese decision is also a clear heave-ho given to Governor Carrie Lam and to the entire government in Hong Kong, by-passed in a few hours by the very clear Chinese diktat.

China has probably calculated the pros and cons of this move very well.

The cons, which are not insurmountable, include the reduced importance attached to Hong Kong as the only financial and industrial hub in the Chinese territory, which is also fully Westernized and globalized. This also greatly serves the PRC’s direct interests.

The U.S. interests in the Fragrant Harbour will no longer be safe and this is not a negligible issue: 1,300 medium-large North American companies and 82.5 trillion U.S. dollars in direct investment. 

Not to mention the dozens of NGOs that support democratization in Hong Kong against China and the many large global media headquarters in Hong Kong, as well the several operations of infiltration, intoxication and information manipulation (including some financial and industrial ones) that the West has carried out against the People's Republic of China, starting from the Fragrant Harbour.

From now on, for the whole West, Hong Kong’s gateway will be closed with seven seals.

Certainly, when the People's Republic of China feels threatened, it always sacrifices the economy to global strategy.

Certainly Hong Kong has always been China’s financial lifeline, especially in difficult times.

Currently, however, Hong Kong is an irreplaceable global financial hub in Asia. Nevertheless, I imagine that China will soon want to use other less dangerous and, above all, less close channels to connect to global finance.

Moreover, for the first time since 1992 - and, probably since 1978, the year of the Four Modernizations, if we analyse older time series - the Chinese economy is slowing down considerably due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, although with less severe damage than in the United States and in some E.U. countries.

The PRC’s first objective was to resume economic and industrial activities in full swing, while the second one was to make the Fragrant Harbour safe.

But, once again, there is a pro versus a con: while Hong Kong and, for other respects, Macao and Singapore, have been the destination areas of huge amounts of capital resulting from the corruption and embezzlement of many Chinese elites, Hong Kong’s closure will probably also mark the end of the great hunt that President Xi Jinping and his power group have focused on corruption within the Party and Beijing State. 

The old strategy of "Power putting down roots", as recommended in The Prince by Machiavelli.

Hence President Xi Jinping wants to directly control the Fragrant Harbour, the original site of China's forced Westernization, from the beginning of the "century of humiliation" (precisely with the first Opium War) to its end, with the PRC’s declaration of independence by Mao Zedong - "the Chinese people have stood up!" - at the Gate of Heavenly Peace Square, in 1949. 

The countries that are bound to win in the world arena are those with long and very long memories, while the post-modern and childish forgetful ones are always bound to lose. 

Obviously - as was also seen in the very recent National People's Congress in Beijing - Hong Kong is also a powerful sign for regaining Taiwan politically and economically. 

Recently, China has announced a 6.6% increase in the Defence budget from 1.72 trillion yuan (187 billion U.S. dollars) and Li Kekiang, Beijing's Premier, has made it clear that "China resolutely opposes and will deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan's independence". 

Normally, the Chinese authorities speak of "peaceful reunification", but this time Li Kekiang omitted the adjective. It was not a distraction.

In Mao Zedong's time, the always synthetic and enlightening formula of the Chinese leadership was available for Hong Kong: "long-term planning, full use". Later the "one country, two systems" formula initially developed by Deng Xiaoping was used, later reaffirmed by the various leaders and so far supported by President Xi Jinping himself. 

This Chinese choice on the Hong Kong Security Law, therefore, means only one thing: the end of the old Cold War between the West and the PRC, and hence the beginning of a new phase between China and the United States, which will be "hot" or "cold" depending on the circumstances. Therefore, China has no need in the future - not even financially - to have Hong Kong as a buffer zone with a relatively peaceful, but always radically adverse West.

Both the USSR and Mao Zedong's China have always regarded the "Cold War" as an unstable phase in which victory is decided by the amount of arsenals, their doctrine of use and the political will to use them as instruments of credible pressure. 

Certainly, Mao knew all too well - and it was one of his most enlightening strategic insights - that the "Cold War" was a paper tiger and those who believed in it could only consume themselves, politically and economically, against the United States and its allies - something that punctually happened with the USSR, which collapsed because it had not renounced in time to a clash impossible to win and which, at most, would give it the "great European plain", as Hegel and Raymond Aron called it.

Hence China quickly closed its accounts with the Fragrant Harbour, pending the closing of the subsequent operations also with Taiwan and all the other controversial areas, from the Philippines to the South China Sea, from South-East Asia to Malaysia and the Indian Ocean.

The old map - born with Kuomintang, but which was also very popular among Chinese Communist leaders in the 1950s, in which the new Chinese territorial waters beyond the Philippines’ line and throughout the Eastern Pacific could be seen - has not been forgotten at all. 

The United States has obviously "condemned" the Chinese decision, while Great Britain, Australia and Canada have signed a common document expressing "deep dismay" at China’s decision.

Furthermore, the United States already has the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 available - pending the great demonstrations which characterized that year and are currently collectively called the Water Revolution

Therefore, by virtue of that Act, the United States could remove the preferential trade status of Hong Kong, possibly with the extension to Hong Kong of the tariff and trade sanctions already in place against China. It should be recalled that these restrictions are worth 67 billion U.S. dollars per year.

Hence China’s goals for its actual regaining of the Fragrant Harbour are manifold and complex. Firstly, there is the closure of the financial closed circuit between China and Hong Kong, to be put into effect with the minimum international reaction. Secondly, there is also China’s need to rebuild the central and decisive position of the Chinese economy in the Global Value Chains - a position which, even before the "taking" of Hong Kong, had diminished in importance, but which would currently be fatal, especially if it arrived as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Obviously China also regards Hong Kong as a strategic, unavoidable and essential location for controlling the South China Sea militarily. The Chinese always reason with what De Gaulle called the "two caps", i.e. the civilian and the military one, which must always be kept together. 

Certainly, the peaceful regaining of Hong Kong is also a breaking point of the current U.S. geopolitics in the region: from the Far East probably to the Middle East, the United States has always thought of a long strategic-military continuity that would encircle Russia and close China in its hardly controllable terrestrial mainland. 

Hence China’s full control of regional seas will no longer enable the Russian Federation to depart from the project hegemonised by China, the New Silk Road, while the "small silk road" already planned by Russia, mainly with Japanese but also U.S. capital, will be either integrated into the Chinese one or destroyed.  

Finally, as already mentioned, China wants to speed up the process to separate Taiwan from the Japanese and North-American military "umbrella" protecting it.

Here we need to carefully examine the relationship between "Xi Jinping’s policy line" and the 1998 theory of unrestricted warfare.

China, which is aware of not yet being clearly superior in terms of "conventional" or traditional warfare, even if technologically advanced, must absolutely win its total war, its new unrestricted warfare.

Hence another reversal of the Cold War theorem: while, during the whole conventional phase of the Cold War, China depended on Russia for military technology, currently it is Russia that depends on China for orders and financing-purchases - although with its own often excellent and innovative war technology.

Hence if China, which has also acquired - both legally and in other ways - excellent Western, and not only post-Soviet military technology, wants to wage war - even regionally and indirectly -  against the United States, it must necessarily do so in time, before the United States rising up to China’s technological-doctrinal challenge, with the weapons it would like to have and has not yet, instead of those it already has. 

Furthermore a war game conducted by the RAND Corporation in early March 2020, demonstrated that, in an armed conflict, the United States would lose both against China and the Russian Federation, obviously considered separately. 

As also the U.S. analysts maintain, on the neo-technological - and hence also doctrinal level - the United States lags behind China with regard to strategic and missile precision weapons, hypersonic systems and guidance systems for all theatre ballistic weapons. While the United States is still superior in tactical weapons and in conventional medium-high technology weapons.

The United States, too, has suffered the conceptual impasse of the "Cold War". 

Also the F35 missile could be an excellent weapon for air supremacy, but - as a U.S. analyst said - it could be bombed to the ground by China or Russia. 

Other always accurate and updated war games, conducted by U.S. analysts, show that the United States would be clearly defeated even in the South Pacific, or by Russia in the Baltic, but certainly China would win in a regional clash to take Taiwan, while both Russia and China are working on the new anti-access/denial area weapons (A2A) quite successfully.

Meanwhile, President Xi Jinping has shifted his strategic interest from the ground forces of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to the PLA’s Navy and then to the Air Force, but especially to the Strategic Missile Force and the more recent Strategic Support Force. 

Today there is still a window of opportunity, which will last until the end of 2020, so that China can neutralize the U.S. fleet more than a hundred nautical miles from its coast and from the coast of Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore, as well as neutralize the U.S. missile systems both in Guam and Japan and in the small islands of the South Pacific. 

Here is the strategic pendant of China's choice on Hong Kong's internal security. 

Taiwan could also be the operation that makes the war escalate up to its nuclear level, but it is not said that the Chinese supremacy, still viable in a clash with the United States, decides to get to that point, although, probably, it will strike first and, hence, harder. But it will try to stop operations before the U.S. decision to go for the nuclear blow.

Nor should we forget the regional war that China waged with India precisely in May 2020, in the area of Lake Pangong Tso and the Galwan Valley, with a quick peace negotiation for controlling Ladakh, a border area still disputed by China, as well as an always very fast operation of the Chinese Forces in the north of Sikkim, again at the beginning of May 2020. 

We do not know yet whether all future Chinese operations will be lightning ones.

Hence we need to place the Hong Kong issue within this line of thinking.

 

Professor Valori is President of the International World Group

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