Hong Kong Island was ceded to the UK in perpetuity under the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842, and the southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula, as well as Stonecutters Island, were also ceded to the UK in perpetuity under the Convention of Beijing in 1860.
The New Territories were leased from the Chinese Government for a period of 99 years starting from 1 July 1898 under the Second Convention of Peking. This lease was to expire on 30th June 1997. As a result, the whole of Hong Kong, including the New Territories, was agreed to be handed back to China with both countries agreeing to guarantee the new status of Hong Kong. Of particular relevance is the following sentence “The HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication. The laws currently in force in Hong Kong will remain basically unchanged.”
The current actions by China in Hong Kong ignore this completely. Whilst we understand that we live in a world of Realpolitik, this does not encourage trust in anything that China says or promises.
If we fast forward to the present day, we find China flexing its muscles, ignoring UN recommendations in the South China Sea. Under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, China is exploiting situations whilst the rest of the world is distracted.
Never mind that Beijing’s claims are fundamentally incompatible with established international law on maritime boundaries, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which China has ratified and by which it professes to abide. Never mind, as well, that the claims have been ruled fraudulent by an international tribunal in The Hague. This is part of a broader Chinese strategy to create its own version of the Monroe Doctrine.Foreign Policy Magazine May 2020
Kiribati has also re-elected its pro-Beijing leader in its April elections and this has an impact on both the US and New Zealand, putting Hawaii within range and maintaining a presence just north of the Pacific Islands which are traditionally in New Zealand’s sphere of influence.
Given China’s propensity to be difficult in meeting its obligations where does that leave the UK?
Well, in 1954, 48 British businessmen with the best intentions travelled to China to foster trade relations with the regime in Beijing. This delegation included two covert members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and evolved into something called “The 48 Club”. This is an organisation which indulges in quiet influence and is connected in many ways through membership, fellowship or honorary fellowship to many of the great and good in British commercial and political society. For fun, have a look at their website the48groupclub.com and browse through their membership lists. The current chairman, Stephen Perry, is the son of the leader of that 1954 delegation, Jack Perry.
In January he gave a speech supporting Huawei’s attempts to join Britain’s 5G network. He has also shared a post on the 48 Group’s website endorsing a new law giving Beijing the power to crack down on pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong.Sunday Times
This leads nicely into the actions of Iain Duncan-Smith, once leader of the Conservative party, who on 8th June gave Boris Johnson an ultimatum. Ditch Huawei from the 5G project within two months or face defeat in the Commons. Smith was supported by David Davis, another senior Conservative who was runner up to David Cameron in the party leadership elections, and Tom Tugendhat MP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Unfortunately for the Government they can’t just bluff and bluster away these MPs as even with a majority of 80+ the Government would find it difficult to defeat an opposition motion without their support. They are well respected, and unfortunately for Boris Johnson, Tom Tugendhat completed his army service in the Territorials and left with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He went on active service in Iraq and Afghanistan and his early days in the military were served in the Intelligence Corps. In April 2020 Tugendhat became the first head of the China Research Group, formed by Conservative MPs, independently of the party, to gain a “better understanding of China’s economic ambitions and global role”. This is to include Huawei’s role in the UK’s 5G network, China‘s CV-19 disinformation campaign, and its foreign policy – in particular its relations with Less Developed Nations (LDCs) in the world. It is difficult to bluff away against Tugendhat, and his opinions carry weight and can’t be fobbed off.
Partly as a result of this pressure, the government is set this week to cancel any involvement of Huawei in Britain’s 5G network. In an unprecedented show of unanimity, the various intelligence agencies have come out against Huawei, changing their views from a few months ago. The prime driver in this was the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) which, after the US issued new sanctions against the firm, has decided Huawei’s products are not secure, which will make its microchips unsafe.
And what is the moral of all this? Well, China is not to be trusted and should be viewed differently. The West should still adopt a policy of dealing with China and the CPC but warily. China is becoming more of a bully to take advantage of the West’s distractions and current inability to present a combined front. It also realises that its economic position is weakening and wants to press home any advantage it can get. Do not believe the state provided statistics on GDP growth and GDP per capita. It is having difficulty in funding some of its many promises on the Belt and Road Initiative and it wants to get ahead of a weak and distracted West before its economy hits the skids.
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