China and the breach 中國政府和違約
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
(Please scroll down for Chinese translation 繁体中文请往下滑).
Think of the word ‘breach” and what comes to mind? “Breach birth”? “Security breach”? There’s a petition circulating online that refers to China’s breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. The breach of concern is specifically the loss of Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and changes imposed on people's lifestyle. This is China’s misdemeanour, and our proposed referendum is viewed as a political solution to any breach.
For a crime as clear as stealing a Rolex watch or murdering your girlfriend in Hong Kong, there’s a punishment that fits. However, things get complicated if you murder your girlfriend while on a trip to Taiwan – but we won’t go into that here. If it were a broken contract between myself and a business I am sure I would not just let the matter slide. And if it was as simple or straightforward as taking China to Court for breaking the terms of an agreement made several decades ago, how could the wrong be put right?
Well, firstly the Joint Declaration listed a number of guarantees provided by the British and Chinese governments for the people of Hong Kong in the lead up to the British handover of rule to China in 1997 and through to 2047. The 1984 document lays out the policies that the Chinese government agreed to follow in governing Hong Kong, and these were accepted by the British government which proceeded with the handover 13 years later.
Rather than a single event that marks China's breach of the Joint Declaration there have been many infractions. Several writers before myself have attempted to catalogue the litany of events that are examples of breaches, so I will not take the same route as they have. Normally any single disregard for the terms of a legal agreement would be enough to trigger legal action by the effected party. In the case of Britain and China, however, events have moved very slowly, although people in Hong Kong have protested their discontent for years.
Chinese authorities seem to interpret legal matters in ways that suit themselves. Even when The Philippines, for example, took the Chinese government to the International Court of Arbitration over territorial issues in the South China Sea in 2013, China declared it wouldn't attend and eventually rejected the ruling. The best hope for Hong Kong protesters therefore, is to get China to comply with its international obligations since it is a signatory to the United Nations Charter on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and is a permanent member of its Security CounciI. China must comply with the ICCPR. Both China and Britain lodged the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration with the United Nations making it a binding agreement.
For the benefit of those readers who might insist that I spell out China's misdemeanour blow by blow, I defer to periodic reports prepared by U.S. and U.K. governments. The highly respected Senior Counsel Martin Lee is founding Chairman of the Democratic Party of Hong Kong and a former Member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (1985-2008). In his 2019 report to the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) he outlined four encroachments eroding Hong Kong’s “high degree of autonomy”:
· Beijing’s extrajudicial abductions of publishers and a businessman from Hong Kong;
· A surge in arrests of peaceful critics; and
· Attacks on our independent judiciary
The guarantee of a high degree of autonomy is at the core of China's breach. Even the selection of Carrie Lam as candidate for Chief Executive is a systematic undercutting of Hong Kong people's high degree of autonomy. Carrie Lam was appointed Chief Executive in 2017 after getting 777 votes in a selection committee process which represents roughly 0.1% of Hong Kong's population. People living in Scotland as part of The United Kingdom of Great Britain have a fully democratic election system. They are able to have a high degree of autonomy, whereas with China, Hong Kong people are not being extended the freedom and human rights or the democracy that a high degree of autonomy guarantees.
Although there have been many calls for a “political solution” to solve what is a complex set of issues, demands, positions and counter-positions, no one has yet offered either the golden bullet, or the magic pill to end the crisis. However, the type of solution that I expect Hong Kongers will be most satisfied with will be one that satisfies their current five demands – that gives them a high degree of autonomy. It will put universal suffrage democracy in place.
Hong Kong’s political movers and shakers have so far looked for assistance in this dispute with the Chinese government from foreign quarters, especially Germany, and the United States. China is always opposed to foreign interference in what it terms ‘domestic matters’ or its ‘internal affairs’, yet it chooses as a foreigner to interfere in Hong Kong. This flies in the face of its own 'One country, two systems' policy.
Stakeholders, including the United States of America, the European Union, Britain and China must be involved in resolving the current dispute to restore Hong Kong's international standing and bring back stability. Without all of these stakeholders' involvement there can be no social, economic, geopolitical or broader resolution to the current impasse. As China is in breach of the Joint Declaration a referendum which is then acted upon offers a political solution. Our referendum, therefore, gives the power back to the people of Hong Kong to settle their own destiny having a high degree of autonomy.
Jeremiah B. & Pepe
Jeremiah B. & Pepe