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The west must move beyond hollow words|Joseph Long

Earlier this week, in leading up to the G7 summit which is going to take place in Cornwall in June, foreign ministers of the group of the seven industrialized nations, along with representatives of the EU and India, met for a two-day summit hosted in London where security challenges from China and Russia were on the agenda. In a 12,400-word communiqué issued after the summit, foreign ministers condemned “human rights violations” in Xinjiang and Tibet as well as China’s “arbitrary, coercive economic policies”. The participating nations and the EU were unequivocal in condemning “the targeting of Uyghurs, members of other ethnic and religious minority groups, and the existence of a large-scale network of ‘political re-education’ camps, and reports of forced labor systems and forced sterilization”.

The communique also touches on Hong Kong, in which the group conveys its “grave concerns” with “China’s decision fundamentally to erode democratic elements of the electoral system” in the city; the communiqué also calls on China “to act in accordance with its international commitments and its legal obligations, including those enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, and to respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms,” as well as “to end the targeting of those who defend rights and freedoms and democratic values, to uphold the independence of the judicial system and to ensure cases are not transferred to the mainland.” The paragraph was in response to the China’s recent attempt to cut the number of democratically elected seats in the legislative council and imposing new vetting procedures to ensure only “patriotic” candidates loyal to Peking can stand in elections; the so-called “electoral reforms” had already been unanimously approved earlier this year by the National People’s Congress standing committee, China’s top decision-making body, without consulting Hong Kong’s legislature.

With the catch-all national security law having been imposed on Hong Kong for almost a year and the entire opposition of the city now being either in jail or in exile, the watered-down language of the communiqué seems nugatory and pointless. This is especially so as we witnessed last week the — yet another — sentencing of pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong to 10 months in jail for participating in the annual vigil in Victoria Park that marks the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Also in last week, Carrie Lam, Peking’s puppet in Hong Kong, announced in a press conference that she was considering the introduction of a fake news law to halt “misinformation, hatred and lies”, in a move that raises the prospect of press freedoms being further eroded. The law, by giving the government the authority to rule on what constitutes “fake news,” could potentially be weaponized against the press and further devastate whatever is left of Hong Kong’s press freedom.

Whilst some may take comfort in that leaders of the G7 countries still have Hong Kong on their agenda, the obvious fact is that there have been all too many “concerns” and “condemnations,” and too little actions. Since the anti-extradition bill movement broke out in June 2019 we have heard a chorus of condemnations by western countries that followed every escalation to no avail. This time it is no exception: despite the lengthy communiqué, the G7 group of wealthy countries have refrained from spelling out any concrete steps to confront China. Whilst it is welcome news that the US, with its new administration, has demonstrated its commitment, through participating in the G7 submit, to re-engage with its allies in multilateral diplomacy to contain China, the resoluteness of western countries — especially Italy and Germany — over taking a more assertive stance against Peking, as well as the fruitfulness of such co-operation, are yet to be seen. In order to reassert the values of freedom, democracy and pluralism in face of China’s growing global aggression, the west, led by the Group of Seven, must be prepared to move beyond hollow words to real actions.

(Joseph Long is a London-based writer and linguist from Hong Kong.)

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