Recently, the People’s Republic of China implemented further authoritarian policies in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the mainland province of Xinjiang in continued disregard for human rights and the rule of law. In Hong Kong, the reinterpretation of the territories’ democratic laws has translated into undermining the cities’ high degree of autonomy and silencing Beijing’s political opposition. Meanwhile, in Xinjiang province, China has continued to establish detention camps aimed at the indoctrination of dissidents. In both cases, China has not only violated basic human rights but also exhibited its intent to systematically suppress any opposition by any means necessary.
Previously, I had the opportunity to live abroad in East Asia and visit Hong Kong and mainland China. These experiences provided me with cultural insights as well as the chance to speak with individuals about the policy changes that are now affecting their daily lives. What I learned was that China’s ongoing suppression of human rights should be of great concern to democratic and human rights-minded governments and international organizations.
Recently, the Hong Kong government took the drastic step of outlawing the Hong Kong National Party. This political party, which formed in the aftermath of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, promotes the idea that Hong Kong’s future is to be a city independent of China, not a Special Administrative Region. While it is an indisputable fact that Hong Kong is an inseparable part of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing is attacking the democratic values that are granted to residents in the Hong Kong Basic Law. These laws grant the city a high degree of autonomy for fifty years following the return of the territory from the United Kingdom, which occurred in 1997. Moreover, this is stipulated in the Sino-British Joint Declaration — yet it is clear that China has no intention of honoring it. Lastly, while the Basic Law mandates that the people’s freedoms are inviolable, the laws guaranteeing freedom of speech, assembly, and other liberal rights are systematically breached at the behest of Beijing. By further undermining these democratic values, Beijing is violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration, disregarding the Hong Kong Basic Law, and, therefore, coercing a city into political silence.
This increasing authoritarian behavior is not limited to Hong Kong. In the northeastern province of Xinjiang, China — who had been disguising their actions as a means of maintaining social stability and countering religious extremism — has now legalized re-education centers and internment camps in a blatant disregard for human rights. In front of a UN human rights panel on August 13th, China denied the allegations that there are currently more than one million people being detained in Xinjiang without judicial proceedings based on their ethnic and/or religious identity. China’s activities are aimed at quelling separatists and religious extremists from within the provincial Uighur population, a predominantly Muslim ethnic group, and clearly, violate human rights through detention without due process and forcible assimilation of detainees by means of religious suppression and teaching Xi Jinping Thought. Moreover, there is no coincidence that this overtly aggressive strategy coincides with the government naming Xinjiang as a major component of the One Belt One Road Initiative. China is making it abundantly clear that this new strategy is one targeted at definitively pacifying an unruly province by any means necessary, while simultaneously carrying out a massive infrastructure development project in Xinjiang.
We are in the midst of witnessing an era of heightened Chinese authoritarianism, not only regionally and internationally but also within the Chinese sovereign territory. This behavior, in any form, left unchecked is a threat to democratic countries and the international liberal order. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that the democratic world hold China accountable for the violation of the UN recognized Sino-British Joint Declaration and infringement of the Hong Kong Basic law, along with ensuring that internationally recognized human rights standards are acknowledged by the Chinese authorities operating in Xinjiang province.
Matthew Geason is the Administrative Coordinator at Truman National Security Project, a student at National Taiwan Normal University, and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire. Views expressed are his own.