CHINA – July 2020
HK between pandemic, sanctions and postponed elections
The city’s leader Carrie Lam said Hong Kong was “on the verge of a large-scale community outbreak”, that the hospital system could face collapse and urged people to stay indoors to avoid the spread of the pandemic. New regulations, including mandatory face masks and the closure of dine-in restaurants, were introduced. Unfortunately the city that, had an early success against Covid-19, is now regularly reporting over 100 new daily cases. Less than a month ago, the average number of new daily cases was under 10.
As was already speculated during the month, the elections of the Legislative Council (the local autonomous parliament) were postponed with a decree (31st of July) from the 6th of September 2020 to the 5th of September 2021. Chief Executive Lam used the Emergency Regulations Ordinance in connection with the pandemic resurgence to enact the measure, with the full support by Beijing.
Opposition figures pointed out that the measure was trying to hamper a possible success by the opposition, allowing to dissipate anger over the new national security law and after a wave of arrests and disqualifications of potential candidates.
Meanwhile Hong Kong’s economy shrank by 9% from a year earlier in the latest quarter and is facing more potential damage from the loss of US trade privileges due to the security law imposed by Beijing. Hong Kong, a centre for trade, finance and tourism, already was struggling before the coronavirus prompted the government to impose travel curbs and restrictions on business.
The 14th of July the US President issued the Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization. This means that on a number of important aspects the city has no more a preferential treatment, namely on: immigration, arms exports, export controls and license, labelling of goods, extraditions, passport and visa regime, police cooperation, tax exemptions, scientific and academic cooperation, etc. Moreover persons that are involved in enforcing the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Administrative Region at any level will have their assets in the USA frozen.
The USA deem that the 1984 Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong (Joint Declaration), guaranteeing autonomy and freedom for the special administrative region until 2047 (one country, two systems), has been violated by the new wide-ranging security law, imposed by Beijing in June 202, the criminalises acts of “secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion”.
Evidently these developments mark a significant break-up in the relationship between China, the UK and the USA with consequences that could go beyond just commercial disputes.
Elenoire Laudieri – Sinologist and Chief Analyst on Chinese Affairs at Nato Defense College Foundation. Foreign affairs writer for international magazines and publications.