The process of decolonisation was complex and sometimes fraught. There were times when the best efforts at maintaining unity came apart — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are good examples of this. At times, there was something that looked good on paper and would, had it worked out, have resulted in good results. The West Indian Federation is a classic example of this. (The Central American Republic is another, but that’s for another discussion) But sometimes, a situation was complex enough that it required an entirely different set of measures.
Hong Kong’s post-retrocession settlement was never a certainty. Beijing, under the direction of Deng Xiaoping, agreed to a maximum amount of flexibility in respect to the details of a post-1997 legal and governmental framework for Hong Kong so long as the issue of sovereignty was left, without question, to Beijing. Successive Chinese leaders — Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao showed a degree of wisdom and insight in their handling of the territory. Indeed, even up to Xi Jinping’s first term, the Chinese authorities had arguably acted in better faith than so-called “respectable” Western institutions such as the EU.
With his second term and the removal of restrictions on years he could serve, Xi Jinping has taken China down a very different path. In many respects, he reminds me of the Yongle Emperor. The Yongle Emperor tore apart the Ming succession rules and seized power for himself, making himself not only more powerful than his father or nephew — the rightful emperor — but also reshaping the Ming Dynasty in his image. Indeed, much as the Yongle Emperor shifted the Ming capital from Nanjing to his support-base, Beijing, Xi, a Beijing native, has shifted the centre of power within the CCP making it essentially his own Beijing-centred coterie. (Hu and Jiang were both natives of Taizhou, Jiangsu — not too far from Nanjing. Deng was a native of Guang’an, Sichuan, Mao was a native of Changsha, Hunan)
Xi became the most powerful ruler in China since Mao. But unlike Deng, Jiang or Hu, Xi faced real opposition for the first time with Trump. Previous US, like many, Western governments had hoped that China would develop into another Singapore. Perhaps not a liberal democracy, but a stable, prosperous country that largely abided by international business, military and diplomatic norms. But that rather missed the mark. China is not Singapore. It is not an ethnically, linguistically and culturally-isolated trading centre reliant on remaining on good terms with players big and small around the world. China is a civilisation-empire keen on becoming the West’s equal, if not its master. With China’s economy hit hard by Trump’s trade war and the repercussions of Wuhan Bat ‘Flu, the one card Xi can still play is the national prestige card.
Hong Kong is an easy target. It is the easiest target. Hong Kong’s sovereignty is Chinese. In fact, China’s ability to control every aspect of Hong Kong’s fate is enshrined in Hong Kong’s basic law. China’s new national security law for Hong Kong effectively breaches the divider between the mainland and the special administrative region. Even if, strictly speaking, Hong Kong isn’t fully integrated into the mainland, the clear legal distinction is no longer there. As a response, the glorious bumbler, the Primordial Muppet, Boris, has belatedly grasped two things. The first is that handing effective control of the UK’s 5G network to a Chinese government entity is probably not a good idea. (There is no way delineate hardware and software with 5G as there is with 4G, so once hardware is in the system, it has full access to the system) The second is that Britain does owe Hong Kong BNOs a duty. Unlike most former colonies, sovereignty was not ceded by Westminster from London to the former colony a la Ottawa, Canberra, Wellington or Kingston, sovereignty of Hong Kong was handed from London to Beijing. Loyal British subjects who had grown up owing allegiance to Her Majesty were left to the tender mercies of a government not known for its great fidelity to human rights or rule of law. Some 21 years after Portugal ceded Macau on similar terms to Beijing, but with the proviso that all Macanese who had reached their majority would be entitled to retain full Portuguese passports, the idiot of 10 Downing Street suddenly realised that, perhaps, Hong Kong BNOs should, perhaps, have their Britishness recognised, sucks to Beijing.