The great power struggle between the US and China has intensified, with Hong Kong on the brink of falling into Beijing’s arms. New laws recently made by China are threatening the autonomy and democracy of Hong Kong. Time is running out for the US to save it. But can autonomy be restored in the region or is it too late?
Pro-democratic protests in Hong Kong fought for salvation of their territory in the midst of Beijing occupying the province with the Chinese Liberation Army, using tear gas and secret police to exert their influence in the region. Extradition laws passed in 2019 dissolving national security in Hong Kong sparked months of protests since April 2019 but were slowed down by the COVID-19 crisis. In March 2021, a new law was passed that decreased the amount of democratically elected legislatures and installed ‘patriots’ to run the province. Critics such as Layla Morgan, assert that these laws undermine not only the political system itself but foreign relations with the US and UK. She calls for the UK “step up” by “taking China to the International Court of Justice”.
Meanwhile in the US, the Democrats and Republicans have surprisingly acted in a bipartisan manner by calling out Biden to impose sanctions on China and policy to ensure Hong Kong’s democracy is maintained. Relations between the US and Hong Kong have been amicable and co-operative due to their shared Western democratic values and business relations in the region. But the crux of the matter is whether the US will exert any influence by 2047, when the Sino-British Joint Declaration runs out and Hong Kong is infiltrated by Chinese authority and law, perhaps diminishing their financial clout entirely. The chances that Hong Kong will gain independence seem increasingly slim, as “one party, two systems” has been corrupted by Chinese influence in the region, making the Asian financial hub less attractive to investors.
There are concerns that Hong Kong is merely a pawn in the power-driven game, with China generating over $60 billion annually through their tariffs in Hong Kong and using their financial position to China’s advantage. The US see Hong Kong as the last hope for their influence in Asia and as a respected financial trading hub, following British law and values. This battle must be seen in the bigger picture – if Hong Kong’s democracy falls to Chinese authoritarian regime and corrupt legislatures, the hegemony of the US will be questioned even more than before. The COVID-19 crisis exposed the rapidness of Chinas economic recovery, leading the world to rethink the leadership of the US. The rise of China has only been heightened by the pandemic, and recent laws in Hong Kong have added to China’s many efforts to control Asia, as seen in Taiwan and the Belt Road Initiative.
These next few years are vital for Hong Kong’s democracy and sovereignty. There are two options; to fight for their autonomy and call out for help from the US, or risk becoming entangled with Chinese law once and for all. Recent laws in Hong Kong seems to suggest the latter, where we might expect a shift in regional order with Singapore or Japan becoming more financially important. For the former to be achieved, Biden must hold China to account for breaking the Declaration and demonstrate their hegemonic leadership which has slipped in recent years.