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Alban Maginness

With the world's gaze on Covid-19, Xi's criminal mission creep in Hong Kong flies under radar

Alban Maginness

China may take advantage of the lockdown caused by the pandemic to tighten its grip on the former British colony, argues Alban Maginness


Protesters react during a clash with riot police near Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Protesters react during a clash with riot police near Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Protesters react during a clash with riot police near Hong Kong Polytechnic University

Given that there are much greater things at stake in the world today, it was dispiriting to witness the petty-minded squabble in Stormont over the re-opening of our cemeteries.

One of those greater things was the welcome extension of the ceasefire declared last month in Yemen by the Saudi coalition forces, in their increasingly unwinnable war against the Houthi movement.

There are very few good things arising out of the pandemic, but this is a most welcome development.

At long last, after five years of warfare and the loss of at least 100,000 lives, the suffering people of the Yemen will now be able to enjoy a well-deserved peace.

The Saudi government, fearful of the uncontrollable spread of the virus in the region, decided to call a ceasefire so that the pandemic might be addressed throughout Yemen.

The original military intervention by Saudi Arabia was encouraged by the Western powers, including Britain, as a proxy war against Iran, who supported the Houthi rebels.

Now some observers believe that this ceasefire will be made permanent, given that there is little likelihood of the Houthis being defeated.

It is speculated that the pandemic was seized upon by the Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Salman, as an opportunity for them to end their ill-judged military intervention.

In addition, as a result of the pandemic there has been a catastrophic collapse in the world oil market, which will have major negative consequences for Saudi Arabia.

While the pandemic has brought the real prospect of peace to Yemen, it has unfortunately provided the Chinese government with a golden opportunity to attempt to end Hong Kong's autonomy.

Last year witnessed long-running massive street protests by ordinary Hong Kong residents against the imposition of an extradition law to mainland China.

As a result of that widespread opposition, an extradition bill was withdrawn by the pro-Beijing administration of the chief executive, Carrie Lam.

At the height of the protests, two million people were estimated to be out on the streets of Hong Kong demonstrating against the Chinese Communist Party's attempt to undermine Hong Kong's Basic Law.

The Basic Law negotiated between the Chinese and the departing colonial governor, Chris Patten, in 1997, constitutionally guarantees Hong Kong's autonomy and fundamental democratic freedoms, including a free press and an independent judiciary, all of which are denied in the authoritarian People's Republic of China.

While the Basic Law does not permit universal franchise, it did envisage a gradual progression towards that goal.

But Beijing regards democratic progress of that sort as being a step too far.

It is clear that the mainland communist government is attempting to take advantage of the inability of Hong Kong residents to protest because of the coronavirus lockdown, which has put an end to the possibility of street protests.

In addition because of the coronavirus, the world's media is distracted from paying too much attention to what is now going on in the former British colony.

It is therefore a good moment for the Chinese government to act quickly, thereby avoiding a lot of international scrutiny.

This is why the authorities in Hong Kong, under pressure from the Chinese government, arrested a dozen pro-democracy, moderate politicians and activists on the grounds that they had organised street protests. The most prominent pro-democracy figure to be arrested was the 81-year-old barrister, Martin Lee.

He is affectionately regarded as the 'grandfather' of the pro-democracy movement and a defender of peaceful non-violent action to preserve the integrity of Hong Kong's hard-won autonomy.

The basis of the withdrawal agreement between Britain and China was: "One country, two systems."

That basic understanding is now being seriously undermined by the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.

Recently the Chinese government asserted that Article 22 of the Basic Law, which bars any mainland government department from interfering with matters that fall under Hong Kong's authority, does not now apply to central government bodies connected with the governance of Hong Kong.

This Orwellian reinterpretation of Hong Kong's constitution is a bleak omen of President Xi's intention to impose a disguised form of direct rule on Hong Kong and the extinction of the democratic freedoms that Hong Kong people have enjoyed since 1997.

As Martin Lee tellingly said :

"Hong Kong is facing two plagues from China, the coronavirus and attacks on our most basic human rights."

This he claims is further evidenced by the call by a senior Chinese government official to exercise more control in the territory by passing national security legislation, outlawing sedition, subversion, and theft of state secrets.

The ever courageous Martin Lee has darkly warned the world: "But once Hong Kong's human rights and rule of law are rolled back, the fatal virus of authoritarian rule will be here to stay."

Belfast Telegraph