I rarely use this column to comment on international affairs, but watching the world over the last few days and weeks has been extraordinary.
In Hong Kong, the last few years has seen increasing tensions in the former British colony. The history of Hong Kong is important. IN the 19th century, Britain bought the freehold for Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. But in 1898, it bought a 99-year lease on the New Territories, that came up for review in 1997. Negotiations by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s resulted in the 1984 Sino British Joint Declaration. The entire Hong Kong community would go back to China’s control on a 50 year transition period, known as One Country: Two Systems.
All worked well until the Chinese starting doing things we in the West consider unacceptable. The response, the Umbrella Movement, sought improved democratic processes in Hong Kong.
Last week, the Chinese People’s National Congress imposed on Hong Kong a national security law, removing many freedoms Hong Kong enjoys.
This is important for us in the UK for two reasons.
The first is that we signed a treaty with China, lodged with the UN, that the Chinese appear to be breaking. How should we respond?
The second is that there are around 2.9 million British National (Overseas) citizens in Hong Kong. Part of our response will be to offer sanctuary and a path to UK citizenship for these citizens seeking escape from Hong Kong.
We find China’s behaviour completely wrong at many levels. Yet facing to the West, we see another set of international concerns.
Our biggest ally, the US, is embroiled in hideous riots as protests against the killing of George Floyd by a police officer (who sat with his knee on Floyd’s neck until he was fatally injured) engulf the country. 40 US cities have imposed curfews, and a further 35 have seen riots. Even in the UK, we saw protest marches against the US inertia to this appalling killing, over the weekend.
The US is a country of immigrants, this being the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing at Plymouth Rock. Yet in 21st century America, its citizens recognise that some immigrants are still more equal than others (to paraphrase George Orwell).
In a few months’ time, we leave the EU and our foreign policy will be entirely our own. A crucial part of Brexit, indeed a prize of independence, will be our own foreign policy. There’s a lot to think about.