Last week I wrote an article on the June 4 political incident that happened in Beijing in 1989 in SpeakOut HK, an online platform dedicated to reuniting Hong Kong. I cited a WikiLeak document that testified that there was no “massacre” in Tian’anmen Square. This account was consistent with the official account. Yet the term continues to be “a phrase that still has currency”, as a CBS correspondent acknowledges, but why? What is most perplexing is that the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (now defunct) continued to use the same term for years when it organized vigils at Victoria Park on June 4 every year. Were the office bearers of the alliance fooled, or were they accomplices in fooling others?
In any case, I have seen too many lies in the Western press that make me fear that building trust between the West and China would likely never stand a chance. There is, first of all, the myth that Beijing did not follow through with its promise to allow Hong Kong to elect its leader by universal suffrage. A CNN story with the title Xi Jinping Brought Hong Kong to Heel did report that “pro-democracy advocates” “rejected a proposal for universal suffrage by China’s parliament to have the candidates vetted in advance by a pro-Beijing committee”. But why did it not point out that such a Nominating Committee was explicitly written into Hong Kong’s Basic Law back in 1990? Beijing has stood by its promise, but the protesters wanted to bypass the Basic Law. Of course this cannot be allowed. Then the protesters stepped up their pressures on Beijing, eventually “bringing the city to its heels”. The Hong Kong economy shrank by 1.7 percent in 2019, and that was before COVID-19 hit Hong Kong. This was followed by another year of negative growth, at -6.5 percent, in 2020. After the National Security Law for Hong Kong was enacted in June 2020, the economy bounced back in 2021 with a positive growth rate of 6.3 percent.
Although China and the United States have different perceptions about what kind of political system better serves the country, there is really no difference between America and China in terms of governmental functions. Although our endowments are different, the challenges are really similar: housing, health, education, social security, infrastructure, employment, and law and public order. While the West insists that ballot-box democracy works better, China thinks otherwise. But this does not have to tear the two great countries apart. Sadly, the West likes to define human rights in terms of the ballot box. Of course China’s human rights do not conform to this absurd criterion. China needs to protect its political system because it has proved to be an enabling institution. So it enacts laws to inform its countrymen that subverting the political system is tantamount to sabotaging China’s success. The West alleges this is oppressing the opposition. If China’s political system were a Western-style multiparty system, it could be right. But China’s political system is based on the premise that leaders of the country must have the necessary credentials and track record, and this belief dates back at least to the Zuozhuan, a text with a history of over 2,000 years, in which a high official named Zi Can was reported as advising against allowing someone without the credentials and track record to serve as the head of a town.
China is a founding member of the United Nations, and China has been maintaining the same claims about the Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea since day one. No one raised an eyebrow then. Yet the West today accuses China of “expansionist” territorial claims. There has never been any proof of Huawei handsets’ security backdoors, but Huawei was targeted. These days, moreover, more and more Chinese companies are targeted based on lies such as Uygur “forced labor”. All this, and such posturing as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the Quad), AUKUS, and more recently the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, will only push Beijing into high alert. Of course, America’s history of subverting foreign regimes does not help. The West really cannot blame China for excessive caution.
President Xi had warned during his trip back in 2017 that “Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security ... or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line.” His warning was ignored. The riots, and particularly the “35-Plus” plot to seize control of the Legislative Council of course backfired. Beijing had to introduce the National Security Law for Hong Kong, and to reform the city’s electoral system to ensure that only patriots will rule over Hong Kong. Now that risks are contained, President Xi calls for “one country, two systems” to be adhered to over the long run, i.e., well beyond 2047.
By the same token, all the posturing of the Western powers will be seen as an attempt to undermine China’s development. This will only sharpen China’s nerves to protect itself. To build trust, so that China and the West can work together to deal with our global challenges, the only way is for the West to stop the lies, and to treat China as a friend and not a threat.
The author is director of the Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS