April 21, 2018

How China stripped Hong Kong of its right to self-determination in 1972 – and distorted history

By Joshua Wong and Jeffrey Ngo, originally published in Chinese on The Initium in 2016. Translated by Jeffrey Ngo.
44 years ago last week, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 2908 by a 99:5 vote. Among its effects were the removal of Hong Kong and Macau from the U.N. list of Non-Self-Governing Territories. Consequently, the peoples of Hong Kong and Macau – as colonised peoples – lost their right to self-determination granted by the U.N.’s 1960 “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.”
united nations
A United Nations session. File Photo: Wikicommons.
In an op-ed in Ming Pao last month, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry in Hong Kong interpreted this episode as 99 U.N. member states agreeing that “Hong Kong did not fall within the ambit of colonisation.” U.N. documents from 1972 associated with this resolution, however, indicate that this view is extremely misleading.
So what actually happened?
China’s demand
Less than four months after the People’s Republic of China formally became a U.N. member state in November 1971, Huang Hua, its ambassador to the U.N., rushed to issue a letter (File A/AC.109/396) to the Special Committee on Decolonisation that expressed strong opposition to the U.N.’s classification of Hong Kong and Macau as colonies.
Hong Kong and Macau were instead “part of Chinese territory occupied by the British and Portuguese authorities,” Huang declared unilaterally. “The settlement of the questions of Hong Kong and Macau is entirely within China’s sovereign right… The United Nations has no right to discuss these questions.”
In response, the chairman of the committee assented to China’s demand by giving recommendations to the General Assembly through the committee’s annual report of 1972 based exactly on Huang’s letter.
Official records
Yet this committee report of 1972 (File A/8723/Rev.1) had five volumes totalling 1,198 pages, of which only paragraph 183 in page 64 of volume I mentioned the question of Hong Kong and Macau – this is undoubtedly a very trivial part of the entire document. Moreover, because periodical reports of this nature intended only to record and cover the work of each committee, they usually received negligible attention from the General Assembly, which seldom had any reason to veto them.
china united nations huang hua
PRC delegate seated in the UN in 1971, including Permanent Representative to UN Huang Hua (centre). File Photo: UN.
More importantly, the General Assembly had just been drafting a resolution on decolonisation at the time the report was submitted. Upon acknowledging the committee’s work in section 2 of the resolution, passing its annual report as a procedural convention was included in section 3, which altogether was subject to a single vote.
This resolution, numbered 2908 and entitled the “Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples” (File A/RES/2908(XXVII)), happens to be the one mentioned in the beginning of this article. As its name suggests, the 18-section resolution aimed to support the U.N. in further accelerating global decolonisation. Section 5 condemned colonialism, for example, while section 6 reaffirmed the U.N.’s “recognition of the legitimacy of the struggle of the colonial peoples and peoples under alien domination to exercise their right to self-determination and independence by all the necessary means at their disposal.”
Historical mistake
It is manifest, based on verbatim records of the plenary meetings in which the resolution was discussed, that most – if not all – representatives of member states who voted for the resolution did so because they wished to see without delay the liberation of colonised peoples; it was not a vote on Huang’s demand.
Photo: GovHK.
There are good reasons, in addition, to doubt whether these representatives were even aware of such controversy at the time they cast their vote: first, the question of Hong Kong and Macau was tremendously obscure in the report, which contained over a thousand pages; second, the report itself was not the main point of the resolution.
Precisely because whether Hong Kong and Macau should be removed from the U.N. list of Non-Self-Governing Territories had not been brought up as the basis of a separate resolution, the General Assembly never adequately debated and voted on it, ultimately leading to the historical mistake in 1972.
Flagrant distortion of history
That Hong Kong and Macau continued to be British and Portuguese colonies, respectively, for the next 25 and 27 years is an indisputable reality with wide international consensus. This fact is unrecognised only by China and the U.N., whereas Britain and Portugal as suzerain powers do not dare to dispute it. As a result, the people of Hong Kong and Macau had lost a voice in their own future.
Either way, it is a flagrant distortion of historical facts for China today to imply deliberately that 99 member states were opposed to the peoples of Hong Kong and Macau exercising their right to self-determination on November 2, 1972, when in fact those 99 member states had basically voted for the exact opposite – in support of Non-Self-Governing Peoples to exercise their right to self-determination.
Understanding this episode is pivotal to understanding the ongoing self-determination movement in Hong Kong.
Joshua Wong is the Secretary-General of the Demosistō party. Jeffrey Ngo is a master’s student of Global Histories at New York University.

April 20, 2018

Revenge of the Panda-huggers

by biglychee / Today, 12:24

Another week, another flicker of the needle on the Sense-of-Impending-Doom-ometer as the world plods inexorably towards Cold War II.
We detect something of a backlash on the part of the West’s rational, mature, cool-headed sophisticates who appreciate the Middle Kingdom’s unique history and psychology and Xi Dada’s vision in ways mere mortals do not. In various degrees of Panda-hugging-ness, they urge calm, constructive engagement and win-win cooperation. The South China Morning Postcarries the thoughts of a UK academic and Confucius Institute chair, who says ‘we must ensure we understand the fears and hopes of this rising empire’. Could Neville Chamberlain have put it better? A US observer bemoans the ‘determined effort to depict [China] as an unmitigated threat’.
Meanwhile, the unmitigated threat seems determined to continue depicting itself. The Chinese Communist Party is setting up student ‘cells’ in West Virginia, among other places. (Thanks to family connections, I actually know this misunderstood state, popularly imagined to be inhabited by inbred banjo-players, but in fact less exotic and mysterious, and in fact rather basic. The CCP is clearly overdoing itself – which is of course the whole point.)
The US government agencies responsible for taking action against ZTE display a sense of humour in a presentation offering lessons in how to avoid punishment, drawing on the Chinese company’s illicit business with Iran and North Korea. The US Treasury is looking at Chinese investments. European diplomats in Beijing are ‘unusually biting’ in their criticism of the Silk (as in Belt and) Road. I declare the weekend open with the thought of an even bigger potential can of worms being opened: the US is also thinking of imposing Magnitsky Act sanctions against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Report: EU countries to be straitjacketed by China's New Silk Road

European firms could miss out on China's $900 billion infrastructure initiative, warns a leaked report by EU diplomats. It said the New Silk Road trade corridor has the potential to disadvantage and even divide the bloc.

China container port in Shanghai (Reuters/Aly Song)
China's plans to create three huge trade corridors between Asia and Europe will likely hurt the European Union's trade interests, EU ambassadors have warned.
In a report leaked to German business daily Handelsblatt,  the diplomats cautioned that the $900 billion (€727 billion) mega infrastructure project "runs counter to the EU agenda for liberalizing trade, and pushes the balance of power in favor of subsidized Chinese companies."
Handelsblatt on Monday said the report contained "unusually biting content," as diplomats detailed their frustration at the lack of opportunities for European firms from the New Silk Road initiative, named after China's ancient trade route.
Report excludes Hungary
The paper was signed by the Beijing ambassadors of 27 of the 28 EU member states — with Hungary being the only exception.
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New Silk Road — which is also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — will enable China to oversee the construction of new roads, ports and pipelines that will run through 65 countries. The initiative is widely seen as helping to cement Beijing's position as a new global superpower.
China has promised the project will benefit all countries along its route, thanks to the greater connectivity it will allow. But its main trading partners are growing increasingly suspicious over Beijing's strategic objectives, amid concerns that Chinese state-owned firms are set to reap most of the benefits.
"(At present) ​European companies have to compete against their Chinese counterparts, who enjoy almost unlimited credit from Chinese state banks," Thomas Eder, a research associate at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin, told DW.
He said, even before plans for the New Silk Road have been finalized, the EU has already witnessed a decline in its share of trade with several developing countries because of large-scale Chinese investment in Asia and Africa.
Backing up the leaked report's findings, Eder predicted that unless there is a major push for China to boost transparency in the procurement process, European access to the BRI would be "only marginal."
He said Beijing has never hidden its ambition for the New Silk Road initiative to expand the presence and profits of Chinese firms abroad, who are encouraged to buy Chinese components and raw materials where possible.
Market access restricted
EU leaders and business executives have longstanding complaints about China's unwillingness to fully open its markets to foreign players. Despite Chinese assurances that reforms will be forthcoming, foreign firms insist they remain at a huge disadvantage when doing business in China or bidding for Chinese funded projects.
Reaffirming the EU's frustration, the leaked ambassadors' report urged EU states to remain united as they pressure Beijing to open up the bidding for key infrastructure projects.
"We shouldn't refuse to cooperate, but we should politely yet firmly state our terms," Handelsblatt cited one high-ranking EU diplomat as saying.
Damien Tobin, a lecturer in Chinese Business and Management at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), believes the EU — which sits at the opposite end of the three trade corridors that make up the New Silk Road — will still benefit hugely from its completion.
He said many of the bloc's biggest companies are also well represented in countries along the trade route, and that Beijing has always been "clear on the areas where it sees benefits from the participation of foreign firms."
'Opportunities exist'
"Chinese companies have developed capabilities in areas such as infrastructure construction, but EU companies retain significant advantages in downstream technologies and financing," Tobin told DW.
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Reacting to the leaked report, the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China said in a statement it was vital that trade and investment flow equally in both directions, and again called on Beijing to unlock its markets to foreign players.
"The success of the Belt and Road Initiative will largely be predicated on open markets, balanced trade, transparency and reciprocity," it wrote in an email to DW.
"The European Chamber expects to see transparent public procurement processes put in place that will allow European and Chinese companies, and especially private companies, to compete on an even playing field with projects going to the strongest bidders."
"Not doing so would likely result in funds being wasted and projects fail," the statement said.
European unity at risk
Another concern raised in the ambassadors' report was the potential of the New Silk Road initiative to sow division among the EU's 28 member states, many of whom are desperate to attract new Chinese investment to upgrade their crumbling infrastructure.
"China has already succeeded on several occasions in undermining EU cohesion," warned the Mercator Institute's Eder.
He said Hungary's refusal to sign the report was indicative of the benefits it is likely to receive from China's investment in Eastern Europe, which will see railways, motorways and power plants upgraded.
He also cited Hungary and Greece's refusal to sign EU statements critical of China's human rights record, and following the tribunal ruling on the South China Sea dispute.
China is already facing criticism for saddling partner countries in the New Silk Road project with too much debt. Sri Lanka, for example, was forced to offer a 99-year lease on the strategically located and bustling Hambantota Port to pay down debt.
But SOAS' Tobin believes it is not in China's long-term interests or those of its large state-owned enterprises to see the EU's fragile consensus torn apart.
"It is not clear that such (Chinese) investments would benefit from the uncertainty brought about by different rules on investment across different (EU) member states," he said.
Clarity needed
Instead of taking aim solely on Beijing, member states would profit from a more unified position on Chinese inward investment, Tobin suggested.
"(It) would prevent large quantities of perhaps inefficient and speculative investments concentrating in particular regions."
The EU's External Action Service, which is in charge of foreign affairs for the bloc, refused to comment on the leaked report.
But in an email to DW, it reiterated the European Council's support for the infrastructure initiative "on the basis of China fulfilling its declared aim of making it an open platform which adheres to market rules, EU and international requirements and standards, and complements EU policies and projects, in order to deliver benefits for all parties concerned and in all the countries along the planned routes."