EU PARLIAMENT SEMINAR: MEPs say EU must commit to one-country, two-systems and academics say it is time to focus on the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms

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On 26 September 2018, Members of the European Parliament in Brussels hosted an academic seminar on Hong Kong. The seminar focused on the importance of one-country, two-systems, the use of Chinese Sharp Power and the threat of ‘red capital’ in Hong Kong. Speakers called for increased international engagement on the erosion of freedom in Hong Kong and the creation of a Europe-based academic association focusing on Hong Kong Studies.

The seminar was hosted by MEP Professor Joseph Weidenholzer, co-introduced by MEP Jo Leinen Chair of the European Parliament China delegation and coordinated by University of Surrey academic, Dr Malte Kaeding and Hong Kong Watch. Professor Klaus Buchner MEP and Dr Charles Tannock MEP, alongside Olivia Gippner of the European Commission, also attended the seminar. 

Professor Weidenholzer MEP commented on the importance of Hong Kong’s rule of law. Jo Lienen MEP said:

“We ask China to respect the one-country, two systems principle which was signed in the handover deal [Sino-British Joint-Declaration]… All the elements of a free, open society should be safeguarded. We know that that pressure has been rising in Hong Kong for some years. We have had the recent decision to ban a political party [the Hong Kong National Party], we have had the abduction of booksellers…, we have had growing self-censorship, and we have seen that the promise of free elections has not been fulfilled.  I think it is the time to speak out about it in public to help people in Hong Kong to preserve their system, which is designed to be free and democratic. This is the message I carry to you as the leader of the European Parliament China delegation.”

A wide-range of high-profile academic speakers addressed the parliamentarians including pro-democracy Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting; and Professor Joseph Lian Yi Zheng, the former member of China Policy Unit of Hong Kong government. They were joined by Western academics: the editor of China Quarterly, Dr Tim Pringle, Dr Malte Kaeding of the University of Surrey, Dr Heidi Wang-Kaeding of Trinity College Dublin and Professor Carol Jones of Birmingham University. The speakers focussed on the importance of academic engagement in Hong Kong, the independence of the judiciary, the banning of the Hong Kong National Party, and the political risks for European companies.

At the end of the event, Hong Kong Watch Trustees, Gray Sergeant and Dr Malte Kaeding announced the foundation of an independent scholarly association to promote research on Hong Kong and raise the awareness of the deterioration of human rights and freedom of Hong Kong with policy makers. They called for academics to join the newly founded group: “The Hong Kong Studies Association” (HKSA). 

Dr Kaeding said:

“Based in the United Kingdom, the Hong Kong Studies Association (HKSA) primarily provides a network for scholars in European institutions but aims to connect with students and academics from across the world. The HKSA seeks to provide a platform to share, promote and facilitate individual and collaborative research on Hong Kong; to promote publications on topics relating to Hong Kong in all relevant disciplines; and to further the exchange of ideas through events and conferences.” 

Earlier in the event, Professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting presented his research on Chinese Sharp Power and announced the publication of his report called China’s Sharp Power in Hong Kong. He said:

“In a semi-authoritarian Hong Kong. There are two types of power. One is hard power, coercion, and the other is ‘sharp’ power. The nature of sharp power is deception, manipulation and confusion. In a semi-authoritarian era, there is a mix of both, but sharp power is used more.”

He described the banning of the Hong Kong National Party and the disqualification of lawmakers as incidents of ‘Hard Power’, “enacted by the Chief Executive as the political agent of Beijing.” He said that these combined with ‘soft power’ to create a “chilling effect” which silences the political opposition in Hong Kong.     

Professor Joseph Lian Yi-Zheng presented his research on highlighted the political risks that foreign investors and European business may encounter with the change of investment environment in China and Hong Kong if Hong Kong’s autonomy continues to be eroded. He said:

“Much of Hong Kong’s economy has been taken over by Chinese state and non-state actors. Today the bulk of the financial market in Hong Kong is owned by these actors, collectively known as ‘Red Capital’. The result? Corruption is on the rise, best practices are compromised, clandestine party cells are embedded in top management in so-called Hong Kong companies.”

He continued: “Politics gives favour to Chinese companies in Hong Kong, and they pay back politically such as by pressuring employees to vote for pro-Beijing parties in Hong Kong’s quasi-democratic elections.”

He said that the rise of the influence of red capital in Hong Kong has the potential to compromise the economy and increase the political risk for foreign investors. Dr Heidi Wang-Kaeding from Trinity College Dublin also discussed the changing investment climate for EU companies in Hong Kong linked to red capital.

Other presentations included Professor Carol Jones highlighting the threat to the rule of law, Dr Tim Pringle talking about the academic freedom challenges, and student activist Nathan Law talking via skype about the importance of foreign human rights advocacy.

 

Note to editor: The seminar can be watched in full on Hong Kong Watch’s facebook page: www.facebook.com/hongkongwatch1