Political leaders of the United States, Europe and Japan have denounced China’s new national security laws. They note the laws are aimed at punishing activists in self-ruling territory. But some observers are wondering: Will international anger and statements of concern make a difference?
Some experts say individual countries have little influence over human rights in mainland China. They say a joint effort could make a difference. But, that appears unlikely because of tensions between the United States and its traditional European allies.
Rod Wye studies the Asia-Pacific area for Chatham House, a research group in London. He said, “The U.S.A. and EU are moving in different directions in many areas. It is perhaps to China’s advantage that that should be so.”
Wye said The European Union does not want to be pulled into trade disputes between the U.S. and China. The Asia Society, the Bertelsmann Stiftung and George Washington University released a joint U.S.-European report on relations with China last week.
It said concern about human right abuses in China remains strong. The issues include the national security laws for Hong Kong which took effect last week. Suppression of Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang area of western China is another concern.
However, China largely dismisses criticism of these issues as interference in its domestic affairs. In addition, China’s new Hong Kong laws outlaw receiving money or support from overseas.
“This is purely China’s internal affairs, and no foreign country has the right to interfere,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said recently.
When Hong Kong was turned over to mainland China in 1997, the territory was promised a high level of self-rule for 50 years. The idea is known as “one country, two systems.” But many fear that China’s latest national security law for Hong Kong will take away the territory’s traditional freedoms.
Britain, Hong Kong’s former ruler, has called the law “deeply troubling” and said it “lies in direct conflict with China’s international obligations.” The United States has said China has repeatedly violated international promises. And the EU has warned that China risked very bad damage to its international image and business interests.
Steve Tsang directs the China Institute of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. He said that, if the EU would join forces with the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, such a group would have a lot of influence. The EU is China’s largest trading partner.
But he said it was “far-fetched” for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson or President Donald Trump to work with the EU on the issue. China experts say Western countries have little influence over China because of a basic difference. The West values political rights while China values economic rights.
Yu Wanli is a professor at Beijing Language and Culture University. Yu said, “China doesn’t need to care about pressure from the West” for this reason. In a show of support, Britain announced last week that it would extend residency rights to up to 3 million Hong Kong people. Those able to receive British National Overseas passports would be permitted to live and work in Britain for five years.
Reinhard Butikofer is chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for China relations. He said European lawmakers are considering measures such as banning exports of technology used “to oppress Hong Kong citizens.” He said Germany, which is now EU president, must organize member states to show China that there are consequences to its actions in Hong Kong.
The U.S. has said it will ban defense exports to Hong Kong and stop its special treatment policy on the territory. The U.S. already has placed restrictions on Chinese officials linked to limiting Hong Kong’s self-rule and has warned of additional measures. Wye of Chatham House said the results of such measures are likely to affect the territory more than anywhere else.
“So the people likely to be hurt are Hong Kong businesses and Hong Kong people rather than Chinese businesses and the Chinese government,” he said.