My Take

Nationalism reigns whatever the ideology

Why would a democratic or politically liberal China interfere in Hong Kong any less?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 March, 2016, 1:07am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 March, 2016, 1:07am

According to numerous accounts, Margaret Thatcher at one time considered the options of either retaining Hong Kong post-1997 or granting it independence. At a crucial meeting with her senior staff and military advisers, she voiced both possibilities.

Her generals promptly showed her maps of the city in relations to the Chinese hinterland. They reportedly said there was no possibility of holding or defending Hong Kong against a China committed to retaking it.

China, they reportedly said, could just choke off the city by cutting off food and water supplies. That meeting put an end to her musings and set her on the path to negotiations that led to the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Localists, who fantasise about independence now or after 2047, may well ponder the history of that episode. Independence is not for us to gain, but for China to grant. As an abstract intellectual exercise, let us consider what kind of a China it would have to become to be willing to grant such a thing. It’s obviously out of the question under communist China. The supposition by some people is that only a democratic China would be willing to entertain real independence or autonomy for Hong Kong.

This way of thinking is most recently raised by Larry Diamond, an anti-communist conservative ideologue from the US.

He reportedly said the Chinese Communist Party regime was going down. “It is not what China can do for Hong Kong but what Hong Kong can do to advance democratisation in China,” Diamond said.

If you want Hong Kong to be free, you must help China democratise. That’s his logic. I would not bet on the demise of the CCP so easily. Leaving aside his call for subversion, Diamond’s proposition is historically and logically dubious.

Why would a democratic or politically liberal China be any less interfering? In one of his more lucid writings, Horace Chin Wan-kan, the godfather of localism, wrote that a democratic China would be as nationalistic as it is now, if not more so. Why would it let Hong Kong go?

Perhaps Diamond should spend more time in his own country. Would most right-thinking patriotic Americans even consider independence for Texas, something that is advocated time and again?