Friday, 29 May 2020


China and the Rhineland Moment
America and its allies must not simply accept Beijing’s aggression.

Opinion Columnist
·        May 29, 2020

Great struggles between great powers tend to have a tipping point. It’s the moment when the irreconcilability of differences becomes obvious to nearly everyone.
In 1911 Germany sparked an international crisis when it sent a gunboat into the Moroccan port of Agadir and, as Winston Churchill wrote in his history of the First World War, “all the alarm bells throughout Europe began immediately to quiver.” In 1936 Germany provoked another crisis when it marched troops into the Rhineland, in flagrant breach of its treaty obligations. In 1946, the Soviet Union made it obvious it had no intention of honoring democratic principles in Central Europe, and Churchill was left to warn that “an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”
Analogies between these past episodes and China’s decision this week draft a new national security law on Hong Kong aren’t perfect. Hong Kong is a Chinese port, not a faraway foreign one. Hong Kong’s people have ferociously resisted Beijing’s efforts to impose control, unlike the Rhineland Germans who welcomed Berlin’s. And the curtailment of freedom that awaits Hong Kong is nothing like the totalitarian tyranny that Joseph Stalin imposed on Warsaw, Budapest and other cities.
But the analogies aren’t inapt, either. Beijing has spent the better part of 20 years subverting its promises to preserve Hong Kong’s democratic institutions. Now it is moving to quash what remains of the city’s civic freedoms through a forthcoming law that allows the government to punish speech as subversion and protest as sedition. The concept of “one country, two systems,” was supposed to last at least until 2047 under the terms of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Now China’s rulers have been openly violating that treaty, much as Germany openly violated the treaties of Locarno and Versailles.

And again, alarm bells quiver.

For years, Donald Trump’s comments on China have swung between the truculent and the obsequious. But beneath the president’s mental foam, the administration has undertaken a sober rethink of the U.S. strategic approach to China, the outlines of which are described in a new interagency document quietly released by the White House last week.
Gone from this new vision are the platitudes about encouraging China’s “peaceful rise” as a “responsible stakeholder” in a “rules-based order.” Instead, Beijing is described, accurately, as a habitual and aggressive violator of that order — a domestic tyrant, international bully and economic bandit that systematically robs companies of their intellectual property, countries of their sovereign authorities, and its own people of their natural rights.
“Beijing has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not offer compromises in response to American displays of goodwill, and that its actions are not constrained by its prior commitments,” the report reads. “We acknowledge and respond in kind to Beijing’s transactional approach with timely incentives and costs, or credible threats thereof.”
A critic might note that this description of China’s behavior sounds a lot like Trump’s. Sort of, except that the comparison trivializes the scale of China’s abuses and neglects the breadth and longevity of its challenge. A Biden administration will be confronted with the same unpleasant facts about a geopolitical adversary that seeks not only to dominate its region but also dethrone liberal democracy as the dominant political model of the 21st century.
All of which makes the Hong Kong crisis so consequential. Beijing almost certainly chose this moment to strike because it calculated that a world straining under the weight of a pandemic and a depression lacked the will and attention to react. On Friday, Trump said he would strip Hong Kong of its privileged commercial and legal ties to the U.S. But that punishes the people of Hong Kong at least as much as it does their rulers in Beijing.

What’s a better course for the U.S.? A few ideas:

Sanction Chinese officials engaged in human-rights abuses in Hong Kong under the Global Magnitsky Act. Upgrade relations with Taiwan and increase arms sales, including top-shelf weapons’ systems such as the F-35 and the Navy’s future frigate. Re-enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement as a counter to China’s economic influence. (This won’t happen in a Trump administration, but should in a Biden one.) Publicly press all G-7 countries to stop doing business with telecom-giant Huawei as a meaningful response to the Hong Kong law.
One other idea is now being explored by Britain, the former colonial power. Give every Hong Kong person an opportunity to easily obtain a U.K. residency card, even a passport. As Tom Tugendhat, the chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and founder of its China Research Group, told me on Thursday, doing so would “right a wrong done when the U.K. removed the status in the 1980s. After a century of rule, Britain has obligations.” A future American president who believes in the value of immigration could join that effort, in the same way we helped Hungarian refugees and Vietnamese boat people.
If all this and more were announced now, it might persuade Beijing to pull back from the brink. In the meantime, think of this as our Rhineland moment with China — and remember what happened the last time the free world looked aggression in the eye, and blinked.


FROM LOGOS TO FREEDOM - Logos, Choris, Pistis

This is the first part of our latest study on the origin and nature of the concept of human Freedom - a work still in course. Further instalments will be made over the next few weeks.


FROM LOGOS TO FREEDOM - Logos, Choris, Pistis

And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, New Testament)

Like the Christian gospel, which was a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, Nietzsche’s gospel of eternal recurrence is a stumbling block and foolishness to those who still believe in the religion of progress….because it revives the controversy between Christianity and paganism. (K. Lowith, Meaning In History, p.214.)

The genius of Johannine pneumatology (the doctrine of the Spirit) is that it raises the possibility that the Spirit may become Flesh or Nature, but only in the guise of the Word. It enucleates the Platonic choris or categorical separation between Divinity and World whilst seeking to bridge the consequent antinomic gap between them by means of the Word-as-Logos. Yet, in the guise of the Logos, the incarnation of the Word is at least comprehensible. Indeed, as we shall see, St. John’s happy intuition of the materiality of the Word can lead to the overcoming of the antinomies of the prima philosophia, away from transcendence to an immanent understanding of life and the world. The Spirit as “spirit” cannot logically find an earthly embodiment as Nature. This separation or chorismos of Spirit and Nature, of Subject and Object, of Body and Soul is ubiquitous in, and central to, the culture and cosmogony of the Occident – especially since the onset of Christianity in the Hellenic period and of Neo-Platonism as its dominant philosophical current since Augustine in the Middle Ages. It opposes the imperishability and perfection of the Spirit, divine and human, to the transience and inertness of Nature-Matter. The mode of being of the former is strictly Logical and Rational: its Reason or Logos lies outside time and space; its Truth is timeless and incorruptible. In contrast, Nature-Matter is in time and space; human perception of it is fallible and corruptible. Furthermore, it preserves the presumed unity and identification of the Divine Spirit not just with the human Soul but also with the more restrictive notion of Self.


It is the self-consciousness of Spirit, the reflective power and intro-spection of Spirit that leads in turn to the identification of the Spirit-Soul or pneuma with the Self or Ego as a specific entity. Hence, the notion of pneuma constitutes a continuum from the Divinity to the Soul, then to the Self, and then also to Mind or Intellect. Like the Divinity, the Soul-Mind (this is the dual meaning of Geist in German) is perfect in its logic or Reason, and eternal in its immortality. From the pre-Socratics to Saint Paul, the Hellenistic, Graeco-Roman Paideia encapsulates the theological origins of philosophy (W. Jaeger, Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers and Paideia.) Here already the tension between theology and metaphysics is evident because one depends on faith – which is impermeable to and impenetrable by rational discourse - and the other on logic or dialectics. Both theology and philosophy theorize the Cosmos, but they do so in different, irreconcilable ways. Hence, despite its religious origins, philosophical speculation, which must always be conducted in accordance with reason (logos), logically and rationally, having regard to analytical deduction and empirical induction, must remain separate from theological belief, which is confined to faith (Greek, pistis). The logos of philosophy is on one side of an unbridgeable divide from the Cosmos – a division or gap or hiatus (Greek, choris) that only the faith (pistis) of theology can overleap (hence, “leap of faith”).


Theory Between Philosophy and “Science”
It is mere and shallow impertinence, of course, to opine that the real epistemological opposition is not between theology and philosophy, but rather between philosophy and science. – Because, as we are about to demonstrate, there is no such thing as “science”. What we have, instead, is a bundle of “scientific activities or practices” that collectively we misname as “science”, that is, as a specific and precise dimension of human thought and action.The purpose of theoria is to com-prehend, to encapsulate the cosmos by understanding it. To do so, the theoretician must extrude himself from the cosmos, from the world that theory wishes to comprehend and explicate. Taken to extremes, theory attempts to extricate the theoretician from the world upon which he reflects to an Archimedean point that lies outside the cosmos itself. (Cf. J. Habermas, Appendix to Knowledge and Human Interests.) In short, the theoretician must acquire a vision akin to that of a hypothetical God – out of this world - whence the common derivation of the nouns, theory and theology (Greek, theorein).
Theory represents the tendency of the human intellect to abstract from immediate experience to a comprehensive totality. But this task is impossible, because the theoretician is indissolubly tied to and enveloped by the world. Even in the case of scientific theory, all the human intellect can achieve is to advance conjectures that are open to refutation; the regularities that “science” purportedly observes are theorized in strictly hypothetical terms that are intrinsically open to falsification, where the “laws” promulgated are based on praxis, on a will to truth, rather than on universally ascertainable and valid knowledge. (Cf. K. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations.) It is important to avoid talking of “science” and to insist rather on “scientific practices” so as to emphasize that “science” is not a monolithic objective practice based on a precise and invariant methodology. Rather, scientific practices are human activities whose orientation and experimentation are implicitly “practical”, that is, subject to political and ethical choices. This is especially so now that the entire establishment of “research and development” have become integrated with and subservient to the needs of industrial production and consumption after the emergence of capitalist enterprise. (One of the earliest and sharpest expositions of this subjugation of “science” to industrial capitalism is in Max Weber’s famous lecture, “Science as a Vocation”.)
The question arises then of whether the human intellect must limit itself to practical matters within the ambit of scientific experimental research and proof, or else reach beyond the scientific ambit not just to explore politico-ethical choices, but also to question those very “scientific practices” that scientists and capitalists are keen to present as “value-neutral”. Again, this question is especially relevant when we consider that not just the truthfulness of “normal science” is thereby called into question, but also the extent to which scientific intervention modifies, distorts and exacerbates the very objects of its research  once these have reached industrial levels! (On these themes, cf. T.S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and P. Feyerabend, Against Method.) If philosophy has become, after the Copernican revolution, the handmaiden of science, then since the Industrial Revolution scientific practices have turned into the slavish tools of industrial capitalism.
In the realm of theory, both theology and rational metaphysics are still necessarily proper objects of human intellectual endeavour simply because (a) science itself is an exquisitely practical enterprise subject to politico-ethical choices, and (b) in any case, scientific practices and theories are manifestly unable to exhaust the domain of human intellectual and practical inquiry. Beyond the sphere of scientific research and experimentation lie the other irrepressible fields of intellectual enquiry and inquiry – namely, divine revelation, which belongs properly to the sphere of theology, and that which pertains to the quest of rational metaphysics, that is, deducible and discursive reasoning, logico-mathematics and dialectics, and then importantly the fields of ethics and aesthetics. Put differently, not only does scientific practice not exhaust the spectrum of human inquiry, enquiry and conduct; but also, the very nature of human action requires that the intellect address the practical and deontological and choices requiring the exercise of judgement that depend in large part on our understanding of Life and the Cosmos. (Let us recall that, beyond the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant’s Second and Third Critiques were entitled Critique of Practical Reason and Critique of Judgement.)
What is valuable in metaphysical and philosophical speculation is that it exposes the limitations of scientific activity both in terms of the choices and values its research displays and in terms of its false attempt to curtail the sphere of “truth” to experimental certainty and reproducibility. Just because an outcome is certain and sometimes reproducible, it is not for that reason alone “true” in the sense that the scientific explanation for its occurrence is (a) indeed epistemologically valid as an explanation, (b) universally applicable, and (c), in the case of an experiment, even desirable in practical ethico-political and socio-economic terms! Given these premises, it is evident that philosophy is by no means relegated to the subservient status of ancilla scientiarum (servant of the sciences). (Recall E. Husserl’s seminal essay “Die Krisis”.)


The con-descension in the metonymy of the Christian Logos is evident: the Word is made flesh: it heralds the incarnation of the Spirit among earthly human souls to reveal the grace of their redemption, of their future a-scension to paradise. The clear implication is that, in the Logos, the Word is both categorically superior and prior to the Flesh: it is the Word that initiates the action and the Flesh that receives it. The inception and trajectory of the Judaeo-Christian Logos neatly encapsulates the two parallel but inextricable problems of human existence and reflection: - that of the nature of reality or Being (ontology) and that of the Beginning (epistemology and deontology). (The original Greek meaning of problema as “metaphysical enigma” is teased out by G. Colli in “La Sfida dell’Enigma”, a chapter of his La Nascita della Filosofia.) Within these problems lie the derivative ones of the relationship of individual and cosmos (immanence or transcendence) and individual and society (ontogenetic or phylogenetic). We shall tackle these presently.


The Judaeo-Christian Logos describes the event, the moment, when “the Word was made Flesh”. It is not that the Word turns into the Flesh, because Word-as-Spirit and Flesh-as-Nature remain two separate, unbridgeable, toto genere, categorically different entities. The Word-as-Spirit categorically negates, eschews conceptually the Flesh-as-Flesh, as Nature. For both Word and Flesh, Spirit and Nature are antinomic categories: in other words, it is impossible to fill the gap dividing and opposing them, to overcome their separation (chorismos) logically or rationally because the two concepts logically exclude each other, and only an irrational projection of faith (pistis) to the other side of the divide (choris) – only a “leap of faith”, a projectio per hiatus irrationale (Fichte), makes the bridging of this irrational gap possible. Hence, the Word has two moments: one as Spirit, which gives rise to an insuperable antinomy with the Flesh; and one as Logos, which in the Johannine doctrine, but not necessarily, results in an aporia that only faith can overcome. For the Word to be made Flesh, something in the nature of a miracle incomprehensible to human reason must take place. The Word itself, as Spirit, then, does not represent a Logos accessible to human reason: rather, it belongs to an intuitus originarius only dimly comprehensible to the human intuitus derivativus - which can only conceive of the divine Logos as the Omniscience that it lacks! We know that we do not know (Socrates): it is this negative knowledge, this apophatic intuition (this docta ignorantia, or erudite ignorance, as Cusanus called it) that allows us to apprehend (rather than comprehend) the possibility of an Absolute Knowledge. To repeat, the Word assumes the semblance of Flesh so that the Spirit may intervene in the World as its Saviour, as the Messiah, by interceding with the highest Divinity, God the Father. Put differently, the Logos or Word is the objectification of the Spirit in the World, in the Cosmos – which requires its incarnation as Flesh, its Parousia (Greek for pre-sence, French, parution, Italian, parvenza) as the advent or Coming of the Messiah. It is thus that the Logos becomes an eschatology.

The Judaeo-Christian Logos frames the question of the beginning in unmistakeably eschatological terms – in terms of divine predestination that removes the possibility of human freedom. “And the Word was made flesh” neatly elides the issues of how the Word “was made” flesh and by whom. It therefore removes from the free scope of our inquisitive minds the very origin and end of this transubstantiation of the Word. In human terms, the real beginning is the ineluctability of freedom in the act of our perception and conception of the life-world, of the cosmos, by means of the Word. It is impossible to reconcile eschatology, including this one of the Christian Logos, with Freedom because every eschatology worthy of the name traces clearly and inexorably the path of what is supposedly human history – except that the denouement of its course is predetermined: it is not history; it is destiny.

The eschatology of the Logos describes and subtends the arc of human existence both spiritual, in the Soul, and mundane, in the Body – from birth to death and spiritual resurrection in heaven. Its vision of historical time is linear, unlike that of the Hellenistic world where human history was interpreted as cyclical, going through set phases of either perfection or corruption, much like Aristotle’s categorization of polities reflected this timelessness of political categories. From Herodotus and Thucydides to Polybius, historical time is not seen as a string of events revealing patterns of human actions from which lessons may be drawn to guide future conduct. Instead, each individual historical situation is described as a self-enclosed event, as a limited ‘inquiry’ (historia) by the writer. The history of Antiquity does not contain or reveal a Logos. At best, its historein can be clustered into separate ages or epochs that form not just a cyclical pattern or anakyklosis, as in Polybius. History for Antiquity was, as it were, heroic, a sequence of admonishing tales, a mixture of Tyche (Fortune), Prosopopoeia (Personality) and Pronoia (Providence) in an eternally recurring cosmos. But history itself was seen as, to put it with Sextus Empiricus, an a-methodon hyle (literally, “a thick forest”, shapeless, inchoate, unmethodical matter) from which no conclusions can be reached, no telos can be extracted. This skepsis forms indeed the middle ground of Plato’s categorization of historical narratives into “terroristic”, “eudaemonistic”, or “abderite”. It is this third category, neither positive nor negative, simply abulic and blindly “going nowhere”, that emerges as the dominant skepticism advanced by Sextus Empiricus.
The skeptical relativism of Empiricus and Antiquity was enthusiastically shared by Nietzsche, whose own “perspectivism” erected the rhetorical oratory of the Sophists against the dialectical sophistry (!) of Socrates. As Nietzsche, the philosopher of the Eternal Return who clearly preferred the tragic world of the Greeks to the denigratory slavish morals of Christians, noted first, the Judaeo-Christian Logos is linear, albeit not yet progressive, unlike its later modern humanist and bourgeois versions. For the task of the Christian civitas terrena is to preserve the pristine purity of its Soul by resisting the ravages of the Antichrist until the Second Coming of the Messiah. Its mission (Latin, mittere, to send to a destination), hence its destiny is the containment (catechon) of Evil and contentment in this life until the reaching of its destination in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the after-life, whereupon it will be re-surrected as the civitas Dei. The temporal end of the world coincides with the attainment of the ethical end (goal) of humanity in the Parousia, the final reconciliation (Hegel’s Ver-sohn-ung, the Son returning to the Father) of the human with the divine upon the appearance of the Saviour.
There may be linearity in this “pilgrimage” of the Christian civitas terrena, but there is no Progress as we have come to understand it in the modern era of scientific-industrial capitalism. Instead, the Christian Parousia or Second Coming of the Messiah is the climatic inversion of the Apocalypse occasioned by the onslaught of the Antichrist. There is definitely a terminus a quo and a terminus ad quem, even in chronological terms, that is related to the duration of the Roman Empire. But the purpose of the Empire is to serve as a respublica Christiana the temporal imperium of the Roman Emperor with his potestas and the spiritual auctoritas of the sacerdotium, of the Church, have the over-riding imperative to contain or to refrain the nefarious devilry of the Antichrist. The Pauline notion of catechon as a “power that restrains” formed the indispensable keystone of the Christian exegetical architectonics and rationalization of Roman imperial power. (This specific and central aspect of political theology is examined at length in M. Cacciari, Il Potere Che Frena.) As Carl Schmitt brilliantly indicated,
The unity of this respublica Christiana had its adequate succession of order in imperium [empire] and sacerdotium [priesthood]; its visible agents, in emperor and pope. The attachment to Rome signified a continuation of ancient orientations adopted by the Christian faith. The history of the Middle Ages is thus the history of a struggle for, not against Rome … This Christian empire was not eternal. It always had its own end and that of the present eon in view. Nevertheless, it was capable of being a historical power. The decisive historical concept of this continuity was that of the restrainer: katechon. "Empire" in this sense [60] meant the historical power to restrain the appearance of the Antichrist and the end of the present eon; it was a power that withholds (qui tenet), as the Apostle Paul said in his Second Letter to the Thessalonians. 8 (The Nomos of the Earth, pp.59-60).

We have here, as we shall outline later, the origin of “the three orders” (oratores, bellatores and laboratores), the division of intellectual and manual labor, corresponding to the separation of Spirit and Nature that will characterize the social structure of mediaeval Europe. Like all revolutionary eschatologies, the Judaeo-Christian one is also apocalyptic: rather than a progress or evolution toward the final goal of history, they prophesy a gradual decline such as that canvassed by the Marxist theory of  “the immiseration of the proletariat” that precedes the final “general crisis” of capitalism and induces the advent of communism. Such was the famous Zusammenbruchstheorie (general collapse theory) articulated by Hegelian Marxism, and notably by Rosa Luxembourg, among others, opposed to the evolutionary socialism of the neo-Kantian Austro-Marxists.
Linearity, yes, but no progress, then, in Christian historiography. Nevertheless, it is Nietzsche’s contention that this linear teleological perception of history in the Christian Logos is what will lead to the rationalization of the scientific method in European skepticism, first – a movement that encompasses Cartesian rationalism with its “methodical doubt”, as much as Humean empiricism with the de-struction of the Self and of causality - and Kantian epistemology (an “astute theology” for Nietzsche), later; and of history tout court in Hegelian idealism – all of which the philosopher of Rocken defiantly mocked. Before Hegel, then, and especially in Antiquity, the approach to history was “historicist” in the heroic Thucydidean sense that we have sketched above, or at most it was cyclical. This version of historicism was expounded most valiantly by Wilhelm Roscher: the idea behind it is, again, that history resembles an art rather than a science in that historical events and agencies are seen as sui generis, in a holistic manner, as unrepeatable events. And, importantly, the same goes for societies, whose history and functioning cannot be generalized or examined scientifically. This scientistic skepticism was occasioned by the rapid expansion of artisanal and capitalist industry; it brought about the methodical objectification or scientization of human and social history first in the political theory of Thomas Hobbes and then in the historiography of Niebuhr and Burkhardt who championed the “objectivity” that their chronological “distance” of their historical subject-matters afforded.
From the same direction, but from a different angle, the heroic, evenementiel historicism of “Thukydides-Roscher” (ironized by Marx in Das Kapital) was soon to be assailed and refuted by Carl Menger in his Die Irrtumer des Historismus (the errors of historicism) - a direct attack on Roscher and his German Historical School conducted on behalf of the nascent “science” of political economy. Both Marx and Menger – albeit from opposing Hegelian rationalist and Kantian empiricist directions – may be said to have shared the neo-Kantian dichotomy of science classified by Windelband into Natur-wissenschaften, governed by nomo-thetic rules or “numerical scientific laws”, and Geistes-wissenschaften, confined to idio-graphic studies or “idio-syncratic portraits”. The eiron (Greek for ironic smirk) of Marx deriding Roscher’s obstinacy to subtract human society from the historico-materialist “laws of capitalism” (Marx’s own Grundrisse of the Critique of Political Economy inked in 1851 [note the use of the Kantian word, “Critique”] followed closely the publication in1843 of Roscher’s Grundriss uber die Staats-wirtschaft) is reflected in Menger’s neo-classical empirio-criticism theorized by Ernst Mach in Erkenntnis und Irrtum. The emphasis is no longer on science as “wisdom” (Wissen) but as “experimental cognition” (Erkenntnis). The final attack on the rationalist Hegelian “emanationism” of the German Historical School will come from the greatest neo-Kantian in the social sciences, Max Weber in his Roscher und Knies. Weber founds the “objectivity” of social science upon its ability to distinguish between the qualitative or ethical value-rationality (Wert-rationalitat) and the quantitative purpose-rationality (Zweck-rationalitat) of human action. Evident is Weber’s reliance on a scientific dichotomy between the social sphere of public opinion that encompasses ethics and politics, and the technico-scientific sphere of  industrial production that pertains strictly to the sphere of economics. The crucial flaw in Weber’s pretended demonstration  of the possibility of an “objective” social science is that its entire epistemological validity relies on the existence of such a “scientifically-definable” social sphere of production that, in turn, depends on the measurability of industrial “labor” understood as a technical necessity rather than as an aspect of social compulsion or coercion. Weber’s candid, though distorted, aim was the scientific-objective avulsion of capitalist production from the ethico-practical choices or freedom of the political sphere – an avulsion that is simply impossible because, to repeat, industrial labor-power in capitalism is not a matter of scientific necessity but, quite emphatically, of blunt socio-political coercion!

Riot police stand in front of closed stores in the Causeway Bay district during a protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
Riot police stand in front of closed stores in the Causeway Bay district during a protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (Justin Chin/Bloomberg News)
May 29, 2020 at 6:36 a.m. GMT+10
On Thursday, China’s rubber-stamp legislature approved a sweeping new national security law for Hong Kong (2,878 to 1), in Beijing’s most egregious power grab yet. The new law essentially crushes the relative autonomy that Hong Kong enjoyed to date, makes a mockery out of the principle of “one country, two systems,” and speeds the city’s path toward a tragic fate.
It also ensures that what made Hong Kong a great place for the West to do business, especially with China, will be lost. The reason China didn’t make such a move before this is because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its companies rely on the city for their economic success and survival, exploiting its relative openness and rule of law to funnel international money into its own coffers and to fuel China’s economic expansion.
Now, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Politburo colleagues are calculating that they can curtail Hong Kong’s freedoms and still take advantage of its prosperity to bolster their own power. That is precisely what the United States must move to prevent.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed Congress on Wednesday that “Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, given facts on the ground.” Any honest analysis must agree. But the precise U.S. response will be decided by President Trump, not Pompeo — and the internal administration debate is already underway.
The smaller options include targeted sanctions on Chinese officials and entities tied to the Hong Kong crackdown or revoking Hong Kong’s exceptions to export restrictions currently applied to mainland China. The drastic options focus on scuttling Hong Kong’s special economic and customs status, which means imposing all the tariffs and regulations that currently apply to the mainland.
Punishing Hong Kong’s economy for Beijing’s actions may seem counterproductive, and there’s no doubt the damage to Hong Kong would be significant. But Hong Kong’s opposition leaders are calling for it anyway because they know how important it is.
“If the U.S. no longer treats Hong Kong as a separate customs territory, will our economy suffer? Of course! . . . Yet the hit is necessary,” tweeted opposition leader Joshua Wong. “For decades, Hong Kong has facilitated the influx of global capital and otherwise unavailable goods (e.g., high-tech products) into China. Leaders in Beijing continue to reap the benefits of this arrangement while our freedoms deteriorate. They can’t have it both ways.”
Beijing uses Hong Kong’s special status as its main tool to attract foreign investment into its own companies, enable outsiders to buy Chinese stocks and bonds, and bring money earned by state-owned firms abroad back into China.
Seventy-three percent of the initial public offerings for mainland Chinese companies took place in Hong Kong between 2010 and 2018, according to the Financial Times. Beijing has been trying to shift its dependence away from Hong Kong to places such as Shanghai for years, but international investors and businesses still preferred Hong Kong because of its relative openness and reliability — until now.
“Hong Kong is the toll road for U.S. dollars and capital into China and their state-owned enterprises,” said Kyle Bass, chief investment officer for Hayman Capital Management. “If we fundamentally alter or sanction that architecture, that is going to hurt China many times more than it’s going to hurt Hong Kong.”
Without Hong Kong to bring Western capital into China, Beijing would have to clean up its own system or raise cash from our markets, something it is increasingly doing anyway. But in our systems, we have the chance to enforce basic rules of transparency, accountability and justice (though we aren’t doing that especially well at the moment).
Removing Hong Kong’s special status would have collateral consequences for U.S. businesses there as well. But it’s likely the only way to get Beijing’s attention and the only way to protect our interests in the longer term. And the risks of doing business in Hong Kong are going up anyway, whether Western businesses acknowledge it or not.
“One reason that they came to Hong Kong is because there was the rule of law there, there was a free-enterprise system, there was a capitalist system. There was democracy and local legislative elections,” national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “If all those things go away, I’m not sure how the financial community can stay there.”
Hong Kong leaders are claiming business won’t be affected, but they have no real say anymore. Ultimately, the CCP is the party responsible for what happens in Hong Kong next, because it made the decision to throw the current system into disarray, for its own political purposes.
Beijing wants to keep the benefits it reaps from Hong Kong’s status as a free and independent place while taking away those very freedoms. This is our opportunity to make China understand it can’t do both.


China rounds up Wuhan’s citizen journalists for ‘provoking quarrels’ Questioning the Communist party’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis is risky Activists and citizen journalists presented another side of the coronavirus narrative 


 In her last report posted to YouTube on May 13, citizen journalist Zhang Zhan stood outside a train station in Wuhan and described conditions in the city where the coronavirus pandemic began. Wearing a surgical mask and talking into the camera on her mobile phone, the 37-year-old former lawyer noted how “human rights had suffered” as curbs on movement continued even after lockdown had officially ended. Two days later, Ms Zhang was detained by police at her parents’ home in Shanghai, charged with “provoking quarrels and making trouble”, according to a document seen by the Financial Times. Several people close to her have confirmed her detention. Ms Zhang joined a cohort of activists, journalists, lawyers and social media personalities arrested after documenting the outbreak of coronavirus in China or questioning the Communist party’s handling of the ordeal. Editor’s note The Financial Times is making key coronavirus coverage free to read to help everyone stay informed. Find the latest here. The detentions took place in the days and weeks before the National People’s Congress, China’s most important political event of the year, which opened on Friday in Beijing and continues this week.  “The government has been trying to control the circulation of information and build a narrative that hides the wrongdoing of the government,” said Doriane Lau, a Hong Kong-based researcher for Amnesty International. “Curbing freedom of expression and press . . . only fuels frustration and blocks people’s access to information that can be crucial for fighting Covid-19.” The crackdown has swept up people from many walks of life in China.

 In March, tycoon Ren Zhiqiang vanished after penning an essay critical of the Communist party’s handling of the outbreak. Citizen journalists Chen Qiushi and Fang Bin were also taken away by police around the same time.  Chen Mei, who was archiving articles on coronavirus, was detained in late April while Xie Wenfei was taken into custody after publicly raising questions about the disappearance of other journalists. Ren Zhiqiang paid the price for criticising the Communist party © China Photo/AP Ms Zhang’s reporting contrasted sharply with the government line on the outbreak. Many of her news reports, which were often posted on YouTube and Twitter, focused on the number of coronavirus cases in Wuhan. She routinely cast doubt on the official numbers, stating that, based on her research, the figure should be higher. When the FT spoke to Ms Zhang in mid-April, she was gathering information on the economic conditions in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. She said that many small businesses were failing and unemployment appeared to be rising quicker than local governments had let on. “It’s not uncommon in recent months for people to get arrested, even for posting things that seem harmless,” said Fu King-wa, a professor of media studies at Hong Kong University. “The government is pushing very hard on their narrative about the outbreak internally — but also internationally,” he added.

 Beijing is very sensitive about its international image since the outbreak, and has vigorously rejected the claim that China was responsible for the pandemic that has killed more than 350,000 people.  In May, state controlled China Daily censored a reference to the virus originating in China in an editorial cosigned by EU ambassadors to China. Few reporters have been allowed to attend the National People’s Congress, which normally offers a rare opportunity for foreign journalists to question senior leaders. More than 350,000 have died from the virus, which originated in Wuhan © AFP/Getty China’s struggle to control the narrative now regularly takes place beyond the confines of the “Great Firewall”, the system of censorship that blocks Chinese internet users from viewing foreign websites deemed dangerous for party rule. Chinese citizen journalists and human rights activists who use tools to evade censorship, such as virtual private networks to post on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, are increasingly targeted. At the same time, Chinese officials and state media have taken to western media to push Beijing’s line and attack critics. That has led to bouts of mudslinging between Beijing and Washington as officials spar over who is to blame for the fallout from Covid-19.

 Frances Eve, a researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an advocacy group based in Washington, wrote: “While the Chinese government systematically denies Chinese people their right to express themselves freely on the internet, . . . the government has aggressively used blocked western social media platforms like Twitter to promote its propaganda.” Even the collection and archiving of information is risky. Coronavirus business update How is coronavirus taking its toll on markets, business, and our everyday lives and workplaces? Stay briefed with our coronavirus newsletter. Sign up here In April, activists Chen Mei, Cai Wei and Mr Cai’s girlfriend, who ran a digital archive of Covid-19 articles and social media posts, were arrested by Beijing police, according to a family member who declined to be named.  The three used the open-source coding sharing website GitHub, which is not blocked in China, to record content scrubbed by censors. Police notices said they had been placed in “residential surveillance at a designated location”, a form of detention and interrogation usually reserved for crimes deemed to endanger national security.

Thursday, 28 May 2020


Hong Kong's freedom is vanishing in front of us
malcolm rifkind
May 29, 2020 – 2.46pm

In 1996, a year before the return of Hong Kong to China, I was in Beijing meeting the Chinese foreign minister, Qian Qichen. I had stopped off on my way to speak with some of Hong Kong's leading politicians, who requested me to make clear the necessity of the territory continuing to enjoy the rule of law after the handover.
Although Hong Kong, under the British, was a colony, it had always enjoyed independent judges and freedom under the law, as we do in the UK. When I raised this with the Chinese foreign minister he assured me that was no problem. "China, too," he said, "believes in the rule of law." And then he added, "In China, the people must obey the law."

Pro-democracy supporters scuffle with riot police during a rally in Hong Kong on Wednesday.  Getty
I pointed out to him that the rule of law did not just apply to "the people". The Government, too, must be under the law. He not only did not agree with me, he had not the faintest idea what I was talking about. The idea that a government might be subject to independent courts and judges was unacceptable in China, as it is in all dictatorships.
In China they do not have the rule of law. They have rule by law, which means the government often uses the law to criminalise political opposition. That is the fate that now faces the people of Hong Kong as a result of the new security law passed by the rubber-stamp parliament in Beijing without the consent of Hong Kong's own local parliament.
This is denied by Xi Jinping and his spokesmen. They insist that Hong Kong's autonomy and "one country, two systems" will remain until 2047, as agreed in the treaty signed jointly with the United Kingdom.
In one limited sense they mean it. Hong Kong remains a very valuable economic and financial asset for China. A large part of the foreign capital that is invested in mainland China by international companies is raised in Hong Kong, where all the financial institutions and legal and banking expertise are concentrated. Shanghai and Beijing cannot compete with Hong Kong in this respect.
The Chinese government knows that if it crushed Hong Kong like it did the protesters in Tiananmen Square then business confidence would collapse, the financial institutions would move to either Singapore or Taiwan, and Hong Kong would become an empty shell instead of one of Asia's great cities. China's strategy has been to use salami tactics; to erode Hong Kong's freedom and autonomy slice by slice while all the time protesting that these are modest and reasonable changes compatible with one country, two systems.
Such protestations would be difficult to believe even if the Chinese government was behaving in an otherwise moderate and responsible way. However, that, sadly, has not been the case since Xi Jinping came to power.
While attacking Hong Kong's autonomy, he has also incarcerated up to a million Muslim Uighurs in what are, euphemistically, described as "re-education camps". He has been threatening his South East Asian neighbours with the militarisation of tiny islands in the South China Sea, ignoring the verdict of the Arbitration Tribunal on questions of sovereignty. He withheld vital information not only from the rest of the world but from his own people after the coronavirus pandemic erupted in Wuhan.
Against that background, it is not surprising that he treats the very real anxieties of the people of Hong Kong with indifference. He will want, for his own reasons, to retain the appearance of one country, two systems. But it would be little more than a hollowed-out facade within a few years.
What can be done about it? To a large extent this will depend on the response of the 7 million people of Hong Kong. Over the last year they have shown, week after week, their determination to preserve freedom. Hundreds of thousands have come out onto the streets in what have been, overwhelmingly, non-violent protests. The local elections in Hong Kong resulted in candidates supporting Beijing being massively defeated.
But the people of Hong Kong need international support. While the Chinese government rejects international protests as "interference", they are very sensitive to it.
The British Government has been robust, as was its duty, and we should welcome yesterday's Joint Statement by the British, American, Australian and Canadian Foreign Ministers. What we still need, however, is an even more concerted international response. The Hong Kong people deserve the support of the European Union; the issue should be raised at the next G7 meeting, and the members of the Commonwealth in particular have an ethical as well as a political obligation to speak out.
It is not too late for free peoples and democratic governments throughout the world, in Asia as well as Europe, to express their support. There is no certainty that Beijing will listen. But we will never forgive ourselves if we do not do all in our power to help the brave people of Hong Kong.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind is a former foreign secretary and a patron of Hong Kong Watch
The Telegraph London



China security law: We have 100 days to save Hong Kong, say activists

Ted Hui, a pro-democracy MP, was wrestled out of the chamber after throwing rotten vegetables
Ted Hui, a pro-democracy MP, was wrestled out of the chamber after throwing rotten vegetables
AP
Pro-democracy protesters have said they have 100 days to save Hong Kong from Beijing’s “evil regime” after China’s parliament voted to impose a security law that deals a mortal blow to the territory’s freedoms.
The National People’s Congress voted 2,878-1 yesterday to pass the law that will punish any dissent in Hong Kong with harsh jail sentences, and allow Beijing to set up its own security and intelligence operations. The law will be inserted directly into the territory’s mini-constitution without oversight from its own parliament, and is expected before the year’s end.
The Citizens’ Press Conference, a figurehead group for the amorphous pro-democracy movement, said yesterday that its members were determined in their opposition. “Supporters still march on with the same strong will and energy even in the face of a dark future,” the group said.
Activists rallied on online forums including Telegram and Lihkg.com, urging Hong Kongers to mount a “Hundred Day War” to protect their freedoms. “Hong Kong people can freely comment online for only about 100 days,” one member said. “No matter what happens afterwards, we must seize the opportunity to fight and fight!
“We would awaken the people of the world to resist the communist party’s evil regime.”
The forum also called on members to rally supporters around the world to “say no to China” and “say no to Made-in-China”.
Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong activist, criticised the vote as a “black” operation “with no legislative scrutiny and public consultation . . . today’s decision is a direct assault on the will of HKers”.
Pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong have attempted to pass their own national security law for years. Efforts in 2003 prompted massive street protests, while attempts last year to push through a bill allowing for the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to the mainland sparked million-strong demonstrations before it was shelved by Carrie Lam, the chief executive.
Yesterday Ms Lam welcomed Beijing’s solution, saying the territory was “an inalienable part” of China and that “safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests is the constitutional duty”.
However, an online poll showed 98.6 per cent opposition to the plans.
Beijing’s decision was met by criticism from around the world. A joint declaration by the UK, Australia and Canada said that Beijing’s decision undermined the UN-registered 1997 Sino-British agreement that guaranteed “one country, two systems”.
On Wednesday Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said that the law was “only the latest in a series of actions” undermining Hong Kong’s freedoms, and said the US was considering cancelling the territory’s special trading status, a move that would weaken its position as a global financial centre. President Trump has promised an announcement by the end of the week.
Beijing said it would direct the national parliament’s standing committee to enact “related laws to prevent, stop and punish any acts or activities that endanger national security”.
China announced only seven days ago that it was preparing to impose the law, citing the territory’s inability to stop pro-democracy movements last year. Yet the document passed yesterday by the National People’s Congress ran to only two pages and was thin on detail.
When pressed on specifics, Matthew Cheung, 69, the secretary of administration in Hong Kong, said that “all these are details yet to be announced. Everybody is waiting for it. We are also following developments closely.”
Senior officials in Hong Kong have claimed that the law would target only a “very small” group of agitators and there were no plans for cross-border law enforcement by mainland authorities.
Politicians in Hong Kong also approved the second reading of a bill that criminalises insulting the Chinese national anthem. In chaotic scenes, Ted Hui Chi-fung, 37, of the Democracy Party, hurled rotten vegetables at Andrew Leung, 69, a pro-Beijing politician. The national anthem law and China’s moves against pro-democracy movements have provoked a new wave of protests in the territory. On Wednesday, police deployed water cannon and fired tear gas at thousands gathering near the parliament. More than 350 protesters were arrested.