Hayes in the House: Freedom, Hong Kong and China
To see the Union flag raised high by protestors in Hong Kong is as significant as it seems surreal. Those draping the historic British colonial flag across the city’s centrepiece legislative council were doing so not merely to aggravate and anger the Chinese Government. Rather, to the protestors, our United Kingdom is the embodiment of something they crave above all else: freedom.
After much negotiation, in 1997, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, transferring the sovereignty of Hong Kong from the UK to China. Article 2 of Hong Kong Basic Law was a pivotal condition of the agreement, guaranteeing the rights of Hong Kong citizens to continue their way of life for 50 years, independent of interference from China.
With this in mind and knowing the normally calm sophistication of this oriental outpost of British civility, it was shocking to see hundreds of thousands of ordinary men, women and children from across Hong Kong take to the streets. The proposals for an extradition bill that would have enabled the deportation of residents to face trial in Chinese courts was the final straw for a populace aggrieved by steadily shrinking liberties and the growing perception that China is failing to honour its commitment to the ‘one country, two systems principle’ which underpinned the handover.
Scenes of streets crammed full of protestors is a reminder of just how easy it is to take for granted the foundations of the prosperous and peaceful way of life we enjoy here in Britain. Perhaps, freedom, democracy and the rule of law are only truly appreciated when we are confronted by the prospect of their absence.
The people of Hong Kong are right to recognise that it is the distribution of power from government to the people, married to free expression, that underpins societal stability. Whilst few would contest the progress China has made since the death of the tyrant, Chairman Mao, it is equally incontestable that the normally unquestioned dictatorial power of the Chinese Communist Party is hard to reconcile with the spirit of Hong Kong, honed by a 100 years of British colonial rule.
The well-educated people of Hong Kong recognise that history is replete with powerful oligarchs who claim exclusive access to the truth to justify the extent to which they go unchallenged.
The dishonest portrayal by the Chinese State media of the protests as foreign-backed terrorism is yet another reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a nation free from the suffocation of communist hegemony. News that a British consulate worker based in Hong Kong has been detained by the Chinese authorities is distressing and I trust that the new Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab is working hard to secure his release.
It is not unbridled freedom that those protesting in Hong Kong demand, for, long familiar with the British way of doing things, they know just as well as us that established shared values are the means by which individuals can liberate themselves from slavery to fecklessness, enjoying instead what’s good, beautiful and true.
Similarly, whether it’s in Hong Kong or here, it’s only through accepted common values that people can reach shared fulfilment and so be their best.
Hong Kong shows that freedom is fragile. Let us be thankful for all our blessings and continue here in our homeland, to work to build a ‘city on the hill’, illuminated by liberty.