Hong Kong Is Our Issue

It’s tempting to see the mainland Chinese government’s recent repression of Hong Kong as far removed from Australia’s national interests. Yet at a time when politicians like Gladys Liu and state representatives in NSW and Queensland are already being linked to or even outright support groups that serve the interests of the authoritarian and increasingly brazen Chinese Communist Party (CCP), these events in fact mark the beginning of a new chapter in Sino-Australian relations. One which threatens not only our sovereignty, but our businesses, investors and workers.

Hong Kong has long been a bastion of civil liberties, economic prosperity and civil society in our shared Asia-Pacific region. Its success is owed in no small part to an independent and apolitical judiciary, respect for private property rights, a commitment to open markets, liberal democratic values, and transparent, accountable government.

Its no surprise that Hong Kongers want to preserve these principles and are willing to fight to maintain autonomy from the dictatorial communist mainland state which they were guaranteed under the 1997 bilateral agreement that transferred the territory to China under a ‘one country, two systems’ policy.

Australians have also benefited immensely from these principles. Thousands of Australians live and work in Hong Kong where they acquire skills and knowhow in an international hub of innovation, finance and business which eventually benefit our own economy upon their return.

Australian investors and businesspeople have contributed heavily to Hong Kong’s banking and finance, construction and engineering, health and medical services, telecommunications, insurance, legal services, education, information technology, consulting, and transport sectors. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and trade, Australian investment in Hong Kong in 2018 alone exceeded $52 billion AUD. A significant chunk of the return on this investment has flowed back into Australia and helped to fund public services by shoring up tax revenue.

Unfortunately, the CCP’s ongoing encroachment on Hong Kong, as well as our own public affairs, threaten this relationship and these opportunities. Foreign investors and entrepreneurs entering the Chinese mainland have been forced to reveal intellectual property to the CCP government only to see it wantonly appropriated.

Meanwhile, mainland China’s Chief Justice has dismissed an apolitical and independent judiciary as an ‘erroneous western concept’. We’ve already seen this in practice with Australian citizens like Dr Yang Hengjun being detained in horrific conditions or dragged through the mainland Chinese legal system for criticising the CCP government or acting contrary to its political interests. Australian businessman Stern Hu spent nearly 10 years in Chinese prison after he was convicted of bribery and acquiring commercial secrets following a short trial in a closed courtroom that Australian consular officials were denied access to.

If Beijing’s actions continue to stand, then Australians living or working in Hong Kong could also face similar treatment or could see their investments or assets confiscated or appropriated when this suits the interests of the CCP.

This reality is already recognised in the United States where a bipartisan congressional report found that Hong Kong’s eroding freedoms and the increasing interference from Beijing are putting American interests at risk and warrant a reconsideration of the territory’s special status as a trading partner that exempts it from tariffs applied to mainland China. The U.S. Congress will now debate draft legislation that empowers lawmakers to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials who have abused human rights or undermined Hong Kong’s autonomy.

That the Hong Kong government has withdrawn the extradition bill which the CCP pushed for, shows that the CCP is increasingly susceptible to international pressure.

Yet this is only a temporary measure which doesn’t mark an end to Beijing’s ongoing intent to end Hong Kong’s autonomy. And while pressure has come from countries like the United States, Australian politicians and elites seem to follow the opposite path- veering from complacency to downright complicity. Liberal MP Gladys Liu’s reluctant admission to prior involvement with groups linked to the CCP barely scratches the iceberg.

NSW Legislative Assembly Speaker and Liberal MP Jonathon O’Dea recently addressed a 70th anniversary celebration for the brutal founding of the CCP’s dictatorship. A similar celebration at Queensland’s parliament will be attended by Labor and Liberal MPs this week. The guest of honour at that event is Xu Jie, the CCP government’s Consul General in Brisbane. Jie has commended the “spontaneous patriotism” of pro-CCP international students who have harassed and assaulted pro-democracy Hong Kong students and their Australian allies at Queensland University campus protests. Vulgar celebrations which effectively condone dark historical chapters to appease brutal foreign regimes go well beyond the notion of simply maintaining favourable diplomatic relations with a trading partner.

Then again, Australia is the country where 13 Confucius Institutes, effectively soft propaganda arms for the CCP, have opened without issue at our universities- yet where a Centre for Western Civilisation funded by an Australian philanthropist has been mired in controversy and administrative hurdles. Should we be surprised that such a self-defeating and shameful state of affairs is being put on by the political and bureaucratic class that rules over us?

Satya Marar is the Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance. 

This article was originally published in The Daily Telegraph on 24 September 2019.

Satyajeet Marar