In the month since China imposed the controversial national security law in Hong Kong — it claimed the legislation was necessary to end the months of disruption caused by protests — the faultlines between the city and Beijing have only deepened. The elections to the city’s government due in September have been postponed, ostensibly due to the COVID pandemic. However, given that several pro-democracy candidates were barred from contesting and other activists have been arrested for online posts, the justification wears thin. International opprobrium against the decision, too, has intensified. The US has imposed sanctions on China and the UK, Australia, Canada and Germany have suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong.
On the face of it, it may appear that China has more to lose by ending the “one country two systems”, under which Hong Kong was governed. It is this status that has made it a hub for finance capital, international technology giants and the service industry. Tech giants like Facebook and Google, for example, can operate in Hong Kong, which has been outside the “Great Firewall”. Under the new law, authorities can arrest and extradite for trial and imprisonment to mainland China citizens of Hong Kong under vague charges including “secession, subversion, organisation and perpetration of terrorist activities, and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security”. However, the end of “one country two systems” is of a piece with Xi Jinping’s vision for China, and the ideological shift his tenure as head of the party-state has marked. China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific vis a vis India as well as the ambitious strategic-economic expansionism of the Belt and Road Initiative, are part of the same pattern.
Delhi has, as in the past, been reticent about commenting on the special status of Hong Kong and its abrogation. Rajiv Kumar Chander, permanent representative to the UN, told the UNHRC that Delhi has been “keeping a close watch on developments”. Given the historical role that the Indian community has played in Hong Kong’s modernisation, as well the significant Indian-origin population and workers in the service sector there, it might be time to consider a carefully calibrated engagement with the city’s new and unfolding reality. With the heavy hand of the Chinese state looming, both finance capital and talent in the service sector are beginning to move out of Hong Kong. Delhi has largely failed to take advantage of the shift in global manufacturing out of China, losing out to countries like Vietnam. It could partially make up for that by trying to attract those from Hong Kong looking for a free society and economy.
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