Deconstructing Chinese Diplomacy: The Hong Case Case Study

Nonintervention is a principle of international relations with significant ties to the history of colonialism and imperialism. Chinese history is wrought with external actors wreaking havoc on the Chinese mainland during the colonial and imperial era. Japan, during the Meiji restoration, was a hotbed of anti-Chinese propaganda. This was doubly effective because it brainwashed both Japanese and Chinese nationals living in Japan. Many Chinese students studied in China during the aftermath of the opium wars. It was the policy of the Chinese government to maintain Chinese values, but imbibe western technology in the development of society, that sent Chinese students abroad, only to come back critics of the ruling government. This was the subtle intervention in China’s affairs, but is oft-remembered by foreigners in the same way the opium wars, the boxer rebellion suppression, or the rape of Nanking is remembered.

Why bring up this history when talking about China, and what does it have to do with China’s diplomatic relations today, in 2014? It’s within this history that outside spectators can begin to understand the sensitivity of the Chinese to foreign criticism of their handling of internal affairs. The Chinese government believes that its handling of the Hong Kong protests is exclusively internal, to be settled by the authorities in Hong Kong. On September 29, U.S. Press Secretary John Earnest called for “a genuine choice of candidates that are representative of the peoples’ and the voters’ will”[1] and to not do so would lead to a “loss of legitimacy” by the current chief executive. Hong Kong has only been back under Chinese control (and not to the extent the mainland is) for fifteen years. The enforced lease of the British, excluding China from the right of administering Hong Kong for one hundred years, continued to be a stain on China’s perception of itself. To publicly re-intervene in these affairs could cause a chasm between the West and China in the future. Protests as of October 8th 2014 have eased on their own, amid the first meetings between protest-leaders and government officials. ”Lau Kong-wah, undersecretary for constitutional affairs, said he had agreed to multiple rounds of discussions conducted on a basis of equality”[2]. This relates to how China views its power in Asia, and its succession as preeminent power in the region.

“After decades of exerting only modest regional influence” China is seeking to play a more robust role in the affairs of Asia[3]. That role they would hope is peaceful, cooperative, and mutually positive for all nations they do business with, including the United States. This is because the Chinese government seeks a stable international climate for the economic development that upholds faith in the one-party state. The real worry of China is not their actions, but the actions of those who have in the past had imperial designs on their nation. “Many Chinese elites believe that the United States seeks to subvert the Chinese political system and to contain China’s economic and military potential”[4] This belief, as the study of Chinese history will show, is not unreasonable. To avoid a spiral of negative perceptions, the United States should have frank, private conversations where concerns are addressed, and leave the public sphere for a tone of continued cooperation in meeting the challenges of the century. Not unlike the relationship Henry Kissinger had, when he first went to China for long, frank conversations.

[1] http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-steps-up-china-criticism-amid-hong-kong-pro-democracy-protests-1412027706

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/06/hong-kong-government-talks-pro-democracy-protesters

[3] Philip C. Saunders, China’s role in Asia, Pg 147.

[4] Saunders, pg 148.

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