The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Selling the soul of the West

Timothy Alden Sunday, 25 August 2019, 08:54 Last update: about 7 months ago

In 1984, China and Britain signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, outlining a roadmap for handing over of Hong Kong in 1997. According to the declaration, however, for up to 50 years afterwards, Hong Kong is supposed to retain its legal and judicial independence as well as general autonomy and therefore self-governance.

The unrest in Hong Kong is to be seen in that context, especially with protesters sometimes waving their colonial flag. China’s increased attempts to erode Hong Kong’s separation from the mainland threaten the separate identity and values of its people. While I am glad that certain diplomatic tools are being used to restrain China as these protests continue to unfold, I cannot help but feel wider frustration at how we have found ourselves in this position to begin with.

The West has always done business with autocratic states. During the Cold War, the United States overthrew many legitimate governments across the world, especially in Latin America, so as to keep these places out of the Soviet Union’s control. As a result of these coups, military dictators often replaced democratic ones. The fight against Communism under the umbrella of liberty was pockmarked and soiled by brutal hypocrisy.

The assassination of Jamal Khashoggi last year, a columnist for the Washington Post, was shocking and typical of an authoritarian regime like Saudi Arabia. What was less predictable was that the United States would reassure Saudi Arabia that business could go on as usual.

That a country like the United States, which boasts of being the beacon of freedom in the world, is often hypocritical is nothing new. It is one reason that autocratic states like Russia are able to produce effective propaganda against democracy. In China right now, there is the mistaken impression that Hong Kong’s protests were set up by the United States and the CIA. It is ridiculous, but such paranoia can be understood in the context of dirty games played in the past.

What I am calling for is for the international community to live up to its own standards. We cannot keep doing blanket business with Saudi Arabia, which is responsible for an ongoing genocide in Yemen, while maintaining a clear conscience. Where is the outrage for Yemen? Why was China allowed to violate the Sino-British Joint Declaration in the past? I suspect it is because the United Kingdom put money before the interests of the people of Hong Kong.

Donald Trump’s trade war with China, which is developing Orwellian technology to control its own people in every aspect, is too little too late to rein in a country which plays by different rules. The 20th century was defined by cosy relationships between democratic crusaders and autocrats in a global struggle of Left versus Right, where anything was permissible.

Today, it is less about ideology and more about money, culture and power.

The European Union must set a new benchmark. It must sanction trade with Brazil to protect the Amazon. It must rein in Saudi Arabia, and stand up for the people of Hong Kong. Otherwise, what is it we are fighting for, if not just ourselves? Will we keep auctioning the soul of the West, piece by piece?

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