July 10, 2020
First, as a responsible major country, China stands upright with honour. We never strong-arm others, never seek supremacy, never withdraw from commitments, never bully others, and never complain. The word ‘coercion’ has nothing to do with China.
— Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, October 2019
If anyone cares to listen to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s vehement reaction against any country objecting to what is currently happening in Hong Kong, they will notice that Chinese authorities are basing their rebuttals on the principle of non interference in China’s internal affairs.
For seven decades, the affirmation of non interference in a country’s internal affairs has been one of the pillars of China’s foreign policy. Look closer, however, and the much-trumpeted principle means that other nations are forbidden to comment on Chinese internal policies, but Chinese officials on the other hand feel free to intervene in other countries’ internal affairs, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Starting with 1964, Zhou Enlai prodded socialist leaders from the Soviet bloc to rise in revolt against Moscow’s territorial grab after World War II. Ceausescu fell for it and started claiming back Bessarabia, which Romania had lost in 1940 before the communists came to power.
Also during the sixties, the CCP tried to force Albania to enter into an anti-Soviet, pro-Chinese alliance together with Yugoslavia and Romania, according to the memoirs of the late Enver Hoxha, Albania’s former Stalinist leader.
In 1971, taking advantage of the uncalled for visit to Beijing of Australia’s Labor leader of the opposition, the same Zhou Enlai swiftly used the unhoped-for opportunity in order to attack Australia’s alliance with the United States, which he compared to China’s alliance with the USSR. The ANZUS Treaty has been under attack by the Chinese ever since.
As we all know , communism was foreign to the political traditions of Central and Eastern European countries. After WWII the communist regimes came to power there under the occupation of Red Army troops. In 1989 Mikhail Gorbatchev was intelligent enough to recognise that such a political arrangement was no longer desirable or sustainable. Accordingly, after he ordered the Red Army troops to withdraw, the communist dictatorships of Central and Eastern Europe were toppled one after another by pro-democracy movements.
The fall of communism in Eastern Europe emboldened pro-democracy forces in China to occupy Tiananmen Square and ask, in their turn, for the democratization of political life. After a few weeks of indecision, the Chinese communist leadership asked the PLA to crush the demonstrators, killing hundreds in the process.
Thus from June to December 1989, China was the only communist state that dared to use the army against its own people. To be sure, this was a very unenviable position to be in. This is the reason why the Chinese leadership decided to grossly interfere in Romanian internal affairs, attempting to prop up the Ceausescu regime. At the end of November 1989, a Chinese Politburo member touched down in Bucharest, offering support and military aid to the Romanian dictator.Consequently the Romanian revolution was the only one in Europe where the army was used against the demonstrators, Tiananmen-style. The bloody events led to the execution of the presidential couple. (At the time, the couple’s execution in Romania was extremely well received by Chinese protesters and students )
In truth, no amount of police repression, book burnings or imprisonment of pro-democracy dissidents can make democratic aspirations go away. Such aspirations are, indeed, truly universal and no nation who refuses to democratize could be considered civilized, regardless of its economic status or number of boots on the ground. By resisting democratic reforms, the Chinese leadership is in fact keeping their country outside the ranks of civilized nations, and in a league with other dictatorships from Africa or Asia. This is the reason why the only respectable people in China these days are the pro-democracy dissidents and militants.
It would be wrong to assume, however, that Chinese authorities’ meddling in other countries’ internal affairs has diminished in intensity. To give but one example, since 2012 they have created a 16+1 group from ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe plus a few from the Western Balkans. (This is the political component of the Belt and Road infrastructure project.) Eleven countries from the group are full EU members and China’s diplomatic initiative is a grave interference in the Union’s internal affairs. As the 1989 Timisoara repression proves, we can safely assume that Beijing is prone to extend its support to radical nationalistic and anti-democratic political parties within this group of countries.
This is one of the many reasons why EU officialdom is more than entitled to act in support of Hong Kong dissidents and the Uighur minority, in accordance with the fundamental values the European Union was built upon. In future, they should make it clear to China’s henchmen that they are fully expected to respect the democratic aspirations of the Chinese people, for the benefit of China and the international community as a whole. Any lesser reaction to the current events in Hong Kong can be construed as kowtowing to China in exchange for elusive economic gains.Spotlight on Geopolitics