The recent passing of the Hong Kong security law by Beijing on 30 June 2020 represents a stark breach of the 1997 agreement that gave Hong Kong back to China from the UK. Many see the introduction of the law as a violation of Hong Kong’s democratic rights, and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has promised citizens of Hong Kong the right to become British Citizens as a result.

However, China fought back against this decision, and Ambassador Liu Xiaoming said, “The UK government keeps making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs.” So should the UK be worried about China, and how assertive is China in global politics?

What is the Hong Kong security bill?

Officially the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, more commonly known as the Hong Kong national security law, was passed on 30 June 2020 and limited the rights of Hong Kong citizens to demonstrate and undermine the power of the central government. It also means that security and law-keeping are moved away from Hong Kong to Beijing, which is controversial due to the 1997 agreement between the United Kingdom and China. The UK agreed to give Hong Kong back to China as long as they kept their democratic rights.
No China Extradition

Similar public outcry resulted from a law proposed last year by Carrie Lam (HK Chief Executive), regarding extraditing criminals from Hong Kong to Beijing, leading to months of protests which saw the law removed. There is a belief that the passing of this national security law could limit the ability of Hong Kong citizens to protest in the future, particularly once the coronavirus pandemic has settled.

Power in global politics

There are three main types of power within global politics:

  • Hard Power: military and economic sanctions
  • Soft power: the use of diplomacy and reason
  • Smart Power: a merging of soft and hard power depending on the situation.

The UK has long been the world champion of soft power, being a member of several IGOs and deals with countries around the world. However, the position of China is far more questionable. China is a member of the United Nations Permanent Five along with the UK, meaning it has a considerable influence on global politics. 

They have recently come under fire for their actions against Hong Kong, the persecution of Uighur Muslims in the North of the country and continual support of North Korea. How do they get away with this, particularly when other P5 countries including the USA, France and the UK have condemned their action?

How important is China to world trade?

The term ‘Made in China’ is ubiquitous in the western world, from the computer used to write this article to the pens used to write A-Level Politics exams, China has a monopoly on the production of the world’s goods. Their economy exploded during the late 20th century and is likely to be the world’s largest economy by 2030. It is still considered an emerging nation, and part of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

However, China may be slipping through the gaps as other countries become economic and manufacturing powerhouses. Many countries in Africa, along with India and Taiwan, are playing an increasing role in global trade, and many have considered Africa to be the world’s largest economy by the end of the century.

So, is China too assertive in 21st-century global politics?

Yes

  • A trade deal with China is hugely beneficial to countries, and the lack of trade with China can increase the prices of goods that originate from elsewhere.
  • They have a veto as part of the UN Permanent Five and have frequently used this against other Western countries (the UK, USA and France).
  • The international community has condemned their actions in Hong Kong, Taiwan and North Korea, but nothing seems to have changed as a result.

No

  • The world appears more multipolar, so since China seems powerful in terms of economic output, other countries have power in other areas, like the USA in terms of its military.
  • In terms of the Hong Kong dispute, the UK has offered its support to citizens through its plan to provide British citizenship.

Further Reading

Wikipedia: ‘The Hong Kong national security law’

BBC News: ‘Hong Kong’s new security law: Why it scares people’

Exam Questions

Examine the differences between the use of power of the United States and China. [12 marks]

Evaluate the view that the rise of China has made the world multipolar. [30 marks]