John Cushnahan: UN could help defuse Hong Kong tensions amid hints from China that it might invade the territory

Protesters gather during a rally at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. "Too few international voices have criticised China's blatant breach of its obligations but the Hong Kong people have not stayed silent" ''(Apple Daily via AP)
Protesters gather during a rally at Victoria Park in Hong Kong on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. "Too few international voices have criticised China's blatant breach of its obligations but the Hong Kong people have not stayed silent" ''(Apple Daily via AP)
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Hong Kong was a crisis waiting to happen.

The current problems should not have come as a surprise to anyone, especially international observers.

John Cushnahan, a former Alliance Party leader and Fine Gael MEP, who was European Parliament Rapporteur on Hong Kong 1997-2004, after Hong Kong was handed back to China

John Cushnahan, a former Alliance Party leader and Fine Gael MEP, who was European Parliament Rapporteur on Hong Kong 1997-2004, after Hong Kong was handed back to China

The Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, under which Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, guaranteed the autonomy of Hong Kong in all areas apart from defence and foreign policy.

It also guaranteed that its ‘common law’ legal system would remain in place as would the independence of its courts.

However over the last 22 years China has been consistently undermining these rights.

Regrettably too few international voices were raised in opposition to China’s blatant breach of its obligations under the ‘one country, two systems’ concept.

It would seem they preferred to remain silent lest it jeopardise their lucrative trade deals with China.

In marked contrast however, the citizens of Hong Kong did not remain silent. The latest demonstration is but one in a series of protests that challenged the actions of the Beijing controlled Hong Kong government (HKSAR).

There were two major protests before the current one over the proposed extradition bill.

In 2002/3, when the Hong Kong government introduced an anti-subversion bill, it was regarded as a step too far by its critics who perceived it to be an attempt to suppress political freedoms and human rights and make Hong Kong more like mainland China.

Over 500,000 people demonstrated its opposition. Following the strength of the opposition voices, the bill was eventually withdrawn.

In 2014, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets once again — on this occasion to demand the introduction of universal suffrage which had been promised after 2007.

They paralysed the centre of Hong Kong for 77 days. Its numbers dwindled and no concessions were made.

The leaders of what became known as the ‘Umbrella’ protest because they used umbrellas to protect themselves from police pepper sprays were jailed for their actions in April earlier this year.

The proposed current extradition bill had raised similar fears to those that had occurred over the anti-subversion bill but the current protest numbers have far exceeded those that came out in 2003.

Although the demonstrations had been relatively peaceful there has been a number of sinister recent developments.

The involvement of Triad gangster figures on behalf of Beijing, the police infiltration of the legitimate protest movement, the possible use of ‘agent provocateurs’ to discredit the young protesters has added a new twist to events.

These factors coupled with the use of excessive police force threatens to spill over into the escalation of serious violence and possibly bloodshed.

Fuel has been added to the fire by the use of intemperate language by the Chinese government who described the protesters as terrorists accompanied by hints at military intervention.

President Trump’s latest offer to have a personal meeting with Chinese President XI Jinping could be of some help particularly if Mr Trump makes it clear that the US strongly opposes military intervention by China to resolve the dispute.

Yet despite all the rising tensions, no-one seems to be willing to step forward to help defuse the situation by engaging directly with the two main protagonists themselves, namely organisers of the protests and the Hong Kong government.

It would have to be an organisation or body with the appropriate credentials – who better than the United Nations?

After all the Sino-British Joint Declaration is a legally binding bi-lateral treaty registered with the UN.

If the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guteress were to visit Hong Kong and discuss the situation with both parties to the stand-off in Hong Kong, the UN could then assess whether the two signatories to the Sino- British Treaty are discharging their respective obligations under the treaty.

It just so happens that these two signatories namely the UK and China are two of the five permanent members of the UN security council.

Furthermore, such an initiative would be in keeping with the function and powers of the security council.

Two of the relevant ones are stated under the United Nations Charter as follows:

‘ ... to investigate any dispute or situation which might lead to international friction;

to recommend methods of adjusting such disputes or terms of settlement’

What could possibly provide a better course of action to follow than this?

• John Cushnahan, a former Alliance Party leader and Fine Gael MEP, was European Parliament Rapporteur on Hong Kong 1997-2004, after Hong Kong was handed back to China. He visited Hong Kong six times and produced five reports. He met HK’s major political figures, human rights activists, business figures, and civil society representatives