Over the summer a shocking account emerged of the meeting between Arlene Foster, Michelle O’Neill and the Chinese consul in Belfast.
Beijing’s consulate office in Northern Ireland said that the first minister and deputy first minster had said that the Stormont executive “understands and respects” China’s legal manoeuvre’s in Hong Kong.
It would have been a shameful thing to say, given how the Chinese communists are destroying Hong Kong’s freedoms.
Mrs O’Neill then claimed she had been “clear that I supported the ‘One Country, Two Systems’” arrangement for Hong Kong (but which Beijing itself claims to respect).
Mrs Foster said her position was “the same as that of Her Majesty’s Government” (which has criticised China).
After China’s report of the meeting, a democracy activist in Hong Kong told his many Twitter followers that it would be “unbelievably scandalous” if NI’s leaders had “said they ‘understand and respect’ Beijing’s human rights abuses”.
That young man was Joshua Wong, and he is now in jail for 13 months for protesting about the Hong Kong clampdown, as John Cushnahan explains on page 18.
What happens in the city state has global implications. China is close to overtaking the US as world’s richest nation.
It is ruthless in ways that we in the west can barely grasp. No free media, no fair courts, mass executions, rampant corruption, no welfare state. It strictly censors the internet.
Northern Ireland cannot take an independent stand against this. Even the UK is not big enough for that. But while we have to do business, this saga is a warning against cosy relations with the world’s most powerful dictatorship. The consulate’s disgraceful ignoring of planning laws in south Belfast is a minor example of how China does business.
And with both our NI universities having links to China, it is essential that academic freedoms in the Province get explicit protections, after the way in which Beijing has been allowed to bully educational institutions in Great Britain.
• John Cushnahan: China is ruthlessly tightening grip on Hong Kong
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