/ March 18, 2021
By John J. Metzler
Amid the theatrical fanfare and political pomp, China’s annual “National People’s Congress” met in Beijing to dutifully endorse the ruling Communist Party’s (CCP) vision for the future. Nearly 3,000 delegates surrounded by the red and gold trappings of the People’s Republic and energized by the musical choreography of military bands, settled into the rubber-stamp legislative session.
Contrary to recent sessions which have dutifully clapped, voted and cheered on meticulous cue for General Secretary Xi Jinping, this year’s sessions in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, raised the stakes beyond bloated military budgets, dizzying economic statistics, and cheerful endorsement of the newest Five Year Plan.
Focus this session was more on high tech solutions than simple GDP economic growth.
Pledging to increase research and development (R&D) to 7 percent annually for the state run and private sectors, the technology component slightly outpaced military spending due to rise by 6.8 percent. Beijing has clearly focused on technology as to edge out competitors such as the United States, and moreover act as an insurance policy to counter past practices of the Trump Administration which restricted the flow of sensitive American technology to China.
Beijing’s rulers feel that even with a new administration in Washington, China cannot be assured that the technological flow from the USA and Western countries will not be curtailed, thus the move for wider technological self-sufficiency.
China pledges to boost R&D spending to advance “frontier technologies” such as Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, and semiconductors. China faces a shortfall in semiconductor technology and production and is trying to narrow the gap. Ironically Mainland China’s political rival Taiwan, is a global leader in semiconductor technology and production.
Then there’s the post pandemic economic revival. Following the Wuhan virus, China’s economy went into free fall as did much of the world. Now Premier Li Keqiang has set a goal for 6 percent economic growth this year; in 2020 growth was an anemic 2.3 percent, the lowest growth in forty years, but nonetheless China claims to be the only global economy registering growth. Still the extent of social and economic coverup from the Covid-19 virus inside China are not fully transparent.
Most controversially, in Hong Kong the National People's Congress unanimously supported a new plan which gives China additional powers in the “Special Autonomous Region” through a series of election changes favoring pro-Beijing candidates. The electoral plan called “Patriots Governing Hong Kong,” reflects the CCP’s best Orwellian tradition by demanding changes needed to restore stability and neutralize “anti-China” forces.
The phrase “patriots governing Hong Kong” was coined by Deng Xiaoping, China’s reformist leader back in 1984. “Patriots,” Deng stated, must accept Hong Kong is part of China and support its future prosperity, but they need not be party loyalists. “Those who meet these requirements are patriots whether they believe in capitalism or feudalism…We don’t demand that they be in favor of China’s socialist system; we only ask them to love the motherland and Hong Kong.” Deng’s once pragmatic policy is being pushed aside by Chairman Xi Jinping’s strengthened authoritarianism.
But there’s a malevolent change in the political winds now blowing into Hong Kong’s magnificent harbor. “When we talk about patriotism, we are not talking about the abstraction of loving a cultural or historical China, but rather loving the currently existing People’s Republic of China under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party,” stated Song Ru’an, the Deputy Commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong.
“Patriots should respect the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
The move further erodes the original Anglo/Chinese agreement which guaranteed Hong Kong’s free political and economic system for a period of fifty years following the 1997 handover from Britain to China.
Not twenty-five years into the diplomatic deal, the Beijing communists have dramatically cracked down on Hong Kong’s cherished political, judicial and media freedoms. The territory’s vaunted “One Country, Two Systems,” model is being shoved aside by Beijing’s diktat.
“This is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
He added, “Beijing’s decision to impose radical changes to restrict participation in Hong Kong’s electoral system constitutes a further clear breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
In the meantime, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is under assault; lawmakers, politicians and activists have been arrested while the world looks on. Hong Kong becomes the barometer for Beijing’s true intent.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).
Free Press International