The popular protests that have been going on for months in Hong Kong are reaching increasingly higher levels of intensity these days, creating a potentially explosive situation between Beijing and the former British colony. Thanks to social media we can all witness the escalation of violence on the streets of Hong Kong live – with daily launches of tear gas and riot-bullets at eye level and numerous physical clashes between the police and protesters, and aggressions by alleged members of the Chinese triads against the protesters -, as well as clear threats and propaganda addressed also directly to the West by the Chinese government with its military exercises on the border with Hong Kong.
And while the United States and even the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have taken a very clear stance in support of the rights of the protesters, in the European Union we mostly find a deafening institutional silence on the one hand and the profound apologies of our multinational companies towards Beijing.
As rightly claimed by the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, at stake is not only the “one country, two systems” between the Hong Kong population and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, but also the moral authority of the West and with it the universally sanctioned principles – and not their redefined version “with Chinese characteristics” – of the rule of law and human rights. Democratic countries must draw strength from the protesters in Hong Kong – as from those in Moscow, Iran, and many other authoritarian countries – at a time when the worst regimes try to make us believe that the model of liberal democracy is a concept of the past, while in reality it are those same dictators that are fighting for their political survival against a popular will that continues to claim those fundamental values.
The European Union and its member states must take a clear and strong position vis-à-vis Beijing: we will not watch another Tiananmen in silence and we will not turn a blind eye in order to preserve some presumed commercial profit. The rule of law, human rights and democracy are universal heritage and as such they are the heritage of all humankind. They must be defended with conviction against anyone who tries to overthrow them.
To this end, a common European policy that reaffirms the absolute necessity of inserting the principle of “conditionality” and “reciprocity” in commercial relations – and not only – with the People’s Republic must urgently be defined, as a mechanism to contain and counter “dual use” threats as detected by American and European intelligence in strategic industrial, infrastructural and energy sectors, as well as in 5G, artificial intelligence, and IOT by – but not limited to – Chinese state companies or their equivalent such as Huawei.
Finally, Italy in particular should send an immediate and clear message to Beijing: in the case of a direct or indirect intervention in the streets of Hong Kong, the Memorandum of Understanding on the new Silk Road will be terminated without delay.
Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata
Ambassador, Member of the Honorary Presidency of the Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational Transparty, President of the Global Committee for the Rule of Law “Marco Pannella”
Representative to the United Nations for the Nonviolent Radical Party Transnational Transparty