by Edwin A. Sumcad –
Retired UN Diplomat –
Powder keg of global nuclear war can be seen through this mind’s eye:
Hong Kong protests now getting more and more global attention as the people of the world worry and fearsome that anytime something catastrophic might occur. The situation is not getting any better as I sat down and write this piece describing not only the latest disturbing developments in the former British colony, but the dangerous Hong Kong question itself that could trigger a global conflict and possibly nuclear war – my take.
As of now, let us consider the movement of troops and a long line of military vehicles of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from mainland China crossing the Huanggang Port, August 29, 2019 on the way to confront Hong Kong’s thousands if not millions of protesters that had started to turn violent.
China’s excuse for this troop movement: “Routine troop rotation”, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Rubbish as usual. Beijing is sending troops to Hong Kong to quell the massive anti-government demonstrations, a.k.a. “rebellion”.
How determined is this military mission to crush the Hong Kong protest otherwise viewed in Beijing as mob demonstrations orchestrated by political “rebels”?
I direct your attention to the pep talk delivered by the Chinese PLA Major during the departure of the dispatched army: “This time the task (force) has a glorious mission. The responsibility is great. The job is difficult . . . The time for a true test has arrived!”
The troops have no doubt been trained to suppress riots, and the time has come to test its fortitude, forbearance and tenacity right in Hong Kong’s frontline.
The objective was to enforce laws and maintain peace and order – a noble mission, indeed. Ren Guoqiang, spokesman of the Chinese Defense Ministry told Beijing reporters that “demonstrators must abide by Hong Kong’s laws.” That is the bottom line of Beijing’s military intervention, nothing else.
Let us look at this dangerous development through a diplomat’s mind’s eye: Hardly anybody knows that the Hong Kong Question (HKQ) relates more to Formosa, now Taiwan or Republic of China (ROC), a hanging question which unresolved could be the powder keg of global nuclear war or even WWIII. I was in the UN when the wherewithal and drudgery of this question was debated for decades by UN diplomats. The Formosa question – also in the United Nations known as the “ROC question” — is up to now one of the most debated dangerous issues the UN was unable to resolve for years; what the UN had achieved so far was nothing more than a fluctuant or jittery détente (French word pronounced dertont with a silent “r” ). Détente describes “the easing of strained relations” originally used during the Cold War between Russia and the Free World.
Hong Kong is becoming more like ROC, actually China’s bogeyman under the bed. The way China handles this untamed monster hiding under the bed gives Goosebumps to the world walking the tightrope of peace hanging over the abyss of nuclear war.
Have a passing glance at the background pertaining to Taiwan, preferably called ROC – the Republic of China. When the Communist Revolution won their battles all over China, the defeated Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek moved to Formosa (Taiwan). Chiang claimed he was the legitimate head of mainland China. His government in Taiwan declared the Republic of China representing mainland China in the United Nations.
But under Communist Chairman Mao Zedong, also called Mao Tse-Tung and the head of his government Premiere Chou Elai, China was renamed the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It took about two decades for PRC to fight for its rightful place in the UN to replace ROC.
Finally on Oct. 25, 1971 – and I quote the historical record, “the United Nations General Assembly voted to admit the People’s Republic of China (mainland China) and to expel the Republic of China (Taiwan). The Communist PRC therefore assumed ROC’s place in the UN General Assembly as well as its role as one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.”
This historic transformation of China occurred four years before I was assigned to the U.N., and the resulting confrontation between U.S. and China continued up to 1975 when I assumed my post in UN, and to this day the U.S.-China Cold War is still raging on. The ROC-PRC debate filtered into the Plenary Sessions of the UN-ESCAP in later years. In this issue like EEC, RP (Republic of the Philippines) was in line with the U.S. deliberation in the UN-forum while the U.S.-China Cold War was fought in the UN.
The most consistent supporter of ROC is the United States under the U.S. global declaration of Human Rights that support the peoples of the world struggling for freedom and independence and those striving to self-govern themselves. Thus, it was actually not about ROC but about the struggle of the Taiwanese people to be free, and to declare their own independence from China that the U.S. was involved in the Taiwan-China imbroglio.
This even started long time ago when the Qing dynasty annexed the island in 1683 and ceded to Japan in 1875. When Japan was defeated in WWII, ROC “took control” of Taiwan. Mainland China was lost to Mao and his cadres of revolutionaries and since 1949 PRC declared Taiwan a province of China.
Historically the struggle of Taiwanese people to free themselves from Chinese rule has been long and hard. To mainland China the communist revolution is not over until PRC is in control of Taiwan and actually govern the island. Since 1949 China would have invaded Taiwan for this purpose had the U.S. Naval Armada more popularly known as the powerful nuclear-armed U.S. 7th Naval Fleet, part of the formidable U.S. Pacific Naval Fleet guarding the Strait of Formosa had not intervened.
But notwithstanding this awesome battle-tested U.S. naval force placing itself between Taiwan and China, which kept the Chinese government in-check, mainland China has reportedly positioned more than 360 nuclear-armed missiles facing the island determined to carry on its communist revolution to Formosa, to defeat ROC and take over the government of the island. Threats and counter-threats of war between the U.S. and China went on since 1949.
I recall that the rationale for me to align myself with the prevailing view of Diplomats in the U.N. as to why the U.S. is risking a nuclear war with China over Taiwan is simply this: U.S. involvement was not just based on the declaration of principles of freedom and independence for all nations to be able to self-govern themselves, but also for reason of economic and commercial navigation in the high seas. The Strait of Formosa should not be under China’s control once it takes over Taiwan, and free shipping passage should be secured and open to international navigation in this critical part of South China Sea.
The impasse since then up to now was structured on the following conditionalities: For as long as Taiwan does not pursue its declaration of independence from China, Beijing would not declare war on U.S. and would refrain from invading Taiwan. That’s because to mainland China the declaration of independence by Taiwan would be tantamount to a declaration of war against China.
U.S. condition for the defense of Taiwan was for ROC to carefully and diligently observe this mainland China’s informally declared accord for co-existence through a peaceful rather than hostile or warlike dértont.
In return, U.S. will continue to recognize China (PRC) in the U.N. although it was maintaining official and commercial relation with ROC as a self-functioning political, economic and government entity. U.S. was operating its diplomatic post and consular services through AIT (American Institute in Taiwan), a private and non-profit organization.
At the same time, this dertont situation opened an opportunity for U.S. to fortify Taiwan for its defense against China’s declared ambition to take-over the island. Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 passed by U.S. Congress opened a massive sales of armaments to ROC, and also the legalized opportunity to retrain and modernize its army and equipped its armed forces with advance technology on modern warfare.
This was interpreted to mean that the Chinese Revolution, also known as the Maoist Peasant Revolution and its new socialist-communist ideology, won over the whole of mainland China but lost its regional province of Formosa to local Taiwanese who like the residents now of Hong Kong had locked themselves up in the struggle for freedom and independence to self-govern themselves. It also means that historically, China lost Taiwan to ROC and its protector, the United States.
In effect, the Hong Kong question runs exactly parallel to the Formosa question which gives migraine to the Chinese leadership in mainland China. In the UK-PRC Joint Communique during the turnover of Hong Kong by the British to China on July 1, 1997, the two countries forged an accord documenting the following:
The current HK protest began in 2014. Under the dictate of mainland China, HKSAR had introduced socialist-communist reforms that was stifling of freedom of supposedly autonomous Hong Kong. Among those was the election of the HKSAR Chief Administrator Carrie Lam. She was elected by 1,200 delegates chosen to see to it that China’s choice of Chief Executive to govern HK is assured. Protesters wanted this changed to free election required not in a communist but democratic society of which HK was guaranteed in the 1997 turnover accord. There was an obvious infraction of this agreement on the part of the Chinese signatories that angered the residents of Hong Kong.
For example, the Extradition Bill passed by HKSAR under the auspices of the ruling party in mainland China that mass demonstrations were protesting against was just one of them. At the same time, it became an excuse to cover up the ultimate objective of protests – to separate HK from Chinese rule orchestrated in Beijing. Under this law, lawbreakers in Hong Kong should be sent (extradited) to Beijing for trial. This demonstrates China’s control of Hong Kong.
Such kind of Chinese interference in HK’s autonomous local affairs and governance by introducing the communist way of governance in the former British colony, prompted the British Foreign Office to announce that Chinese officials now treat the Joint Declaration (turnover) as “void”. When this U.K. declaration came about, the Umbrella Protest was launched in Hong Kong. In the massive protest, umbrellas were used to protect demonstrators from tear gas lodged by police.
But the undercurrent of the cover up — the true and long-term goal behind the massive demonstrations for an independent Hong Kong — has a backlash in Beijing. Anti-U.S. rhetoric in Beijing accused the United States of fomenting dissent and instigating this massive HK protest to paralyze the whole country. However, the fact that some HK demonstrators were carrying American flags as they marched down the streets did not mean that the United States was instigating or organizing those protests.
Every freedom loving people anywhere in the world carry the Stars and Stripes in the streets for their protest because the United States symbolizes their march for freedom. When President Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency in 2016, he was wary of President Tsai Ing-wen’s congratulatory message and his short talks with this Taiwan’s Lady President because mainland China might interpret it to mean that the United States is instigating a revolt in Taiwan against China in violation of the historical accord forged under the auspices of the United Nations.
Here is my outlined prognosis as to what will happen next in Hong Kong: The “one country, two systems” principle written in the British turn-over document of Hong Kong to mainland China will not work as continued massive protests indicate, until this ends up into something tragic, which I sincerely hope it will not, but rather hope to end into something reformative or structural, for the future of Hong Kong.
This artificial two systems under one country that from the very beginning was bound to fail, is not really hard to analyze: The 7.4 million Chinese and different nationalities and their forebears living in Hong Kong today since its founding on August 29, 1842, are totally different from the Chinese living in mainland China. Their beliefs and aspirations in life are founded on democratic principles based on a way of life prevailing in free countries diametrically opposed to how the people in communist China live their way of life based on communist ideology dictated by authoritarian ideologues running the system of government that commands absolute obedience from the entire population. It commands absolute obedience because non-conformists described as “revisionists” known to have been exercising their freedom of expression, are considered “rebels” and systematically put away in prison if not physically eliminated.
In HK’s Basic Law, “Chinese military intervention (in Hong Kong) can only come at the request of the Hong Kong government, and for the ‘maintenance of public order and in disaster relief’ “.
Aside from Chinese troops crossing the border, there are about 5,000 People’s Army based in HK that are reportedly not actively participating to stop violent protests and riots. Summoning them to assist local police would be the second phase of Chinese intervention. HKSAR passing un-Democratic laws at the behest of Beijing is the first phase of intervention. The third phase of intervention are Chinese troops crossing the border to level down protests to the ground so to speak, using unstoppable force like what happened in Tiananmen Square in the Spring of 1989.
I know and we all know that Beijing bureaucrats will face contempt and condemnation in the international community once they use force in quelling the growing number of HK protests, especially when casualties are considered and counted. Hence that “troop rotation” hogwash of an excuse or cover up that slams the credulity of the world is of historic proportion.
To those who buy Chinese sales talk (troop rotation cover-up) of military intervention, here is my caveat emptor: Public opinion will definitely be against China if Beijing use military troops in Hong Kong to silence protests. But at the same time China is known to be ruthless in dealing with public protests. The communist bureaucrats hate any perception that their decision in suppressing dissent or anti-government protest is based on public opinion. The more public opinion is against, the more that they become implacable and brutal in pursuing their barbaric decision to commit murder to prove that the kind of mindset they adhere to within their ideological sphere of beliefs and concerns, is impeccable and non-negotiable.
Which therefore leads to this critical question: Did Administrator Lam call for the third phase of Chinese intervention? This question cannot be openly answered.
Determinant justifications to consider if she did or she did not, and what will happen to Hong Kong, are: A – if protests are so massive that local police cannot cope up with their task of dispersing them and restore calm, or peace and order, yes Lam would call for Chinese military intervention.
B – And what would happen to Hong Kong would largely depend on the protesters themselves. If they resort to violence hurting people and destroying properties, they are accountable for their crime thereby justifying the Chinese Army to brand them as “terrorists”. Fighting terrorism is universal and that would embolden the dogs of war to kill believing that the whole world is behind them.
C – if U.S. will intervene with force the moment China intervenes using force. It will then be a different ballgame deserving of another analytical perspective that approximates the size of the U.S.-NOKOR nuclear-missile conflict or even dwarfs the latter in proportionate comparison.
It is these later considerations that will determine the future of HK’s quest for liberty and freedom and movement towards independence.
But other than these, there are more to consider: Both the government and protesters are dug-in in their respective positions determined not to give in to each other’s demands, namely: The government, stop protest and violence – protesters, reform first are demanded.
This rises to the highest level of concern when the Chinese government drew a red line warning the United States and Europe not to cross this line. China declared: What’s happening in Hong Kong is purely Chinese internal affairs which no nation has any right to intervene. In plain language, any intervention, to the hardliners, means a declaration of war against China.
What is more dangerous about this drawn red line: U.S. and EEC supports of the Hong Kong protests are not known, i.e., what assistance and support, overt or covert, are being funneled into the protests are yet to be determined by hard evidence which may be too late before an apocalyptic open armed conflict between China and the free world breaks out which may not only be limited to conventional warfare but also open global nuclear confrontation worse than the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
From C we go to D – other consideration, and that is for the opposite factions to come to their senses and strike a compromise to save Hong Kong, known to be the hub of financial traffic in Southeast Asia that produces tremendous wealth for Hong Kong, China and foreign investors . . . thus sparing the colony from imploding internally, which means giving way to the yearnings and aspirations of the people of Hong Kong to become an independent and self-governing nation.
The only problem here is that China had already lost Taiwan to U.S.-backed ROC in the Taiwanese’ quest for freedom that had long challenged China. I don’t think China can afford to let Hong Kong slipped from its holds and like Taiwan, also lose the colony to freedom-seekers who want a chunk of China to become a separate and independent nation.
In my opinion, China will be resolute and will remain as hard as the Rock (attributed to the Rock of Gibraltar) in its determination to hold Hong Kong on its tighter grip come what may, in high and low waters.
Generally speaking, the immediate future of Hong Kong and the question whether or not it can be saved from imploding within due to this internal convulsion that threatens this prosperous former British colony to be wiped out from the map, depends on the happening of those events I just outlined.
E – lastly, is what I categorized as providential intervention where the hands of God are miraculously showing that all emotional wounds are healing, and things are returning back to normal, to order, to peace and quiet for the good of the people of Hong Kong.
And for that, we pray. #
© Copyright Edwin A. Sumcad. Access NWS August 29, 2019.
**Note: The author Edwin A. Sumcad is a retired UN Diplomat, formerly Deputy Permanent Representative to UN-ESCAP – United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific.