The Hong Kong's Political Game: Conquering the Independence

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In 1997, Britain handed over Hong Kong to China, under the agreement that it would still remain semi-autonomous. The agreement allowed for some democratic freedoms to be maintained such as the right to vote, freedom of speech and of the press. However, these allowances opposes China’s more socialistic views. For years China has unsuccessfully tried to gain more power over Hong Kong by infringing on the terms of this agreement. This included their attempt to ban people in Hong Kong from speaking out against the Chinese Republic in 2003 and their interference in the Hong Kong elections in 2014. Today the people in Hong Kong are protesting yet another threat to their independence, an extradition bill that will give China more authority over Hong Kong. In this essay I would like to provide evidence to show China as a modern example of how Machiavelli advises a sovereign or ‘prince’ to govern a newly annexed city, specifically a republic. I will also attempt to explain China’s motivation for claiming sovereign legitimacy in Hong Kong by referring to arguments made in the Melian Dialogue.

In Machiavelli’s book The Prince, he addresses how newly conquered cities should be governed. In Chapter 5 he counsels on cities that are accustomed to their own laws and freedoms. “In republics there is more vitality, greater hatred, and a greater desire for vengeance in such circumstances; republics will never permit the memory of their former liberty to rest, so the safest way is to destroy them or to reside there.” I think that this would be an accurate description of what is happening in Hong Kong right now. Hong Kong is used to its autonomy and the people are fighting with great spirit to uphold their rights. Machiavelli proposes two solutions to successfully take over a republic, reside there and gather an influential and trustworthy ‘oligarchy’ to support you or, destroy the city.

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“At present, the pro-establishment camp occupies 43 seats in the council, while the pan-democrats hold 24 seats.” The pro-establishment (AKA pro-China) camp holds the majority of the electoral seats in the Hong Kong Legislative Council. All laws passed by Hong Kong’s Legislative Council must be approved by the Chinese government. From this information it seems that China is doing it’s best to install its own oligarchy of loyal supporters in Hong Kong. This would ensure that all of Hong Kong's government decisions are in the best interest of China. Why does China not destroy and seize Hong Kong? Machiavelli would advise China to take military action and ruin anyone who opposed them. However because of the agreement between the Brittish and Chinese, if China took military action, the other powerful countries in the world support Hong Kong and may join forces to fight against them creating an “international backlash.”

The fact that people who have tasted liberty are willing to take great risks fighting for it, must mean that liberty is what is best for social welfare. Millions of people in Hong Kong feel that socialism and the kind of authoritarianism Machiavelli refers to, is an unwelcome form of oppression, they express open hostility towards authorities who are allowing the extradition bill to pass. Even Machiavelli senses this tension and that is why he proposes the destruction of such a city. Considering that The People's Republic of China is one of the few socialist states that still remain, I cannot help but wonder, if the Chinese people were to experience liberalism, would they aswell fight so eagerly to keep it?

Hong Kong is about 0.01% the size of China and only makes up about 2.7% of China’s GDP. Therefore it can be said that China does not have a significant economic or territorial incentive to occupy Hong Kong. This leads me to believe that just like the Athenians in the Melian Dialogue, China’s motivation lies in protecting their own dignity and appearance of supremacy. “Of the gods we believe, and of men we know, that by a necessary law of their nature they rule wherever they can.” Thucydides maintains that it is natural for any entity to seize power over the weak. It is the way of the world, even of the universe. Anything that has the opportunity to overpower another being, will do so. He suggests that if an entity does not take advantage of such an opportunity, it must mean that they are the weaker party. Thus the strong and able must continue to conquer in order to preserve their status. China has a very recent history of imperialism and this would explain why, like the Athenians, they strive to advance their empire. Like the Melians, the people of Hong Kong are perhaps being idealistic in their approach to protest against the Chinese. They are the weaker party, perhaps if activists surrender to the Chinese authorities, they may suffer less when inevitably China gains full power over them after the expiration of the agreement.

Although Machiavelli and Thucideds both seem to encourage China’s encroachments on Hong Kong, I think that this is an old fashioned and outdated view. The concept of a ‘prince’ acting in self interest has long since become inapt. The world is no more a playground where the powerful challenge each other to duals. A modern government is not formed to assist the ambitions of its leaders, but to serve the best interests of the individuals of the public it represents. It is an establishment often full of flaws and corruption, to deny and to try and hide this as in the case of China’s government, might just be its biggest mistake. There must be no sense of supremacy which the establishment must deceive its people in order to uphold.

China embodies the Machiavellian example of a ‘prince’ who conquers a republic almost perfectly. Although destroying the city is not an option due to political circumstances, they are gradually trying to gain power in Hong Kong by appointing their supporters as influential leaders in the Hong Kong Legislative Council. Maintaining their liberty would be the best outcome for the social welfare of Hong Kong. China’s main incentive for overpowering Hong Kong seems to be maintaining their international and national reputations, but this is not a reasonable justification for a government anymore. The protestors in Hong Kong are battling against the odds and still have almost irrational hope. I admire the courage of the Hong Kong protesters who are refusing to give up their rights in the face of potential violent ruthlessness.

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