With the UK opening its doors to three million Hong Kong residents and China threatening serious retaliation for what it sees as an intrusion into its domestic affairs, the Hong Kong crisis is becoming a real-time test of diplomacy in a pandemic-distracted world.
So what does this drama tell us about China’s emerging place in the new world order? And what light does it throw on the very particular problems posed, post-Brexit, for the British government’s efforts to roll out a new and optimistic foreign policy under the banner of “Global Britain”?
First off, was this crisis inevitable? Things might have been so very different. For well over two decades, most policy-makers in the West hoped that China’s rise would unfold in a very specific way.
China, it was said, would become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community. In other words, it would abide by international agreements and norms, because, as part of the system, it benefited from them as much as anyone else.
Maybe in that kind of world, the deal entered into between the British and Chinese governments over Hong Kong’s future would have survived.
But things did not turn out like that. China’s rise was rapid and single-minded. It became a military superpower, at least in its own region, one that close to home, even the mighty United States would struggle to confront.