How to understand the shortcomings of the West, without changing geopolitical priorities
The author ranks Ukraine as a post-colonial country: first, it was allegedly occupied by the Russian Empire, and then the USSR. At the same time, he compares the situation in the country with Hong Kong and India, which survived British colonial oppression. The article nevertheless notes that such a comparison is hardly appropriate, because Ukraine has never encountered racism or other classic colonial markers.
“President Trump, please free Hong Kong!” – with such calls, the protesters came to the consulate of the USA, Great Britain and the EU in Hong Kong during the meeting of the “Big Twenty” in Japanese Osaka on June 28-29. Most of them were dressed in white T-shirts with the inscription: “Save Hong Kong”, and on the posters there were calls to free Hong Kong from Chinese colonization.
The reason for the protests was the extradition law, first proposed by the Hong Kong government in February 2019. The local pro-Chinese government proposed such a bill after it became clear that it was not possible to convict a resident of Hong Kong for the murder of his partner committed by him in Taiwan, since there is no extradition law. It was expected that this bill would allow the extradition of persons from Hong Kong to third countries. However, despite positive aspirations, it was this bill that could strengthen Beijing’s power over the rights of Hong Kong residents. Using such a law, China could resort to the persecution of its opponents: human rights defenders, journalists and activists who are in that territory.
Dragon vs Lion
Since the transfer of Hong Kong by Great Britain to the jurisdiction of China (in 1997), the current protests, which, after the largest shares in early June, entered a new phase, are not the first to take place. In 2014, during the so-called umbrella revolution, tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets to protest China’s influence on local elections. The first rally of many thousands took place in July 2003, on the anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to the Middle Kingdom. Then the controversial law on national security became the cause of the protest.
Hong Kong has been under British rule for 156 years. In 1984, the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signed a joint declaration with China, which formulated the approach of “one state – two systems.” The agreement will be valid for 50 years. As part of this agreement, in 1997, Hong Kong reverted to China. However, the city should have maintained a high level of autonomy and democratic freedoms, which the inhabitants of the rest of China lack: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and right to vote. According to the contract, such a system is not eternal. In the year 2047, Hong Kong should become an integral part of China. However, Beijing, not waiting for the end of the treaty, each time tries to impose its conditions, generating protests.
The protests provoked by the extradition bill escalated by July 1, the anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China. Protesters occupied the Hong Kong Parliament Building, the Legislative Council. There, one of the protesters unfurled the British colonial flag. Within the framework of this situation, the largest information war of recent years has begun between Great Britain and China. British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt (who is also one of the candidates for the new prime minister’s chair) said on air on the BBC that China must respect Hong Kong’s high level of autonomy from Beijing: “The main thing that bothers people is the most expensive what they have is an independent judiciary, ”Hunt said, adding that the UK is following this situation very closely. Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaomin called such comments by the British Minister “interference” and warned that they could ruin China-UK relations.
Now these relations are at the lowest level after statements about the UK in 2015 as the “best partner for China in the West.” And this is a serious challenge for London, which needs new major trading partners after Brexit. It should be noted that economic cooperation between China and the UK in recent years has grown rapidly, moving Beijing from 15th to fourth place in the list of trade partners of London, which he occupied 20 years ago.
No uncomfortable questions
Whether Great Britain and other Western governments will go to a tougher confrontation with China is not known. So far, it seems not. Economic power limits debate, even when it comes to values. Thus, the neo-colonial policy of the Celestial Empire is already showing its fruits in Tibet, which has changed, according to observers, beyond recognition as a result of the policy of assimilation. The current situation with the Uyghur minority is another striking example of the current policy, which could attract more public attention, but this is only worrisome for concerned journalists. More than a million Uyghur people living compactly in the Xinjiang Uygur Territory on the western border of China are in special camps. Last year, China even attempted to legitimize such camps, allowing the regional government to use “education and training centers” to detain people “who are affected by extremism.” But Chinese authorities deny the existence of such camps, claiming that criminals are sent to “professional centers.” Those who have visited such “centers” say that they were forced to condemn Islam and acknowledge their allegiance to the Communist Party there. Other Muslim countries are in no hurry to defend their fellow believers. The reason was the need to have friends with such an economic giant as China.
Under such conditions, Hong Kong residents have to fight fiercely to defend their civil liberties. The hope of the West and Great Britain is painfully identical to the hope of the Ukrainians to receive Western support in their war against Russia. The significance of these hopes is indicated by the disappointment caused by the return of the Russian Federation to PACE. And also a feeling of helplessness, when in the statements of the Europeans on the commissioning of Nord Stream 2, which just talked about common values and efforts to support democratic freedoms, you hear: “This is not politics. This is a business. ” A terrible disappointment with Western policy also manifests itself when we recall the Budapest memorandum and its guarantees, which turned out to be unfounded. The document, which was the Ukrainian hope for territorial integrity, perfectly demonstrated: no one wants to get in touch with an aggressor seeking to restore the colonial past and threatening nuclear potential, even if common values and promises are at stake.
Actually, the situation with China is much more complicated. Russia is an economy of the past, which most likely takes advantage of the stupidity of the West than invents new and complicated chess moves, as British political analyst Mark Galeotti notes in his new book “We Need to Talk About Putin”. At the same time, China, together with its authoritarian power, is becoming the heart of consumer capitalism, offering attractive conditions for investors and completely ignoring basic human rights.
The British conservative weekly The Spectator, in a recent editorial, notes an important point: when Theresa May visited Beijing last year to mark the Golden Age of British-Chinese relations, China’s state media emphasized that European leaders visiting Beijing stopped discussing human rights issues. It is important to recall that it was at the same time in the west of the capital of China that almost a million Uighurs were illegally detained in camps, where they forced them to love the beautiful Communist Party of China.
Authors of the article in The Spectator believe that the complex compromise between human rights and economic interests has every chance of becoming a ghost. The reason is the serious protests in Hong Kong and the trade war that the United States launched during the presidency of Donald Trump, references to Beijing’s unfair economic game support American politicians of different ideological spectrum.
However, the main reason for the trade war between America and China is the economic and political interest of the United States, and not human rights, although US pressure can indirectly affect this problem. Guided by their own lofty goals and moral aspirations, protesters from post-colonial countries it is very easy not to notice that there are still political and economic interests next to their values. And they, despite loud statements, are gaining ever greater priorities in the 21st century.
Postcolonial past as an experience
In 2015, an Indian politician and diplomat, former UN Under-Secretary-General Shashi Tharur, with his speech at the Oxford Debate Club “Britain owes India reparation,” created a great stir on the topic of British colonialism, both at home and in the UK. This was an unexpected and controversial topic, even though scholars and politicians had already informed about the brutality that accompanied British colonial rule in India. Indeed, at that time both countries became equal partners in various world organizations, such as the Big Twenty, and India’s GDP was only two points behind the level of Great Britain’s GDP.
However, Tarur, who then devoted an entire book to this issue, entitled Inglorious Empire, spoke about the financial aspect of colonialism, noting that these reparations should be a testament to Britain’s moral duty to India. He meant the British, who are considered unconditional idols and heroes of the Western world, such as Winston Churchill, and their crimes. In particular, we are talking about the role of Churchill, guilty of the death of 4 million Bengalis during the famine of 1943. Tarur raises another topic in detail in the book, telling about the Amritsar massacre and the fact that in India condemnation of these events from Queen Elizabeth was not voiced during a visit to this place in 1997.
Summarizing his speech, Tarur noted that India itself does not require money and that these reparations can only be “a symbolic pound for each year for two centuries (that’s how much British colonization of India lasted – approx. Prev.) As a sign of apology”. The speech of Shashi Tarur concerning moral duty draws attention not only to colonialism, but also to the problems faced by the countries that survived it, and to the experience, for example, in India, which Tarur speaks about.
Today, Ukraine often recalls our postcolonial past. In recent years, one can hear more and more often about the postcolonial trauma of Ukrainians and, finally, about our postcoloniality in general. However, when discussing this topic, few people think about the experience of those countries that became free from imperial influence before us, whose practice of postcolonialism has long been studied in detail. Some people find this inappropriate because we did not touch racism or other classic colonial markers. Although one can argue with this position, if we talk about Russification as a kind of instrument of colonization. Some are constrained by the fact that postcolonial criticism in both the West and the East is part of the discussion of leftist forces.
Among political scientists, as early as the beginning of the 2000s, there is a discussion about whether the post-Soviet society can be considered postcolonial. Namely, then an article appeared by the American researcher David Chioni Moore, in which he gave several examples explaining the reluctance of representatives of the post-Soviet space to use the experience of post-colonial countries. One of them is that we, people from the post-Soviet region, are often embarrassed to look at ourselves through the prism of postcolonialism. Because it seems to us that this will indicate a backwardness or belonging to the third world. However, the experience of postcolonial Filipinos or Indians could be useful for us to understand our own problems. This is an explanation of why the government, which discredits itself by cooperating with the previous regime, works better in the role of the opposition, and not in the government, which has a chance to eradicate corruption and its origins. The questions of moral duty and burden that he placed on our postcolonial existence (as Shashi Tarur notes in his speech) of the Soviet and Russian colonialists could be another argument in favor of bringing not only Western but also Eastern partners the root of our internal problems. At the same time, postcolonial argumentation is not a sad song of the oppressed, but an experience that will help to understand yourself.
A look through the prism of the post-colonial experience of Asian countries will allow us to look at the imperfection of the West, which we equal in our own values and aspirations. During the revolution of dignity, Ukrainians, like protesters in Hong Kong, sought to preserve the values that the West represents: freedom of speech, right to protest, freedom of choice, democracy. It was necessary not to lose it, but to increase it in order to defend itself against the neocolonial aggressor. Georgians during the recent protests, like Ukrainians in 2013, brought EU flags with them to rallies. And our enemy is the same as our common colonial past. The unconditional source of our values is the West. This is the direction in which the active majority in Ukraine is striving to move. However, the knowledge about the post-colonial processes acquired by the countries that we, according to our usual Western estimates, still call the third world (although, for example, India has every chance of overtaking the UK this year in terms of GDP, and most of those countries are becoming more powerful economically), give a slightly different focus to understanding their own processes and those that occur in the West. At the same time, having dealt with the colonial demons of the past, modernity becomes clearer. In particular, why Europe, of which we strive to become a part, has not been such for a long time and has its own problems that it wants to solve.
Now more and more often in discussions about the future they talk about artificial intelligence, new technologies, cryptocurrencies. These challenges of the future often crowd out the problems of our coexistence with aggressive countries like Russia or China. Europe of the 21st century is still a Europe of interests, which holds back the economic giant, such as China, and turns a blind eye to Moscow’s aggression, while it does not concern its own interests of the oldest Europe. And no matter how sad this may sound, the versatile experience of old Europe and the post-communist countries will never make it possible to fully understand the countries of one camp by another, and especially Ukraine. Although striving for this understanding is always necessary.
It is important for Ukrainians to remember the experience of overcoming post-colonial problems by former western colonies and to make sense of their own. Indeed, besides the fact that we have similar problems, today we have to confront the neocolonial practices of one of the neighboring countries, which uses our postcolonial weakness and its totalitarian baggage. In addition, we must cooperate with the imperfect West.