Summary of the discussion, 4th July 2019
In the news was the growing conflict between the people of Hong Kong (or, at least, many of them) and the Beijing government, in its early stages at the beginning of July. Beijing, led by its President Xi Jinping, appears to be attempting to undermine what many in Hong Kong took to be the agreement made between the UK and China when Hong Kong was handed back in 1997, that for 50 years it would be governed under a “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement that guaranteed certain freedoms in Hong Kong that do not exist on the Chinese mainland..
It would be far too simple to characterise this as a conflict between Western Democratic “Christian” freedom and Communist “Atheistic” Dictatorship as some may wish to do. Part of what needs to be remembered is the history: especially the Opium Wars of the 19th century (1839 to 42 and 1856 to 60), in which the British Empire forced China to accept imports of opium in exchange for tea (to avoid the UK having to pay cash for the tea and thus depleting its reserves). The 1842 Treaty of Nanking forced China to cede Hong Kong to Britain “in perpetuity”, together with five “Treaty Ports” for international trade. Britain also obtained a 99-year lease on the “New Territories” (including Kowloon) in 1898, but saw no way to retain the whole colony when that lease expired,
There is also a global debate about the relative merits of an economy operating without government interference (except for the legal protection of capital, private property and competition), which therefore accepts the inevitable inequalities involved (Hong Kong, for example?), and one where governments believe they must control the economy to ensure that it benefits all citizens (the Chinese mainland?). There have been questions about whether the Beijing government will be able to maintain its controls in the face of social media used by young people, but so far it appears to have been successful in this.
Also in the news was the government of Pakistan’s decision for a phased restoration of over 400 Temples to the Hindu community (who form less than 2 percent of the total population, though over 7 percent in Sindh province). Despite the fact that Blasphemy laws are still in place in Pakistan (technically protecting any recognised religion), this is some recognition of the importance of diversity within a community and respect for minority groups. In the UK issues about diversity need to be faced, for example, in questions about sex education in schools, especially the inclusion of teaching about gay rights, transsexuality etc.