The uncomfortable truth is that business elites, European bureaucrats, and many European politicians are out of touch with the public’s sentiment on Hong Kong. Few European leaders pretend to even care about basic human rights in Hong Kong, and it will be difficult to get unanimity on this issue across Europe due to Beijing’s economic statecraft. Both European Council President Charles Michel and Borrell have reaffirmed the EU’s values, and Michel insisted on the bloc’s attachment to “the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy” but this is not enough.

Europe can and should respond more forcefully than it has so far regarding Hong Kong

  1. Hong Kong’s international status should be a case for renewed EU-UK cooperation. After all, the region is home to some 80,000 Europeans. The EU should use all its powers to call for the respect of the Basic Law, which serves as Hong Kong’s constitution until 2047.
  2. The EU should support the UK and a contact group between concerned global actors could be set up to try to form joint policies and steps. It is time for the EU and UK to push for the preservation of Hong Kong.
  3. The EU should certainly support Hong Kong’s continued legal autonomy in its public statements. It is important to let supporters of democracy in Hong Kong know that Europe has not forgotten them.
  4. The EU must consider how to change Beijing’s calculus. The message privately at first, but publicly later, if necessary should be that Hong Kong’s attractiveness to investors depends on the rule of law and not the rule of the party remaining supreme there. If that changes, businesses will draw their own conclusions, without any need for formal sanctions.
  5. The EU should also do some contingency planning on how it could offer protection to threatened pro-democracy activists. As Hong Kong remains a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, European governments should monitor closely if the new national security legislation infringes on the civil liberties and the right to fair trial guaranteed by the treaty and should be ready to grant asylum to applicants from Hong Kong if it does.
  6. Europe should strengthen ties with Taiwan, another democracy under threat from Beijing.
  7. Europe needs to make clear that the special treatment of Hong Kong is contingent on the continued trust in the principle of “one country, two systems.” And that it is Europe’s prerogative to assess if it still wants to extend that trust.
  8. The European Union, its member states, and especially the UK should emphasize that China’s adherence to its international obligations will be the benchmark to assess its reliability as an international actor and trade partner.

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