Can the Five Eyes Alliance Save Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement?

The Five Eyes intelligence sharing group – which is comprised of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States – has said that China’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong appears to be part of a campaign to silence opponents.

The alliance has called on the Chinese Government to reverse course.

The comments are in response to Hong Kong’s decision to expel four opposition members from its legislature last week after Beijing provided city authorities with new powers to curb dissent. The move triggered mass resignations by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition politicians.

It also raised concerns about the degree of the former British colony’s autonomy, promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when the UK ended its colonial rule and handed the island back to Beijing in 1997.

China Fears Five Eyes’ Interference in Hong Kong

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijan has expressed strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to repeated external interference in China’s internal affairs, warning the Five Eyes alliance not to harm China’s sovereignty and security.

However the Hong Kong protests are an opportunity for the Five Eyes group to defend the former British colony’s sovereignty from Chinese interference. The coronavirus has escalated the rivalry between the West and Beijing, and many Western nations are taking the threat that China poses far more seriously than they have ever done before.

Five Eyes Should be much More Than Just an Intelligence Alliance

Peter Martin, Kitty Donaldson and Kait Bolongaro of the Japan Times interviewed experts who told them that “intelligence around the world will always have a Chinese angle, will always look for Chinese threats just as we once saw events in Angola through the prism of the Soviet Union.”

The problem with Five Eyes is that it has no formal staff or official headquarters. Many people familiar with the intelligence sharing group claim that it is becoming more of a go-to forum for an array of emerging issues, of which Hong Kong is a typical example.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab signaled the changing role for the alliance in June when he appealed to Britain’s intelligence partners for “burden sharing” if Hong Kong residents fled the island in response to China’s sweeping national security law earlier this year.

The alliance’s traditional role is being transformed too. One current Five Eyes intelligence official told the Japan Times that information-sharing and joint work between the partners is the strongest it has ever been on many topics. Therefore, the group will continue to play a role in monitoring the situation in Hong Kong in the near future, even if the Chinese Government failed to provide an adequate response to their request to end the silencing of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters.

It’s Time for Five Eyes to Modernize and Adapt

In order to provide the alliance with more clout in pressuring China to restore Hong Kong’s autonomy, there is no reason why Five Eyes should not be expanded, as I wrote in July. Many British Conservative MPs originally supported such a move at the time as they felt like the group could be enlarged to include Japan, which means it could be broadened into a strategic economic relationship that pools key reserves such as critical minerals and medical supplies.

Yet Japan would also be provided with the advantages of Five Eyes’ signals intelligence, defense intelligence, human intelligence and geospatial intelligence if they joined the alliance, as Beijing may pose a threat to Tokyo’s autonomy in the future.

With India also feeling threatened by Chinese hegemony, there is no reason why they cannot join Five Eyes as well. Either way, the current purpose of the alliance needs to change if they are serious about preventing China from expanding into Hong Kong and other territories.

Many Western nations now need to be more ambitious about Five Eyes’ purpose. It could be so much more than an intelligence sharing group, but until it moves beyond its current purpose, there is almost absolutely nothing they can do about Hong Kong in the meantime other than monitor the deteriorating situation there.