What is happening in Hong Kong?

This is our 800th post here at Useful Stooges. It is a landmark for our site, and consequently we have decided to devote this post to an especially crucial ongoing development in the never-ending history of the human struggle for freedom.

The handover, 1997

Ever since the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong back to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the onetime colony’s spectacular success as an international financial hub and robust center of corporate activity has obscured the fact that it is, in fact, ultimately subject to the authority of the world’s most powerful and dangerous totalitarian regime.

Hong Kong’s history is rich in irony. Its acquisition by Britain in the early nineteenth century was, frankly, an imperialistic land grab. But by the mid twentieth century, it was, thanks to that land grab, a tiny outpost of democratic capitalism and individual liberty on the coast of the planet’s most populous Communist country. Its population was overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese, but they were ethnic Chinese who were glad to be living in a free and wealthy enclave under British rule rather than under Red China’s heavy tyrannical thumb.

Hong Kong

Yet the fact that people in Britain – and, by extension, Hong Kong – lived in freedom while people in China did not was hardly dispositive. As China’s power grew, it began to demand that Britain give up control of this wealthy jewel. Fearing that China might retake Hong Kong by force, the British government agreed in 1984 to return it in 1997 on the proviso that its people would be permitted to keep living in liberty until the year 2047. This was the famous “one country, two systems” agreement.

Hong Kong Olympic team, 2012

The result has been a often uneasy hybrid. On the one hand, Hong Kong’s legal system differs from China’s. It belongs to the WTO, issues its own passports, and sends its own team to the Olympics. There remains a tight customs border between Hong Kong and the rest of China, and Chinese citizens are not permitted to move to Hong Kong. On the other hand, the city is policed by the People’s Liberation Army – a fact that has been of crucial importance in recent weeks, when all of Hong Kong, it seems, has risen up in protest against the bullies of Beijing.

2019 protesters

It started with a proposed law that would permit the extradition of people from Hong Kong who are wanted for crimes on the mainland. Until now, rather remarkably, there has been no extradition agreement between China and Hong Kong – yet another indication of the degree to which Hong Kong has remained a separate entity. Such a law, of course, if applied aggressively, could spell an end to Hong Kong’s distinctive Western-style freedoms. Protests began in March of this year and grew in scale and violence over the course of the spring. Quite rapidly, the focus of the demonstrations broadened; they weren’t just about the bill but about Beijing’s authority generally. So it was that on the day after the bill was suspended on June 15, a massive protest took place; July 1, the 22nd anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China, occasioned another large-scale public display; August 5 saw a general strike and yet another huge demo.

Airport sit-in, 2019

At first, Beijing held back, not wanting to do anything that the world would compare to the Tienanmen Square massacre, which took place exactly thirty years ago, in 1989. But police gradually grew more aggressive, and yet another full-scale protest on August 18 took aim at police brutality. Meanwhile, from August 12 to 14, a sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport all but closed it down. On August 23, protesters formed a human chain 50 kilometers long that stretched across much of the metropolis. As of October, the people of Hong Kong were still coming out in force, with a number of violent protests occurring on the first of the month, which marked the 70th anniversary of the PRC’s founding.

Protesters jam the streets, 2019

Sensible people in the free world should recognize the extraordinary, months-long exhibition of love of liberty and hatred of tyranny by the people of Hong Kong as a reminder of their own good fortune, a reminder that free societies are the product of centuries of struggle and development, a reminder that freedom should never be taken for granted and sometimes needs to be fought for. The brave and inspiring actions by the people of Hong Kong should also shame the leaders of Silicon Valley tech empires who blithely adapt their products to conform to Chinese censorship laws. American politicians, retired politicians, and their family members who are willing to lobby for the tyrants of Beijing in exchange for impressive cash payoffs should also have trouble looking at themselves in the mirror. Indeed, it’s fair to say that most of us in the Western world, while snapping up Chinese imports at cheap prices, have given far too little thought to the factory workers who manufacture those products and who can fairly be described as slave labor. Nor have we reflected sufficiently upon our own roles, as bargain-happy consumers, in helping Chairman Xi and his crew to build up their wealth and power to such an extent that their autocratic empire now represents a serious economic and military threat to the U.S. and its free allies.

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