The Example of Hong Kong

Protesters hold placards at a demonstration demanding Hong Kong’s leaders to step down and withdraw the extradition bill in Hong Kong, China, June 16, 2019. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

If you need an example of man’s desire to be free, and his willingness to resist tyranny, look to the streets of Hong Kong. Some 2 million residents of the city gathered there, in protest. The population of the city is only 7.3 million. It was a stirring sight — one of the most stirring the world has seen in recent years.

The protests in Tiananmen Square were stirring, too. That was exactly 30 years ago. It ended in a massacre of protesters by the Communist authorities. Every Hong Konger in the streets this year knew that.

The immediate object of their protest was an extradition bill, which would have sent Hong Kongers accused of a crime to the mainland, for trial. On the mainland, there is nothing like justice. Instead, there is torture, a sham trial, and a gulag (called laogai).

Yet the protest in Hong Kong had a more general object. Citizens are intent on keeping their freedoms, or not letting them go without a fight.

When the British turned over the city to the Chinese Communist Party in 1997, the promise was “one country, two systems,” for 50 years. This was always chimerical. Year by year, month by month, the CCP has been chipping away at Hong Kong’s autonomy. The Party will not tolerate Hong Kong’s brash, uppity independence until 2047.

Five years ago, democratic protests broke out. These were dubbed the “umbrella movement,” because people used umbrellas to shield themselves from pepper spray. Earlier this year, eight leaders of the movement were sentenced. One of them, Chan Kin-man, a retired sociology professor, said, “In the verdict, the judge commented that we are naïve” (naïve to believe that a protest movement can attain, or retain, democracy). “But what is more naïve than believing in one country, two systems?”

In Taiwan, there were street protests in behalf of the umbrella-movement leaders sentenced. Why? Because Taiwanese know that their fate, and their democracy, is linked to Hong Kong.

In the wake of the extradition bill, the umbrellas came out again, as people tried to shield themselves from pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Faced with this massive demonstration, which caught the attention of the world, Hong Kong officials backed down. The chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced the suspension of the extradition bill, and even offered an apology for its introduction.

Some protest leaders demanded her resignation. Others pointed out that whoever followed her would be in the same position — a servant of Xi Jinping, the PRC’s supreme leader (for life).

“Hong Kong’s bravery has bought it some time.” So said Edward Lucas, the British foreign-affairs analyst, and he put it well. We think back to “Finlandization,” which is often misunderstood.

Finlandization was the process by which Finland was rendered essentially neutral in the Cold War. The Finns did not set out to be Finlandized; they wished to be with the Free West. They fought like hell to avoid Sovietization, which resulted in their (mere) Finlandization.

In a similar vein, Hong Kongers are fighting like hell to keep the noose relatively loose around their necks. They are fighting to retain a little breathing space.

VIEW GALLERY: Hong Kong Protests

The ruling Communists in Beijing hate the example of Hong Kong, as they hate the example of (even worse) Taiwan. They don’t want other Chinese — more than a billion of them — to get ideas: ideas that Chinese people, in some places, can live freely and democratically. News of the drama in Hong Kong was blocked on the mainland.

Asked to comment on this drama, President Trump said, “I hope it all works out for China and for Hong Kong. I understand the reason for the demonstration, but I’m sure they will be able to work it out.” The United States can do better than this. People look to us for leadership, for moral support, and we should provide it whenever possible.

Maybe Hong Kongers are doing nothing more than delaying the inevitable — their eventual subjugation by the PRC. If so, they are still doing something inspiring, right, and brave.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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