Waiting Anxiously in Hong Kong

Students boycott classes as they take part in a protest against the extradition bill at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, China, September 2, 2019. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The Hong Kong protests began on the last day of March and escalated in the summer. They are full-blown democracy protests, inspiring the world and of course causing worry: How will it all end? With violence? Will there be a repeat of the Tiananmen Square massacre 30 years ago?

The initial cause of the protests was an extradition bill, which would have sent Hong Kongers into China proper, to face a justice system that bears little resemblance to justice. Underlying the protests was a demand for autonomy across the board.

We have used the phrase “China proper.” It is a contentious one. Does it include Hong Kong, as the Chinese Communist Party insists?

Yesterday, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, which had been suspended. “Incidents over these past two months have shocked and saddened Hong Kong people,” she said. “We are all very anxious about Hong Kong, our home. We all hope to find a way out of the current impasse and unsettling times.”

It can be safely assumed that Ms. Lam makes no significant move without approval from Beijing. Why would Party leaders be willing to withdraw the bill? Perhaps they want calm — or less turbulence — in the lead-up to October 1, on which date the Party will celebrate the 70th anniversary of its dictatorship. Also, Party leaders may want to split the Hong Kong movement: Some elements will be satisfied with the withdrawal of the extradition bill; others will want more.

It seems that most do want more. The withdrawal of the bill might have been satisfactory a few months ago, but the movement has since broadened in scope. Protest leaders want an independent investigation of recent police abuses. They want amnesty for arrested protesters. They want Hong Kongers to have the right to elect legislators, and the chief executive herself, or himself.

Is that asking too much? In the context of the People’s Republic, almost certainly so. What will people on the Mainland think? If Hong Kongers have those privileges — rights — why not other Chinese?

Over the course of the last few months, democracy protesters in Hong Kong have waved the American flag. (Also the old colonial flag.) This makes a statement about ideals and values. Protesters have sung a song from the 1980 musical Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing? . . . It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again.”

It is natural for Americans and others to want to help the people in Hong Kong. But how? Simple moral support is good. But not all.

Nury A. Turkel is a Uyghur-American lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a human-rights activist. His home province in China, Xinjiang — which Uyghurs call “East Turkestan” — has been pulverized by the CCP in the last two years. The Uyghurs have been rounded up en masse and throw into camps; some have been murdered. The CCP has imposed an almost perfect, Orwellian surveillance state on Xinjiang.

Turkel welcomes foreigners’ pity and concern. But they can also act, he says. We can stop investing in tech companies that abet Beijing’s surveillance state. We can target the worst human-rights abusers with Magnitsky Act sanctions. The president should give consistent rhetorical support to the preservation of Hong Kong’s freedoms. And here is a wrinkle: Beijing is hosting another Olympic Games — this time the Winter Olympics in 2022. Why should China have this honor if the Uyghur camps are still in place? Why should they have it if they move against Hong Kong, Tiananmen-style?

This is something to consider, even as we watch Hong Kong with wonder and anxiety.

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

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