World

Hong Kong, All Alone

Riot police disperse anti-government protesters during a protest at Mong Kok in Hong Kong, China, May 10, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

China is currently transgressing the terms of its 1997 treaty over Hong Kong, which promised a “one country, two systems” settlement that preserved Hong Kong’s somewhat autonomous democratic institutions. These institutions guarantee rights to Hong Kongers and guard its common-law inheritance.

China’s legislature in Beijing is preparing a new national-security law aimed at Hong Kong to prohibit and punish terrorism, foreign influence, and secession. By that, they mean demonstration, free speech, and a functioning democratic system with rights guaranteed to citizens. Meanwhile, Beijing’s loyalists installed in Hong Kong’s legislative council have been making open attempts at a putsch against the pro-democracy majority.

China’s move against Hong Kong is likely dictated by propitious circumstances. Democracy protesters in Hong Kong may be fatigued. And while the rest of the world deals with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is little appetite to expend the diplomatic energy or engage in the trade actions that could protect Hong Kong.

At the time of the treaty, little Hong Kong accounted for nearly 20 percent of China’s overall economy, and it was a crucial engine of China’s economic growth. Companies that wanted to do business in a liberalizing China headquartered in Hong Kong. Financial markets still prefer it. Why? Because it has inherited a property-rights regime and a judicial system from the Anglo tradition. One could make a case in a Hong Kong court and expect a fair hearing, rather than a political judgment dictated by a party boss.

Abrogating the two-systems settlement is an injustice, and a foreseeable one. Hong Kong now represents less than 3 percent of China’s economy. And so Beijing senses it can strike a new bargain, renege on its treaty obligation, and put to death any notion that Hong Kong’s style of government will ever win out by persuasion.

Past attempts at “security legislation” or other measures aimed at Hong Kong’s independence were met with furious protests. Hong Kong’s democracy movement has taken to the streets in 2003, in the 2014 Umbrella movement, and in the massive civil unrest of 2019. The advanced guard of Hong Kong activists are hardened, committed, and, in many cases, radicalized. But they may face a problem of protest fatigue and resignation among supporters.

What’s being done to Hong Kongers is an immense injustice. But Hong Kong cannot depend on outside intervention for assistance. Beyond some diplomatic pressure from the United States, little else is coming. No major power has the ability or will to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy with military threats.

So Hong Kongers can only protect their autonomy the way all small nations do against behemoth powers at the doorstep: by being ungovernable save on their own terms. This requires an immense amount of unity and morale among the people themselves, and even then the outcome is not certain.

Over the last 20 years, Hong Kongers have demonstrated that they have the reserves of courage and fortitude found among freeborn men living in republics of their own. But even if China should get its way and impose itself on Hong Kong through these “security measures,” for at least another generation or more, that desire for freedom can be kept alive, waiting for its opportunity to strike.

The Western world needs to pay attention to Hong Kong. President Trump, who has not always taken a consistent stance against international despotism, has rightly warned that the U.S. will react “very strongly” if China moves ahead with the law. Just as China has turned the pressure up on Hong Kong, so it has done with many of its trade partners. China is showing us that its economic leverage will be used against the political freedom of its “friends.” It’s time to learn that lesson.

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

Most Popular

U.S.

First, Restore Order

Doing evil in the service of a just cause does not change either side of the moral equation: Evil remains evil, and the just cause remains just — neither consideration cancels out the other or transmutes it. With riots and violence convulsing American cities after the horrifying death of George Floyd at the ... Read More
U.S.

First, Restore Order

Doing evil in the service of a just cause does not change either side of the moral equation: Evil remains evil, and the just cause remains just — neither consideration cancels out the other or transmutes it. With riots and violence convulsing American cities after the horrifying death of George Floyd at the ... Read More
Elections

Trump in Trouble

President Trump was disappointed. Bad weather on Wednesday forced a delay in SpaceX's planned launch of the Dragon spacecraft, robbing the president of a prized photo opportunity. He plans to attend the next launch, scheduled for May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT, but the spoiled visit to Florida punctuated another week of ... Read More
Elections

Trump in Trouble

President Trump was disappointed. Bad weather on Wednesday forced a delay in SpaceX's planned launch of the Dragon spacecraft, robbing the president of a prized photo opportunity. He plans to attend the next launch, scheduled for May 30 at 3:22 p.m. EDT, but the spoiled visit to Florida punctuated another week of ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Is It Revolution?

I knew I was tempting fate a week ago when I said that the coming nomination of Joe Biden and the COVID-19 pandemic had put America’s politics on chill during this election year. Little did I know that days later we’d be making analogies to 1968. The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman moved ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Is It Revolution?

I knew I was tempting fate a week ago when I said that the coming nomination of Joe Biden and the COVID-19 pandemic had put America’s politics on chill during this election year. Little did I know that days later we’d be making analogies to 1968. The killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman moved ... Read More
PC Culture

For Looters, Looting Is Fun

One important thing to realize about looting is that it's usually enjoyable for those engaged in it, who exult in the momentary suspension of any rules. Just a couple of examples from the last couple of days (language ... Read More
PC Culture

For Looters, Looting Is Fun

One important thing to realize about looting is that it's usually enjoyable for those engaged in it, who exult in the momentary suspension of any rules. Just a couple of examples from the last couple of days (language ... Read More