Beijing’s Putsch against Hong Kong

Riot police ask people to leave to avoid mass gatherings during a protest against the looming national security legislation in Hong Kong, China, June 28, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Chairman Xi has now implemented a sweeping national-security measure aimed at destroying the democracy movement in Hong Kong. The unjust affront to human dignity must be named for what it is: an aggressive Communist advance against free people. China’s actions sit in line with the Red Army rampaging into Hungary in 1956, the Communist assault on South Vietnam, or the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. We must say this not only as a matter of justice, but in order to keep the flame of liberty burning in the hearts of Hong Kongers and their friends.

The new national-security act is a grave violation of the terms of the 1997 Sino–British Joint Declaration, which guarantees Hong Kong’s judicial and political semi-independence from Beijing until 2047, and made the one nation–two systems settlement part of Hong Kong Basic Law.

The new national-security act sets itself against “terrorism” by which the Chinese Communist Party means Hong Kong’s democracy movement. This protest movement in Hong Kong has re-emerged to confront every challenge to Hong Kong’s Basic Law since 2003. It has proved an astonishingly disciplined and calm movement that has been able to draw nearly one third of Hong Kong’s residents into the streets for its largest demonstrations. Despite violent provocations from anti-riot police that have been subordinated by the Chinese Communist Party and Beijing-backed criminal gangs, the movement has been conspicuously peaceful; leaders of the movement issued apologies when tensions ran hot enough that a few protesters engaged in direct hand-to-hand fighting with police.

That peacefulness was deliberate and reveals Beijing’s “anti-terror” justification for the brazen lie that it is. The law is deliberately and maddeningly vague on what constitutes a terrorist organization, though it specifies the destruction of a vehicle as one terrorist act. It would punish “terrorists” of this sort with a minimum sentence of ten years and a maximum of life imprisonment. The law prohibits “collusion” with foreign governments or institutions, a measure which will be used to put international freedom organizations in the bind of not knowing whether their actions help or harm their peers in Hong Kong. The law applies to everyone — not just Hong Kongers. In the first hours after its passage, a man was arrested under the law for waving an independence flag.

Enforcement of the statute is given to a National Security Committee, headed by Hong Kong’s chief executive. This Committee is exempt from judicial overview and oversight. The introduction of a political law-enforcement body is a savage transgression against Hong Kong’s common law tradition, the very thing that made Hong Kong a desirable destination for business and investment, which in turn made it so attractive as a Chinese possession.

In some ways, this assault on freedom is more difficult to address because it implicates Hong Kong’s western peers in freedom.

Because this new law formally involves the breaking of treaty agreements with the United Kingdom, we are happy to see the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson speak out for the rights of so many who were born the queen’s subjects and whose passion for freedom is shaped by this inheritance. Johnson’s government is uniquely positioned to lead the moral case against this tyranny.

The United States also has a special obligation to stand up for Hong Kong. America has made Beijing richer and more powerful than it otherwise would have been, because it opened trade relations in the hope that treating China like a non-Communist nation would make it one. In the case of Hong Kong, China has demonstrated how its growing commercial power sets the cause of free trade against that of political freedom. The NBA’s suppression of criticism of China in the United States is just a foretaste of what is to come if Beijing is allowed to play this game.

America and its allies have a moral duty and compelling interest to pressure Beijing to withdraw this law. Americans corporations who make a show of their support for protests in the United States must be subjected to pressure from the White House and the public to support political freedom in the East. If Beijing will not relent, the intrusion into the West of its commercial arms like Huawei must be more energetically countered and turned away.

The time for illusions is over.


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