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Autocratic Regimes Are Getting Bolder beyond Their Borders

Police pass a burning barricade to break up anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, China, November 2, 2019. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

Fred Hiatt reports on the Chinese government’s attempts to harass, intimidate, and blackmail reporters at Radio Free Asia to prevent them from continuing to report on Beijing’s treatment of the Uighurs. These reporters for the Washington-based news service have “disclosed intrusive surveillance, cameras installed even in homes, Uighur women forced to accept male Han Chinese “guests” in their homes and even in their beds, and efforts to make Uighurs eat pork and drink alcohol, in violation of their faith.”

One of the reasons isolationism sounds more appealing in theory than in practice is that the world’s worst regimes don’t really give a flying fig about national borders. Even if we leave them alone, they will not necessarily leave us alone. These regimes will target whomever they want to target, wherever they happen to be, and however they want to target them and dare other countries to try to stop them. What’s more, their methods of assassination are often jaw-droppingly reckless.

In 2006, Vladimir Putin’s regime used radioactive polonium to poison defector Alexander Litvinenko, and in the process left radiation trails on three British Airways jets. Then the Russians used Novochok nerve agent in an attempt to kill a defector in Salisbury, England in 2018; the leftover nerve agent killed a 44-year-old British woman unrelated to the defectors.

In 2017, North Korea’s regime assassinated the half-brother of Kim Jong-un by spraying VX nerve agent in his face in the middle of Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia.

In 2011, agents of the Iranians plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States by blowing up Café Milano in Georgetown in Washington D.C.; one plotter was recorded saying, “They want that guy [the Ambassador] done [killed], if the hundred go with him, f*** ‘em.”

Jamal Khashoggi was a legal permanent resident of the United States, but that didn’t prevent the Saudis from dismembering him. The Iranian regime jailed Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian for years on nonsense charges. The protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington were American citizens on American soil exercising rights guaranteed under American law, but the security forces of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan violently beat them anyway. Russian mercenaries target CNN reporters covering their actions in the Central African Republic.

These regimes don’t care about American sovereignty, American law, or international law. The only thing that keeps them from carrying about more violent attacks beyond their own borders is deterrence. The question is, what actions is the U.S. government willing to take to deter these regimes?

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