While the world is distracted managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese government in Beijing is making dramatic moves against the pro-democracy protest movement in Hong Kong.
Over the weekend, 15 prominent Hong Kong citizens were put under political arrest for their role in last year’s protest movement, “in connection with organising and participating in unauthorised assemblies.”
Hong Kong’s “Basic Law,” which guarantees some autonomy until 2047, is directly under threat, with the government of Beijing putting tremendous pressure on Hong Kong’s ruling bodies to enact a sweeping national-security law.
Hong Kong’s incredible success as a society and economy of its own depended on autonomy from Beijing and the inherited political culture left from its days within the British Empire. For the first years of its post-1997 relationship with China, little Hong Kong made up a substantial fraction of China’s total wealth. Hong Kong is still very prosperous and is a luxury shopping destination for many mainlanders. But that may be changed forever.
Before the virus, my hope was that the separate strands of Chinese malfeasance — its mercantile gamesmanship, intellectual-property theft, spying, persecution of Muslims in its Western province, and suppression of Hong Kongers — would be blended into one forceful diplomatic critique against the Chinese Communist Party. Doing so is in our interest, so long as China remains integrated so deeply in the global economy.
The question now is whether China is moving in such a way that we are headed for Cold War 2.0 and that “decoupling” is a prelude to the formation of firmer Eastern and Western economic blocs.