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The New York Times Publishes a Defense of the Hong Kong Crackdown

Police attempt to disperse a mass gathering in Hong Kong during a protest for the release of twelve activists detained on the Chinese mainland, October 1, 2020. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

The New York Times published an op-ed by Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing politician widely known for her ambition to become chief executive of Hong Kong. The piece is entitled “Hong Kong Is China, Like It or Not.” (She seems to like it.)

Ip, a longtime apologist for Chinese Communist Party control over the city, led the charge on anti-subversion legislation that spurred mass protests in 2003. What does she think of democracy? “Adolf Hitler was returned by universal suffrage, and he killed 7 million Jews,” she said at the time.

So naturally, the Times is publishing this esteemed figure, whose comments on an issue of international concern are apparently more reliable than what a sitting U.S. senator has to say. As far as the implications of Ip’s argument are concerned: The Chinese government’s crackdown in Hong Kong has obliterated the remaining freedoms that its residents once enjoyed, and provided it a thin veneer with which it targets free people everywhere, including U.S. citizens. But don’t expect much outrage from the NYT’s newsroom about this piece.

It’s a PR coup for the dictatorship that’s snuffed out the remaining elements of democratic governance in the city. The only reasonable argument for publishing it would have been to expose the CCP’s aims — but these are already widely known.

Still, Ip’s defense of Chinese power is startlingly blunt. The op-ed is an unabashed statement of China’s aims in Hong Kong. It’s helpful that Ip says the quiet parts out loud [emphasis mine]:

To some, the new national security law is especially chilling because it seems simultaneously vague and very severe. But many laws are vague, constructively so. And this one only seems severe precisely because it fills longstanding loopholes — about subversion, secession, local terrorism, collusion with external forces. One person’s “severe” is someone else’s intended effect.

Beijing’s intended effect, clearly, is to bring its systems of social and political control to Hong Kong. This is something that few people doubt. But Ip, even as she effectively confirms that the CCP intentions are to do away with dissent in the city, argues for its continued international treatment as an independent financial hub:

A realistic goal for Hong Kong ought to be remaining the freest and most international city in China and retaining its unique international status, thanks to the city’s many bilateral agreements with foreign countries and its membership in numerous international organizations.

Foreign governments should not benchmark what happens in Hong Kong against standards that prevail in Western countries; those are governed by a political system entirely different from China’s. Instead, they should benchmark Hong Kong against the rest of China, and measure how the city can maintain its unique characteristics — openness, a commitment to personal rights and freedoms, respect for the rule of law and the ability to reinvent itself economically.

What a preposterous idea. Western governments will continue to benchmark Hong Kong’s freedoms against those of free societies, and they should do so if the city’s officials ever want it to be treated as such again.

The Times should never have published this op-ed. It adds little to our understanding of the CCP’s conduct in the city, the objectives of which have been clear from the start, and, worse, it might even convince some people to accept pro-CCP apologia as a legitimate argument for leaving post-NSL Hong Kong well enough alone.

But since it has already been published, at least the Trump administration can quote from it the next time that it moves to tighten the sanctions targeting pro-CCP officials such as Ip.

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