Before COVID arrived, there were mass protests in Hong Kong over the ChiComms in Beijing repudiating their promise to respect Hong Hong’s democracy for 50 years following the 1997 handover. Dissidents were being arrested and jailed (Jimmy Lai is still in jail), and free elections canceled.
Once COVID hit and lockdown started, any chance of mass mobilization dried up. There wouldn’t even be a chance for a Tiananman Square moment. The Washington Post last month noted this, in “Hong Kong Was Not Supposed to Look Like This.”
Hong Kong was not supposed to look like this, 25 years after the end of British colonial rule and midway through China’s promised 50 years of autonomy and personal freedoms.
There are now more than 1,000 political prisoners languishing in Hong Kong’s jails, among them activists, students, journalists and lawyers. Dozens have been jailed for a year or longer without bail in the legal limbo of “pretrial detention.” Some 47 opposition politicians face possible life in prison because they participated in a primary election, considered subversive in the new Hong Kong.
Civil society has been decimated, with more than 50 activist groups shuttered by the government or pressured to close. Campus student unions have been dissolved. The giant Confederation of Trade Unions, with at least 70 affiliate unions, disbanded in October. One of the largest affiliates, the 100,000-member Professional Teachers Union, closed down after being branded a “malignant tumor” in China’s state-run media. Popular media outlets have been shut or voluntarily closed, their online archives scrubbed clean.
Which brings me to the posthumous book of our old friend Bruce Herschensohn, A Profile of Hong Kong. Bruce, who passed away in December 2020, held a lifelong interest in China and Hong Kong that went beyond the cause of anti-Communism.
This compact book provides a history of the colony under British rule as well as a good account of the negotiations and terms of the handover of Hong Kong from the British to the ChiComms, along with a warning for the future.
A late chapter in the book is titled, “What the PRC Did to Hong Kong in 1997 Is Likely To Be What the PRC Will Do to Taiwan By or In 2047.” Bruce:
“[Taiwan] has never, not even for a minute, been under the jurisdiction of the People’s Republic of China. That flag has never been raised over Taiwan. That government has never been adopted in Taiwan. That government has never been accepted in Taiwan. That system has never been established in Taiwan. Yet the government of the People’s Republic of China refers to Taiwan as its ‘renegade province,’ which it will take by ‘non-peaceful means’ if necessary.
It would make more sense for Great Britain’s prime minister to claim the United States of America as a renegade province of the United Kingdom.
Bruce goes on to argue that it was a great mistake of the United States ever to have acquiesced to the ChiComms’ demand that we recognize “One China.” Further, he thinks the United States ought to form a new NATO-style alliance that includes Taiwan, which he proposes to call NOLA: “Nations of Liberty Alliance.”
A foreign alliance that might prospectively commit the United States to a war with China is probably not a popular idea just now, but Bruce would say that a potential war with China is going to come anyway if we temporize. In any case, Bruce is always worth reading. Add it to your summer reading pile.