As the annus horribilis that is 2020 has raged on in so many forms and fashions around the world, and especially in my native United States, it has become apparent that such issues of crisis have often compounded one another. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to incredibly high unemployment and disaffection among the public broadly, providing in part the fuel that has sparked protests against police brutality and racial injustice in many corners of America.
On the other side of the globe, a likewise protest movement and suppression by state police forces has been boxed out from the public consciousness by the goings on of everything else. And unfortunately for pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong, that means a virtually unchecked heavy and oppressive hand from the mainland Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
In truth, I meant to write this article many weeks ago. Almost a month ago to be completely transparent. But, if you'll recall, also almost exactly one month ago George Floyd was unjustly killed by four Minneapolis police officers and a newly revitalized conversation concerning racial equality kicked off in the United States. For me, just as for so many, the problems of Hong Kong, distant and foreign, fell to the back burner and almost out of my mind entirely.
But, I don't feel it would be right to let the problem of mainland Chinese aggression in Hong Kong go completely unnoted, especially this week as the government in Beijing moves to pass and implement by fiat a national security law in the territory that would fundamentally undermine cherished Hong Kongese freedoms such as free speech, free press, and fair courts. Under the new Chinese law, the Hong Kong government will set up a national security commission chaired by the city leader (currently chief executive Carrie Lam) which is also to include a Beijing-appointed adviser. Additionally, the mainland will set up a security agency to collect, analyze, and monitor local intelligence on the government's work and the general populace more broadly.
Among the most damning provisions, Hong Kong's leader will also have the authority to handpick judges to rule in "national security" cases adjudicated within the city, and under "certain circumstances" the national security agency will have the power to supplant the Hong Kong courts. Pro-Beijing media also reports that detention facilities will soon be established where the government will have the option to detain dissenters indefinitely.
All of this comes, no doubt, as a shocking blow to the uneasy but stable relationship that the governments in Hong Kong and Beijing have enjoyed in relation to one another since the British return of the territory to China 23 years ago next Wednesday. Under the rationale of "one country, two systems" Hong Kong has reveled in unparalleled freedom while remaining within the Chinese sphere of influence. Now, that second system, the Hong Kongese one, is set to be effectually abolished 27 years before it was to legally expire, and it seems there is little that the native Hong Kongese can do about it.
Certainly, these acts of Chinese aggression have not been ignored wholesale by the rest of the world. The US Senate passed a resolution three days ago, the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, that threatens to impose sanctions upon and freeze assets of any individual or entity that backs China in restricting Hong Kongese autonomy. This follows the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which similarly implemented sanctions against the mainland government following protests over the attempted introduction of an extradition law in the city that year.
The British have also taken concerted steps to shore up their allies in Hong Kong and stand with the Hong Kongese people, given the special relationship they have with the territory after 155 years of colonial rule. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made plans to offer special residency status to those Hong Kongese who hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport and assert that all of those therein could subsequently be eligible for British citizenship. Some three million Hong Kongese are eligible for such a passport.
Of course, the logistics of immigration are fraught even when there isn't a global pandemic on, and plenty of Hong Kongese are not eager to immediately uproot their lives and move half a world away to a nation that is distant and foreign, even as it is tied to their locale via the pains of history. Citing high unemployment figures and uncertainty over what kind of reception they might get in the United Kingdom, many Hong Kongese would rather take their chances by staying put.
Still, a fair number in the territory have moved to renew, update, or properly register their BNO papers, in preparation for anything.
Frankly, I'm not sure of the greater implications of the Hong Kong takeover, an "invasion" in so many words conducted by the CCP. In the best-case scenario, the move may parallel that of Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, as in being an action singularly authoritarian and widely condemned, but not escalating beyond the scope of a regional conflict. At worst, and I stress that I do not mean to unduly alarm, but I worry that we may be staring at a brand-new Sudetenland, wherein Chinese aggression in this moment, and a weak response from the international community in conjunction, may only breed a greater expansionist streak from the newly awakened global giant. After all, if China can effectively impose its will with iron fortitude in Hong Kong, what is to stop it from continuing on to Macau or the South China Sea or Taiwan, or to territory that it does not even have nominal authority over, such as Vietnam?
These unchecked acts of totalitarianism cannot and will not bode well for a free and liberal world order, and though the United States must sort its own illiberal tendencies on the home front, it must also be willing to take measures, extraordinary measures if necessary, painful measures if necessary, to secure the freedom that it so proudly believes is the birthright of all humankind.
Supporting the people of Hong Kong can and should be the first of those necessary steps.