In Hong Kong, China is crushing every shred of resistance, breaking its pledge to maintain the freedoms of the country. The detention of more than 50 pro-democracy figures under the draconian national security law implemented last year in the early hours of Wednesday morning makes it clear that not only peaceful demonstrations but also political dissent are no longer permissible. It would be almost comical to invoke the poorly described accusation of subversion against people participating in the severely limited and hindered democratic structures of Hong Kong if it weren’t so sinister. To pick pro-democracy candidates who had the best chance of winning the city’s Legislative Council (LegCo) elections, the suspects retained or participated in primaries. Police said the goal was to obstruct the government by gaining a majority in the legislature and using it to veto the budget, forcing the chief executive to resign, and forcing a shutdown of the government.
In short, it now amounts to a felony against national security to attempt to win office and exercise legislative veto power. Those convicted face a life sentence. The Legislative Council’s powers have long been limited.
Residents are only partly elected, and both candidates and elected officials have been excluded by the authorities – causing the remaining opposition to leave. They postponed elections last year, citing the pandemic. To obtain a satisfactory result in the postponed vote, they have enough imagination.
So the sledgehammer tactics of Wednesday – police boasted that 1,000 officials were involved – seem intended to make a restive populace relent.
Beijing understands that after protests erupted in 2019, frustration, desperation and a desire for democracy in Hong Kong have only risen.
Prominent figures such as legal scholar Benny Tai and former pro-democracy MP Claudia Mo are among those arrested, as well as civil society activists such as Jeffrey Andrews, a social worker who helps refugees and ethnic minorities, and Lee Chi-yung, who ran to boost access for wheelchair users in the primary election. It is no accident that these arrests happened while all eyes were on the U.S. for the Georgia Senate elections, reducing foreign interest and, to the chagrin of the new U.S. government, soon after the EU agreed to an investment agreement with China. The EU called for the immediate release of the prisoners, but Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last British governor, cautioned that it would make a mockery of the EU’s aspirations to be taken seriously as a global political and economic player by extending the deal. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the arrests a major assault on the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong; he was called upon by activists to sanction Chinese officials. But the old diplomatic instruments have lost bite since, as demonstrated by its decision to block a World Health Organization team from traveling to Wuhan to investigate the causes of the pandemic, Beijing feels it no longer wants to consider what the outside world thinks.
The severing of all ties with China is neither feasible nor desirable.
But neither should we pretend that what’s going on there has nothing to do with us. “The Chinese scholar Xu Zhangrun wrote, “It can hardly be predicted that a culture that is blatantly incapable of treating its own people well would treat the rest of the world well.” This becomes even less likely if the U.S., EU, and U.K. Don’t stand there together.
It is important to organize and assist.
Democracies can’t afford to go by themselves.