Six years ago, when Great Britain handed Hong Kong to mainland China, optimists predicted Hong Kong’s freedoms would pull China in a freer direction. Pessimists argued that China’s communist government would consume Hong Kong.
Last month, after 350,000 people poured into the streets of Hong Kong to protest a proposed anti-subversion law favored by the Chinese government, it was hard not to agree with the pessimists. The proposal, likely to pass in the coming days, outlaws subversion and other crimes against the government. The wording is so broad that Hong Kong residents fear the communist state will use the law to crack down on the freedoms that Hong Kong residents are used to enjoying.
For instance, published reports explain that the law would let the government target groups such as Falun Gong and the Catholic Church — religious organizations persecuted on the mainland but given free rein in Hong Kong. The law would impose harsh penalties on those who publish unauthorized material, and would give police more latitude in searching homes.
Despite the anger at the protests by the communist government in mainland China, the street scene was a healthy sign. It’s possible to lose one’s freedom in a hurry, or watch it trickle away over several years. Fortunately, the proposed law was enough of an outrage that Hong Kong residents were mobilized to action.
China has offered a conundrum for Western supporters of liberty. The country continues to open up economically, creating new prosperity that contrasts sharply with conditions before the leaders moved away from Marxist economics. But the nation’s leaders still will not release their grip on the citizenry, which means an increasingly free economy coupled with a decidedly unfree political system.
Meanwhile, as China’s economy becomes more like Hong Kong’s, Hong Kong’s political system becomes more like China’s. The United States cannot do much about the situation, other than watch carefully and voice displeasure anytime Chinese tyrants seek to erode Hong Kong’s freedoms.