Needless to say, China could turn Hong Kong into another Tiananmen Square in a moment. Heir to one of the three most brutal dictators of the 20th century — Mao, Stalin, Hitler — the current Chinese leadership hates democracy. Ironically, the economic success of both China and Hong Kong might — we fervently hope — act as a brace on the brutal, dictatorial instincts of China’s leadership. China has a lot more to lose in 2019 than it did in 1989 in Tiananmen Square.
Dare we hope? The prospect of human rights in China? Clearly, the masses in their millions in Hong Kong have no more stomach for dictatorship. There are no free elections in Hong Kong. By ever so unwisely threatening to extradite accused criminals to China, Hong Kong unleashed a beast. It is not just extradition that now animates the minds and bodies of residents of Hong Kong; it is something that has been talked about but never really considered realistic: free elections. It is not just the temporarily shelved extradition policy of China’s puppet in Hong Kong that its residents oppose; it is the puppet itself.
Hong Kong accentuates the China contradiction: a free economy in an unfree polity. Of course the economy in China is not completely free, but it is in Hong Kong, and there the two collide. A free economy and an unfree polity cannot forever coexist. That is both the promise of the massive unrest in Hong Kong and the basis of China’s fear. If Hong Kong can go free, China might inevitably, if unsmoothly, follow.
However infelicitiously put, the threat of President Trump to explode a possible trade agreement with China if China imposes a Tiiananmen-like crackdown on Hong Kong is the first moral clarion call by an American president since China became independent some 70 years ago. The moral voice that was raised by American presidents during the Soviet Jewry movement has never found its echo on behalf of human rights in China until now. Finally.
China reacts according to form, mischaracterizing the groundswell in Hong Kong, which is but “a very small group of violent protests,” not to mention the old saw, the “interference of foreign forces.” The idea that the desire for political freedom is inherent in the human condition is lost on China, as it is lost on all dictators. That, China does not understand. But threats from Trump, it does understand. Potential threats from Congress, it does understand. Hong Kong’s possible loss of special trading status with the US, it does understand. Surely China noticed that it was economic pressure from the US that ultimately undid the USSR (together with the inherent weakness of the Soviet communist system).
Dare we dream? Is it possible that billions of people may yet taste freedom? that the last megadictatorship in the world may yet see its undoing? that the protesters in Hong Kong will succeed and serve as the vanguard that would change China itself?
Some residents in Hong Kong are moving money abroad. All the political or military pressure in the world cannot sustain Hong Kong as a major world financial center if business confidence is undercut. Currency weakness, stock market weakness and similar economic indicators do not respond well to authoritarian threats.
Yes, the “Arab Spring” and countless other promising democratic developments came and went. Perhaps Hong Kong will be different. Perhaps moral clarity — democracy — will then come to China at last.
Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News