The free­dom fighters of Hong Kong

They de­serve more sup­port than they’re get­ting

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clif­ford D. May

od has planted in ev­ery heart,” Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush fa­mously said, “the de­sire to live in free­dom,” I’ve never been con­vinced that’s true. But the de­sire to live in free­dom has been planted in some hearts. In Hong Kong in re­cent days, we’ve been wit­ness­ing a brac­ing de­mon­stra­tion.

For 156 years, the bustling city on the south­ern coast of China was a Bri­tish colony. Then, in July 1997, Lon­don handed it over to Bei­jing. The peo­ple of Hong Kong had no say; for them, there would be no right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion.

The Chi­nese govern­ment did make a prom­ise, how­ever: “one coun­try, two sys­tems.” In other words, Hong Kong was to re­tain its lib­er­ties, its le­gal sys­tem, its free mar­ket econ­omy, its way of life, for 50 years.

Re­cently, that agree­ment has been en­dan­gered. A law was pro­posed to per­mit Hong Kongers ac­cused of crimes to be ex­tra­dited to the main­land where the Com­mu­nist Party con­trols the courts.

Hun­dreds of thou­sands of pro­test­ers poured into the streets to make clear that they would not sub­mit eas­ily or meekly.

As the sit­u­a­tion grew tense, and in­creas­ing vi­o­lence seemed likely, the city’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Carry Lam, sus­pended the bill which, she claimed, had been her idea — not pressed upon her by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping.

Hong Kong’s free­dom fighters have not been mol­li­fied. They sus­pect that Mr. Xi has made only a strate­gic re­treat. Late last week, they were again out in force, close to 2 mil­lion, more than a quar­ter of the city’s pop­u­la­tion, de­mand­ing the bill be scrapped, not just tem­po­rar­ily side­tracked.

In case you didn’t no­tice: Lead­ers of what we used to call the Free World have re­sponded ane­m­i­cally to the bat­tle over Hong Kong. I’m afraid they’re fol­low­ing a pat­tern.

In 2009, there were mass demon­stra­tions in Iran di­rected against Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whom the pro­test­ers ac­cu­rately called the “dic­ta­tor.” They also chanted: “Obama, are you with us or against us?” The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent de­clined to an­swer. The states­men of Europe said lit­tle and did less.

Two years later, protests broke out in Syria. They were ini­tially led by op­po­nents of the As­sad dy­nasty who were pro-free­dom, not Is­lamists or ji­hadists. They, too, re­ceived no sup­port from Pres­i­dent Obama. The states­men of Europe again said lit­tle and did less.

Be­fore long, Tehran, its proxy, Hezbol­lah, and Rus­sia in­ter­vened mil­i­tar­ily to prop up dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad, who has since pre­vailed thanks to ruth­less mass murders and the de­struc­tions of en­tire cities. The “in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity” has shrugged its col­lec­tive shoul­ders.

Let me pro­vide a bit of con­text: Af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, there were those — po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Francis Fukuyama the most out­spo­ken — who be­lieved that lib­eral democ­racy was the des­ti­na­tion to­ward which all na­tions were evolv­ing.

A corol­lary to that the­ory: If trade and com­merce could bring pros­per­ity to un­free lands, their rulers would mod­er­ate, be­com­ing more ea­ger to im­prove their na­tion than to con­quer other na­tions. At the same time, emerg­ing mid­dle classes would de­mand rights and a share of po­lit­i­cal power.

Based on such think­ing, the United States and Europe be­gan ex­pand­ing com­mer­cial re­la­tions with China, cul­mi­nat­ing in China join­ing the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2001 as a “de­vel­op­ing na­tion” en­ti­tled to “spe­cial and dif­fer­en­tial treat­ment,” a sta­tus it enjoys to this day. Tianan­men Square, where, 30 years ago next month, pro­test­ers de­mand­ing free­dom were mas­sa­cred by the hun­dreds or per­haps even thou­sands, faded into the misty past.

This the­ory about wealth and lib­er­al­iza­tion was, I sus­pect, in large measure re­spon­si­ble for Pres­i­dent Obama’s pol­icy to­ward Tehran. If he gave the theocrats re­spect and cash, plus a path to sus­tained pros­per­ity, surely “mod­er­ates” would pre­vail over the “hard­lin­ers,” and Iran would be­come a “nor­mal” na­tion.

That would mean it wouldn’t be a se­ri­ous prob­lem if Iran’s rulers ac­quired a nu­clear weapons ca­pa­bil­ity — as Mr. Obama’s deal vir­tu­ally guar­an­teed they would over the next few years.

Does Pres­i­dent Trump also have faith in the trans­for­ma­tive power of com­merce? While im­pos­ing tough sanc­tions on North Korea — though not yet “max­i­mum pres­sure” — he’s held out to dic­ta­tor Kim Jongun the vi­sion of North Korea as a suc­cess story akin to Sin­ga­pore. I’m du­bi­ous that Mr. Kim will be tempted by that car­rot un­less he’s per­suaded that the al­ter­na­tive is a very big stick.

As for China, Mr. Trump de­serves credit for rec­og­niz­ing that it re­gards Amer­ica as its ad­ver­sary, and is pur­su­ing a neo-im­pe­ri­al­ist agenda. He’s taken a harder line than any of his pre­de­ces­sors in re­sponse to China’s un­fair trade prac­tices and its habit, year af­ter year, of steal­ing hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty — in­clud­ing mil­i­tary de­fense se­crets.

But he — along with Europe’s lead­ers — have been blase about the in­car­cer­a­tion of more than a mil­lion Mus­lim Uighurs in “re-ed­u­ca­tion” camps, the con­tin­u­ing col­o­niza­tion of Ti­bet, the har­vest­ing of the or­gans of ex­e­cuted po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers and re­li­gious mi­nori­ties such as the Falun Gong.

I’m not ar­gu­ing that we should send our troops to lib­er­ate down­trod­den peoples. I am ar­gu­ing that speak­ing truth to pow­er­ful tyrants is prefer­able to shut­ting up for fear of of­fend­ing them. Fail­ing that, we will seem — and per­haps be­come — in­dif­fer­ent to the suf­fer­ing and as­pi­ra­tions of un­free peoples.

There’s also this to consider: Should we not be seek­ing to limit our com­mer­cial re­la­tions with tyran­nies? What, at this point, is the strate­gic ra­tio­nale for Amer­ica — and other free na­tions — en­rich­ing, em­pow­er­ing and le­git­imiz­ing ad­ver­saries who are also ma­jor league op­pres­sors?

In case you didn’t no­tice: Lead­ers of what we used to call the Free World have re­sponded ane­m­i­cally to the bat­tle over Hong Kong. I’m afraid they’re fol­low­ing a pat­tern.

Clif­ford D. May is founder and pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times.


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