Has Xi Jinping finally overplayed his hand? The new security law for Hong Kong may be just that. Whereas the “cultural genocide” in Xinjiang, the roundup of lawyers and journalists around the country, and the coverup of the coronavirus pandemic leave critics with few weapons other than naming and shaming, Hong Kong presents a different case. It is an international city, one of China’s faces to the world, with well established businesses, universities, cultural institutions, and civil society. Like Taiwan, Hong Kong is the other and future China—precisely the China that the Beijing authorities most fear. They should be negotiating that future with Hong Kong’s authentic spokespeople.
The official Chinese justification for its new national security law, laid out in a May 22 commentary (http://hm.people.com.cn/n1/2020/0522/c42272-31718886.html), is ludicrous in every respect. It proclaims that the protesters want to carry out another “color revolution”; that they are in cahoots with Taiwan’s independence movement; that Hong Kong is “the main card” “foreign forces” are using to block China’s progress; and that it is the “opposition faction” in Hong Kong that threatens the rights and freedom of its people. These are all smokescreens for a brutal interference, and they fool no one. What they will surely do is abet violence, for Hong Kongers, united in their distrust of the Beijing-appointed leaders, are bound to continue protesting. The situation could become Xi Jinping’s Tiananmen—a potential widespread crackdown that will set back China’s supposed “great rejuvenation” and “responsible great power” status for years to come. So much for China’s century.
China long ago committed to a “one country, two systems” principle and to respect for the Basic Law of HK, which provides for considerable autonomy to at least 2047, including Hong Kong’s right to “enact laws on its own.” Those commitments are now being trashed before the eyes of the world in a desperate attempt to stop people from protesting peacefully for democracy. It won’t work. Covering up what is happening in Wuhan or Kashgar may be possible, but not in Hong Kong.