The United States government has shown impressive unity in formally, publicly condemning Beijing’s suppression efforts in Hong Kong. The police state action is an ominous development reaching beyond the province.
Near the end of November, President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which includes sanctions against China officials for efforts to limit freedom and abuse basic human rights in Hong Kong. Congress passed the legislation with bipartisan majorities.
Trump had threatened not to sign the act into law, citing complex ongoing trade negotiations and his personal friendship with China President Xi Jinping. However, the enormous support for this legislation in Congress realistically precluded a presidential veto.
The mass protests in Hong Kong against China’s pressure remind us all of the importance of human freedom. On June 16, an estimated 2 million people peacefully protested a proposal which would have made extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China much easier. Protests have continued.
In response, Beijing backed off the effort to tighten control of Hong Kong. The proposal was first suspended, then withdrawn entirely.
A brutal murder in Taiwan, after which the suspect fled to Hong Kong, provided the pretext for Beijing. However, the actual agenda was to assert Beijing’s authority over both the former British colony of Hong Kong, and eventually the large island of Taiwan.
The British colony became a “semiautonomous administrative region” of China in 1997. China has tried various methods to intimidate and suppress Hong Kong dissidents. This includes kidnapping troublesome individuals.
In November 2016, China intervened to ban two young legislators from serving. Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching had demonstrated independence and inserted “Hong Kong Nation” into their oaths of office. Demonstrations and police confrontations followed.
In 1992, Deng Xiaoping opened China’s economy to private investment and market development with the declaration of “People’s Socialism.” In the years since, tensions have developed as authorities strive to promote commerce yet control people.
Big Brother in Beijing constantly enforces an ever-changing official list of banned language. The regime blocks websites that discuss the Dalai Lama, the Falun Gong religious movement and the violent suppression in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
In late 2010, government censors placed severe restrictions on any online searches for the English term “freedom.” Google that year withdrew search services from China and moved them to the relatively freer Hong Kong.
Last December, Google development of Project Dragonfly, a censorship service in China, generated tremendous criticism. That project has been terminated according to the company. Other U.S. companies, including Cisco Systems and Microsoft, have helped Beijing implement censorship.
Today there is significant economic cooperation between mainland China and Taiwan. Transportation accords in 2008 included direct shipping, expansion of weekly passenger flights from 36 to 108, and new cargo flights up to a maximum of 60 per month. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) facilitates this Hong Kong likewise is vital to China’s economic growth.
For decades after China’s successful communist revolution, harsh regimentation characterized that country. Today, electronic media are censored and restricted, but not completely.
China’s government persists in trying to control. However, global commercial and political tides are moving in the opposite direction.
In terms of size and scale, both Hong Kong and Taiwan are dwarfed by China, vastly larger in territory and population. Yet economic and political realities require restraint, and cooperation.
Meanwhile, condemn corporations that cooperate in censorship, repression and brutality.
Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.