You need to care about what’s happening in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the single most important arena in the struggle for human liberty on the planet today, and that struggle is in danger of being crushed under the boot of totalitarian oppression.

It is also the place that may serve as the instigation of terrible eventualities. It could spark major global economic upheaval, or a political or military confrontation between the world’s great powers.

You can be forgiven for not knowing any of that, of course given the tabloid trash and clickbait content we are fed daily. But the stories about Hong Kong and what is happening there are of paramount global importance.

Police move to confront protesters in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

Some context, for the uninitiated. Hong Kong, as most people know, is an ancient city in southern China. For more than 150 years, the city was actually owned by Great Britain, as an overseas protectorate of its worldwide empire. That ownership ended in 1997, when the United Kingdom handed over the city to the Chinese government.

Before handing it over, though, the United Kingdom and China came to an agreement, and at the heart of that agreement was the concept of “One country, two systems,” which guaranteed that the socialist system of China would not be practiced by Hong Kong, preserving its previous capitalist system and way of life for a period of 50 years.

China didn’t want to wait until 2047 to fully absorb the city, though, and have been slowly toying with Hong Kong ever since the handover.

This year, the puppet government of the city proposed a new bill that would allow local authorities to arrest and then extradite people who are wanted in China, essentially placing the city under Chinese jurisdiction.

Under the law, if the corrupt dictatorial regime that is the mainland Chinese government labels you a “terrorist” or a “criminal” or “murderer” because they want to get you and shut you up, they could demand that the Hong Kong city government arrests you and turns you over.

The people of Hong Kong had no interest in this happening to them, and the proposal sparked massive unrest. They took to the streets in waves of hundreds of thousands, and protested.

The protests worked, but only to a point. The proposal was suspended in mid-June, but Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, did not state that the bill would be completely withdrawn, while several Executive Council members have been highly antagonistic to the protesters.

So the protests have continued, and now things are getting scary. In the wake of protesters taking over the Hong Kong airport, there are many reports of the Chinese military massing forces nearby in the city of Shenzhen. If they intend to crack down, they will do so and it will be incredibly bloody.

Which begs the question: then what?

Maybe you say nothing. I certainly understand why, given the cynicism of America’s foreign involvement in the last couple of decades.

Except for the fact that one of the freest cities on the planet will overnight be ripped apart by a totalitarian state that will restrict free speech, free movement, private property, and will almost certainly start killing thousands of people involved in the protest movement.

If we do nothing, we will have told China that while we don’t like what they did, we are either unable or unwilling to stop them. So if you are China, why do you not then turn your eyes to the 23 million people and $1.3 trillion in gross domestic product in Taiwan, an island you’ve always considered yours anyway, and do the exact same thing? Do we do something then?

There are no good answers here. Do nothing, and you embolden China to keep taking all the things that they want in the region. Escalate the trade war and start punishing sanctions against China, and you may send the global economy into a depression rather than a recession. And God forbid you move to protect Hong Kong or Taiwan with force, you might start trading bombs and bullets with a nuclear power.

Perhaps you think I’m being a bit melodramatic, and that this isn’t all that big of a deal. Just remember, the first world war started because an Archduke accidentally turned down the wrong street in a minor balkan country.

There is certainly plenty of opportunity to ensure that none of these things ends up happening. I hope that I’m worrying for nothing. But our best chance to avoid something truly awful is to stand up now, and clearly confront the Chinese government, warning them of the implications of what they are considering.

But the silence from our government, and frankly all western governments has been deafening. Now is the time to prevent the dominoes from falling, because once they start, they won’t be stopped.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.