I was fortunate enough to be in Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, traveling with a group headed by the estimable Bruce Herschensohn. It was an extraordinary, if bittersweet trip, seeing the British ships sail out of Hong Kong harbor on the evening of July 1st. The lowering of the Union Jack across the city allowed a moment of great sadness, a passing of an era, given way to a future of trepidation and worry.
On the trip, we were honored to meet the politician and freedom fighter, Martin Lee. Lee was just recently arrested and freed, but will now, almost certainly, be under threat of harassment and further arrests. William McGurn, then senior editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review, also spoke to us, offering some hope, but tinged with warning. That week marked a pivotal moment in history, one that anyone present in Hong Kong at the time will never forget.
Promises and guarantees were made; Hong Kong was given 50 years of freedom, under the now-infamous “one country, two systems” policy of administration. And, indeed, it did work. For just over 20 years, Hong Kong was the gateway and engine that helped propel China to a remarkable economic takeoff, lifting millions out of poverty. Hong Kong was the portal for the rest of the world into China, and the city continued to thrive. Rule of law, security of contracts, an independent judiciary and a free press were all legacies of British rule.
All of this, however, was snuffed out in recent days with the new national-security law imposed on Hong Kong by mainland China. Simply put, Hong Kong has lost its freedom.
It certainly didn’t go down without a fight; the past months have seen countless protests and demonstrations from the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong. It has been a sight to behold, watching thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Hong Kong carrying American flags, speaking the words of freedom and liberty. It is awe-inspiring to see that America is still the beacon that all look to, a light of freedom that casts its radiance to every corner of the globe.
This makes it so heartaching and devastatingly ironic that while the American flag, and the American ideal, is so revered in the hearts and souls of these brave freedom fighters on the streets of Hong Kong, we see, here in our own country, on our very streets, the flag and the great promise and idea of America spat upon, torn down and denigrated.
Hong Kong was supposed to have 50 years of freedom. Promises made, promises broken. But are we really surprised? We had false illusions that a semi-free, market capitalist economic system would somehow change the politics of the Chinese leadership and government. Those hopes have been dashed. And what now comes next?
A huge looming question is, how much longer does Taiwan remain free? Even with the defense agreements and close ties between Taiwan and the United States, there is no doubt that the PRC will move quickly to incorporate Taiwan into the mainland. The Anschluss isn’t over, there are other bites of the apple that a voracious Red China is after.
We need to understand what we are facing; China endured what they call, and view, to be a hundred years of national humiliation. From the First Opium War in 1839 to the Communist takeover in 1949, China was carved up and made subservient to England and other powers, Japan included. The foreign treaties, the loss of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other slices of the Chinese Empire, the dumping of opium and the ravages from that epidemic, wrought devastation.
As an aside, if you wonder why China is flooding the U.S. with fentanyl and other highly addictive narcotics, causing untold addiction and death among the American populace, look no further than the parallel of the British importing of opium into China in the 19th Century.
The leaders of Red China have not forgotten these infringements on their autonomy; now that they have the opportunity, they will attempt to redress each of these grievances. It is not a question of if they will move on Taiwan, but rather when. Taiwan is the next step, the first of many. China will adopt the same tactics to its disputes with other Asian countries, primarily over the Spratly Islands dispute with Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Brunei. There is also the dispute over the Senkaku Islands, or as China calls it, the Diaoyu Islands, with Japan.
It is critical to realize that we are not dealing with a sclerotic Soviet Union of the 1980’s. We must take the blinders off and realize what we are facing. Where the Soviet Union was faltering on the verge of collapse in the final years of the Cold War, China is a nation at the height of its power. China is no longer a backward, rural, Third World country making cheap plastic garbage and products destined only for Wal-Mart shelves. In many of areas of artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum physics, advanced technology and more, they are not just catching up to us — they have already surpassed us.
The pronouncements that China is poised for an imminent collapse are simply deluded but also beside the point. Even if we thought this might happen, we have to prepare for the opposite: a continued resurgent China reaching superpower status with designs on being the superpower by mid-century.
A final thought and hope: America needs to one-up British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his idea of offering refugee status to all those in Hong Kong who want to pack up and leave the coming dictatorship and authoritarian rule and move to Britain. Let them bring their dreams and love of liberty to our shores and enable them to thrive in America. We are still the last and best hope for liberty. That holds true, even with so many here now seeking to impose a Chinese-style authoritarian rule here at home.
Michael Finch is the President and Chief Operating Officer of the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His new collection of poetry is Wanderings in Place.