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If You Care About Your Own Freedom, Support Hong Kong

The blockade of West Berlin started the old cold war with the Soviet Union. The squeeze on Hong Kong has launched the new one with China. The communist regime in mainland China is crushing the former British colony. “One country, two systems” is over. The new national security law, imposed by the sham legislature in Beijing with no consultation or debate, confirms the worst fears of the freedom-loving locals. Any dissent, any contact with foreigners, any independent speech or action, is now a criminal offense, punishable in theory by life imprisonment.


Anyone who remembers (or reads about) the Soviet occupations of 1940 of the region we used to call “eastern Europe” will find this all too familiar. Everyday freedoms shrivel. The world turns upside down. Fear reigns. The choices are flight, fight, or captivity.


We should understand this. Yet Hong Kong’s fate can seem a long way away. For the ex-captive nations the immediate worries are closer to home: revanchist Russia, pacifist Germany, wobbly NATO, a divided EU, an unpredictable administration in Washington, DC. Why add another headache by joining someone else’s fight with China?


The answer is simple. Abandoning the weak to the strong easily becomes a habit. Western countries no longer challenge the bullies of Beijing on Tibet or on the massacres at Tiananmen Square in 1989. We allow the Chinese Communist Party to set the rules across swathes of publishing, media, and academia. (The scale of this is outlined in a new book, Hidden Hand, by Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg. It is already a best-seller in Germany. But the English-language edition has been held up by legal challenges.)


A cowardly stance signals weakness — a weakness that others can exploit. If the West cannot stick up for allies and principles in Asia threatened by the Chinese Communist Party, what is the chance of sticking up for allies and principles in Europe when they are threatened by the Kremlin?


We cannot fly coal and raisins to Hong Kong, as we once did to West Berlin. But other options abound. From Helsinki to Tbilisi, those whose countries experienced communist aggression or dictatorship in the past can and should show solidarity with those who are facing it right now. They could invite representatives of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement to address parliaments and governments. They could cancel extradition arrangements. They could offer scholarships to students, asylum to the persecuted — and visa-free travel and long-term residency for any of the seven million people there whose lives and futures have been destroyed.


All this should have been done earlier. The abandonment of Tibet in recent years by countries that once suffered a similar fate is shameful. Efforts made now for Hong Kong will need, probably, to be done again in future on a still greater scale, as the communist vice tightens on Taiwan. But that is no reason for not doing it now. Action by the countries that understand freedom might even prompt a more robust stance from the lazy and complacent countries of the “old West.”


This is not just about defending principles. The Chinese Communist Party is trying to exercise power everywhere, including the countries of central and eastern Europe. It wants to lure them into political dependency through bribery of the elites, debt-laden infrastructure deals, and the seductive promise of geopolitical competition with Russia.


Ten years ago, in an era when China seemed (to those who did not look too closely) pragmatic and friendly, this approach was more defensible. Now it is not. We have seen how the Chinese Communist Party treats its own people. Why should it treat foreigners any better?


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Europe's Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Photo: “Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protest” by Studio Incendo under CC BY 2.0.


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