The outside world can do little to assure the future of freedom in Hong Kong beyond making the case that preserving the principles of liberty are at stake. Nevertheless, the plight of that territory’s more than 7 million souls can teach us an important lesson about what China has in mind for the rest of the world. It is not good.
For starters, the continuing protests speak volumes about China’s commitment to “one country two systems.” When the British transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing agreed to this arrangement. It guaranteed that Hong Kong would be allowed to maintain its own governance and economic system.
The Hong Kong system—one of great economic freedom–has produced tremendous economic success. But economic freedom is no more popular than political freedom among the Chinese Communist Party. And in recent years, Chinese authorities have been encroaching on the rights supposedly guaranteed to Hong Kongers under the “one country, two systems” agreement.
Matters came to a head this April, when the Hong Kong government, under heavy pressure from Beijing, introduced legislation that would allow people accused of crimes against mainland China to be extradited. The proposal set off alarms among residents who know well that the mainland’s thoroughly politicized legal system is not to be trusted.