Carrie Lam, Beijing’s Chief Executive of the Communist Party-controlled Legislative Council of Hong Kong, ‘Legco’, announced the permanent withdrawal of the violently-opposed China extradition bill, introduced in June of this year. The bill would have effectively made Hong Kong an extra-legal extension of the People’s Republic of China’s, ‘PRC’s’, arbitrary, subjective, wholly political, and repressive pseudo-legal and de facto authoritarian incarcer-ocracy. It would have allowed any mainland judge, prosecutor, or police force to demand the transfer of any Hong Kong resident,r foreign resident, or visitor to face prosecution and indefinite detention in China’s notoriously inhumane jails.
Not just Canadians but Hong Kongers noticed the spurious grounds on which Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadian citizens living and working, legally, in China were arrested and placed in jail with no access to legal counsel or family members. They also received dubious and unsubstantiated charges of ‘espionage’, only conferred upon them five months after their arrest in December.
Their arrest was in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of telecommunications giant Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer on a legal treaty’s extradition request by the United States. Citizens of Hong Kong were also aware of the abduction of booksellers and publishers in Hong Kong, China, Thailand, and elsewhere, later reappearing in PRC courts to face prison if they fail to toe the line with Beijing’s thought police.
It was no wonder that not just young political activists in Hong Kong, but many ordinary citizens from all walks of life, even establishment teachers and civil servants and business people who normally shy away from controversy, became alarmed at the prospect of losing the fragile promise of the handover of the British territory to China in 1997: one country, two systems.
This extradition bill’s withdrawal is a small victory, but it is a temporary one, reversible later on, or worked around to the effect that the PRC will still have legal domination of Hong Kong via other bills or directives; perhaps hidden, administrative ones, or general, subtle, unannounced policy evolution.
For a nation or society to fully flourish, thrive, and prosper, it must have three sorts of freedoms: civil (movement, association, nonviolent personal behaviour), economic (including strong property rights), and political (meaning democratic participation by all citizens). All three depend on each other, and the rule of law is essential if all three are to be authentically and robustly maintained. The rule of law depends on just, fair, and equal treatment of all accused individuals or groups, disinterested and honest prosecutors, access to independent and competent legal counsel, and a professional, objective, and independent judiciary. None of these things obtain in China at this time.
Hong Kong never had political freedom under British rule, but it had the other two important sorts of freedoms – civil and economic, which allowed it to continue to prosper, as local and foreign residents, businesses, investors and employers had a high degree of confidence that they could operate much as they do in developed, mature democratic free market nations, with little threat of intervention by the PRC bureaucrats or uniformed or plainclothes goons or stormtroopers. The introduction of the extradition bill by a 60 percent Beijing-approved Legco majority was merely a blatant manifestation of the erosion of civil, economic, and paltry ‘democratic’ rights the residents of Hong Kong have experienced over the past twenty-two years. This erosion will not end quickly.
However, the inhuman, oppressive and unnatural socialist authoritarianism of the PRC will eventually end. The signs of its desperation are multiplying. Less and less criticism of the system, regime, Party, or leaders is tolerated, let alone outright dissent or opposition. Facial recognition through artificial intelligence, widespread surveillance camera networks, and a new ‘social (dis-)credit’ web of enforced silence, submission and conformity have all been introduced at high and low levels, everywhere, and not just in the restive Xinjiang and Tibet regions.
Xi Jipeng, the president, has been proclaimed president for life, effectively. Private sector companies, in Hong Kong and others operating in the PRC proper are hectored and threatened into behaving according to Beijing’s edicts. Cathay Pacific Airways’ CEO was forced to resign after failing to be sufficiently craven to the Xi regime’s demands to enforce fealty to Beijing by firing employees who participated in the protests; its chairman resigned today.
China is resisting not just American demands, but those of other nations, that it treat foreign businesses equitably, stop forced technology transfers to Chinese firms, stop intellectual property theft, and stop subsidizing state-owned firms. It is engaging in armed confrontations in the South China Sea, where it has built and militarized rocks, shoals, and islets and asserted territorial claims on important shipping routes; claims which are recognized by nobody. It has enacted punitive measures against Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Australia and Canada.
The Soviet Union disintegrated because its leadership, the de facto ‘owners’ of the ostensibly ‘worker-owned’ economy, no longer believed in its ideology and became more and more mercenary, self-enriching, and transactional. Its lack of political, civil and economic freedoms made it inflexible, incapable of being dynamic, versatile, innovative, evolutionary, self-correcting or adaptive. It ultimately became a relic and crumbled, being inherently unprofitable in every sense, financially or humanly.
The commissars in the Forbidden City are fighting a rearguard action to, in the immortal words of Mel Brooks in ‘Blazing Saddles’, “…save our phoney-baloney jobs.” For an economy to prosper, free interchange of ideas, knowledge, techniques, notions, philosophies, people, goods, services, money, energy, property, stocks, bonds, commodities, and much else must be allowed. The more these free exchanges are taxed, regulated, or obstructed or forbidden, the less progress, human or economic, will occur, and the less free the members of the economy, otherwise known as citizens, will be.
The residents of Hong Kong understand this. Likely so do their effective masters in the PRC, no matter how much they try to deny it, suppress it, or ignore it. They may, dangerously, try to persist in this denial for many more years, even as fewer and fewer people, at home or abroad share in its delusional essence. However, they cannot deny it, or freedom of markets, and people, forever. They are ultimately doomed. They can try to peacefully transform their system, or it will be transformed chaotically and perhaps violently and destructively, and corruptly, as the Soviet Union was. The choice will not always remain with them; the people have a ‘vote’, too, if not a true, democratic one. Yet.