Freedom and democracy are taking a beating around the world but hope never dies.
You can still see Hong Kong on the map.
Hong Kong is a geographical place and you can find it, if you want to. Visitors are welcome and the citizens of Hong Kong still call the island home.
Hong Kong the city-state on the hill, the shining beacon of democracy and freedom of speech, however, is dead. The dream of democracy in Hong Kong died of COVID19 sometime in early 2020.
Hong Kong was then, just as it is now, considered a part of China. The Chinese Communist Party certainly considered it so. The city was a special mixture of east and west, Chinese communism and Western democracy formed a symbiotic union and the people living there liked it that way.
Resisting what many Hong Kong citizens saw as creeping CCP authoritarianism eroding a decades-old way of life, many people living in Hong Kong, from students to politicians took to the streets to protest.
When 2020 dawned, the Hong Kong protests were probably the biggest problem the CCP and its leader Xi Jinping were facing.
The Chinese Communist Party has its geopolitical foes, for certain; but nothing threatens the absolute power of Xi Jinping more than…the Chinese people.
The only way a scant handful of thousands can rule over a billion people is with the consent of the governed and Jinping doesn’t have it.
If the CCP had the consent of those they govern, it would not need the Great Chinese Firewall or the world’s most sophisticated mass surveillance system to control the population.
In January of 2020, the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests were dangerous to Xi Jinping’s power. The risk of the sentiment spreading- of the Chinese people, in their millions, demanding to elect their own leaders- was keeping party officials up at night.
Then COVID19 happened, spreading out from what is still believed to be the epicenter in Wuhan and virus mitigation measures did what Xi Jinping hadn’t dared use tanks to accomplish.
The millions of people who had been flooding Hong Kong streets for weeks with no signs of stopping- outsmarting surveillance systems with umbrellas, enduring brutal beatings, staying utterly, unassailably peaceful- were forced into their homes.
Ostensibly, it was for their own safety. Not that protesting the Chinese Communist Party was particularly safe to begin with.
But now, of course, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong is as dead as the dinosaurs.
In the two years since COVID19 and COVID19 mitigation measures hit our shores, the Chinese Communist Party has had plenty of time to do everything it needs to do to ensure Hong Kong’s long-term compliance.
It is now illegal to even run as a pro-democracy candidate in Hong Kong. Hong Kong activists, organizers and peaceful demonstrators have been rounded up and carted off by grim-faced People’s “Liberation” Army officials.
Concerned friends and family members recorded the arrests and detentions. They even recorded the markings on the police buses, for all the good it did. Evidence of a crime doesn’t do any good when it is the authorities who are committing them.
The last pro-democracy, free speech newspaper in Hong Kong, like all the others, has now been disbanded, demolished and destroyed.
The Chinese Communist Party would have been hard-pressed to accomplish these things, had it not been for COVID19.
As Vladimir Putin just demonstrated to our cost, war plans can’t be carried out in secret anymore. Everyone and their grandmother has a video camera and social media these days. Millions of people are reporting live on the Ukraine crisis even now.
A former KGB strongmen like Vladimir Putin may have been taken by surprise when the U.S. made public Russia’s imminent plans to invade. It probably caused him even more consternation to know that social media location tags and even Tinder profiles were telegraphing Russian troop movements to all and sundry.
Knowing this, Xi Jinping’s military options in Hong Kong were almost nil. There had to be plenty of meetings about it at the highest level. They all had to end with a powerpoint slide of the famous “Tank Man” of Tiananmen Square photograph.
“How to subdue Hong Kong without creating a million more martyrs for the cause of Chinese democracy, each more damning than the last?” must have been the foremost question on Jinping’s mind.
COVID19 did a more thorough job stamping out protests in Hong Kong than tanks might have done. Terror sometimes inspires a cornered animal to fight. The bureaucratic beat-down brought on by COVID19 was death by a thousand policy cuts.
COVID19 mitigation measures left the people of Hong Kong no reasonable way to keep peacefully protesting. Chinese Communist Party officials in the city have since had plenty of time to consolidate their power, install their own government, weed-out pro-democracy sympathizers at every level.
Democracy will never gain a toehold in the city again.
The people of Hong Kong aren’t a cautionary tale; they aren’t a parable or an example. Hong Kong was and remains a unique geopolitical area, with heavy influences of a past shaped by Great Britain and other western nations.
The people of Hong Kong wanted something and they might have gotten it, had they been able to hold out, had COVID19 not forced the movement into submission via quarantine and isolation.
In the many months since Hong Kong fell without a shot fired, that bloodless coup has been followed by other hard blows to democracy and freedom worldwide.
In Cuba, pro-democracy protestors filled the streets to demonstrate against the failing Cuban government. Demonstrators were met with violence, arrest and persecution at the hands of government forces.
In Myanmar, a military coup successfully set up a new government after accusing the old government of cheating in the last election. Many former government officials have been imprisoned or are missing and reports of violence are ongoing.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban rule with such a ham-handed iron fist that the Afghan people are already starving to death. The world is facing down a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions in Afghanistan unless Western nations are prepared to do the unthinkable.
Give the Taliban money.
Doing the unthinkable often has unforeseen consequences later, most often for the most vulnerable. Giving the Taliban money to feed Afghanistan’s starving population today might mean a more powerful Taliban more ruthlessly oppressing the population tomorrow.
The Islamic State is making quite a comeback as the instability in Afghanistan hasn’t occurred in a vacuum. The U.S. is sure to see some of the equipment it abandoned to the Taliban come back to haunt other Middle Eastern nations in future conflicts.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin invading the sovereign nation of the Ukraine this week, the Chinese Communist Party has already begun prepping forces near Taiwan.
North Korea has designs on South Korea and isn’t going to be put-off by threats of sanctions. Brutal dictator Kim Jong Un has begun his usual effrontery of missile launches and threats.
Iran has designs on the whole region, not to mention on nuclear capabilities.
It’s enough to make anyone doubt the possibility that right could ever prevail in a world with so much avarice, greed and war.
But look closer: In Ukraine, the people are fighting for their country.
The days of the U.S. being the world’s policemen are over. The jury is in on U.S. nation-building and interventionism abroad and the results aren’t good. Our interference and spreading of American values has often caused more harm than good in the long run.
Of course it has.
No one is more capable of knowing what’s best for their own country than the people of that country. Who better?
Afghanistan would have done better had the U.S. allowed the people to reinstall a royal monarch 20 years ago, for example. Plenty of conservative, Muslim-majority nations have a royal ruler.
In some nations- like Morocco- the royal family has very little real power and the role is mainly ceremonial. In other nations, like Saudi Arabia, the royal family is the highest law in the land.
The number of conservative, Muslim-majority nations with a democracy- like the one the U.S. tried and failed to install in Afghanistan for 20 years- is zero.
The news that the Ukrainian people, from school teachers to the president himself, are prepared to fight oppression and tyranny, even when it uses tanks, is heartening.
In Afghanistan on the ground leading up to the U.S. withdrawal, most people didn’t really believe it was going to happen. The Afghan people, and the world, were taken by surprise by the successful march of the Taliban.
In Ukraine, the people have the benefit of Afghanistan’s experience and are determined to fight for their freedom.
In Taiwan, the people will have the benefit of both examples.
Without the convenience of COVID19, XI Jinping isn’t going to have an easy time in Taiwan. He isn’t going to be able to lock would-be protestors in their houses for two years, to say nothing of the country’s military forces.
The will of the people to fight back may be something modern-day would-be conquerors have left out of their calculations.
That was a mistake; freedom lives forever in the hearts and minds of people from Taiwan to Tibet, from the Ukraine to Venezuela.
It isn’t free- but for millions it’s a bargain at any price. Authoritarians bent on military invasion and world dominance might do well to remember it.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)