By David P. Goldman, Associate Professor of Political Science at Fordham University
Hong Kong’s historic election seems destined to cause deep rifts in Beijing.
In calling for the vote and then using its financial power to overturn the result, the Chinese government has seriously missed the mark.
The Communists seem poised to lose a generation of important Hong Kong citizens.
As the New York Times reported last week, Hong Kong’s “voters in historic elections held Sunday overwhelmingly rejected the opposition and increased their bets that they can build an anti-Beijing political party from scratch.”
The “rejection” was also evident on the island of Taiwan, where young people rose up and successfully defeated the pro-China Kuomintang party candidate in their first mayoral election in 20 years.
“Our society is cleaving into two and is not fully integrated,” democratic activist Lin Fei-fan told the New York Times after victory was announced for independence-seeking Tsai Ing-wen. “Our country is in the 1990s and still has a lot of problems,” he said.
Beijing has asserted virtually all of its power, including restricting freedom of movement, press, speech, assembly, and political dissent, for decades.
Beijing fought two violent civil wars against the rebellious southern half of mainland China and the island of Taiwan, claiming territory whose rightful owners lay within the Pacific Ocean.
In 1949, the Communists were victorious when the Communist Party captured the mainland, renamed the former “pursuit of happiness” the People’s Republic of China and proclaimed the founding of the socialist state.
There are hardliners within the Communist Party and there are moderates who want to balance their ambitions against Beijing’s diminished political clout, but the moderates have been gravely undercut by President Xi Jinping.
Mr. Xi has acted decisively to rebuild a totalitarian state using coercive means from the place where freedom was born, insisting that party members must reject “Western” concepts like democracy, freedom of speech, due process and freedoms of religion and assembly.
The tone of Beijing’s intervention in Hong Kong is steeped in humiliation.
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong’s residents received education on topics once taught as “Western” too — including tolerance and open government.
Even one of Beijing’s champions, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, stated recently that when referring to Hong Kong, “I’ll tell you what I worry about. It’s the rise of authoritarianism.”
Also concerning to the president is that this authoritarian impulse has permeated some part of America’s last long-time ally in Asia.
Mr. Xi has swept aside those, like Mr. Ryan, who have resisted Beijing’s downsizing of democracy and the flouting of the rule of law.
The Chinese leader’s suppression of the spiritual practice Falun Gong, for example, not only caused China’s most prominent spiritual leader to denounce him as “evil,” but also provoked Chinese Buddhists, Christians and Taoists to denounce him in similar fashion.
So far the regime’s corruption also may be quietly transforming the willingness of some in the U.S. to tolerate it as another feature of a multi-lateral trade agreement that proposes to outlaw it.
This policy is an extreme example of the sort of far-reaching “free trade” that Beijing long espouses.
Mr. Xi’s ascendancy and consolidation of power in China is what has prompted the United States to devote billions of dollars to helping Taiwan rebalance its strategic interests in the Asia-Pacific region.
The US-Taiwan Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement is a framework to help Taiwan develop new economic ties with other parts of the region.
Chinese President Xi’s increasingly imperial influence over Hong Kong and Taiwan is a cause for growing international alarm.
The Chinese people, who pay a disproportionately high price for Beijing’s desire to control them, are suffering.
There is no danger from doing nothing, but continuing Beijing’s muscular expansionism is a losing proposition in Beijing’s economic and geopolitical game.