Communist China Is Showing Its True Colors. It Must Not Go Unpunished.
Published in The Washington Post
on May 22, 2020
China’s move to bypass Hong Kong’s Basic Law and install de facto rule from Beijing must not go unpunished. If China wants Hong Kong to be treated as a simple Chinese province, then the United States should return the favor and end Hong Kong’s special trade preferences.
Hong Kong is treated differently from the rest of mainland China because of its former status as a British colony. China agreed to respect the colony’s Western-style rule of law and basic freedoms as part of a 1984 agreement under which Britain agreed to return Hong Kong to Chinese rule. This “one country, two systems” approach made Hong Kong part of China for the purposes of defense and foreign policy but largely separate in terms of its domestic affairs. As a result, Hong Kong is considered to be a “special administrative region” of China and has a separate status for trading purposes with the United States.
This unique hybrid citizenship was always bound to be unstable so long as China remained an authoritarian, one-party state. Hong Kong’s wealth and freedom were always an implicit repudiation of the Communist Party’s aspirations. If Hong Kongers could benefit without the party’s control, why couldn’t the rest of China? Conversely, for Hong Kong citizens, if they could prosper without direct Chinese rule, why not go all the way and become a Western-style democracy like Taiwan — culturally Chinese with a Western-style political economy? The conflict was clear to anyone following this gambit: Either China had to become more like Hong Kong, or Hong Kong had to become more like China.
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Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.