Opinion: Censorship in the freedom fight — communist China and Hong Kong’s free speech advocate
Those fighting for democracy deserve our support as they move toward freedom
“We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
With those words, Benjamin Franklin urged Americans to remain united in the face of Great Britain’s enormous power.
July 4, American Independence Day, resonates in the grim “celebration” of the 25th anniversary of China receiving authority over Hong Kong from Britain.
On July 1, China President Xi Jinping briefly visited Hong Kong, praising the agreement on “one country, two systems” by which Britain ceded control. Actually, China has been ruthless in obliterating political freedom. Knowledgeable Benedict Rogers of The Wall Street Journal has detailed the brutal, bloody continuing repression.
Benjamin Franklin was a newspaper publisher, among many enterprises, and his inspiring words apply directly to the media. In August 2020, police arrested influential entrepreneur and freedom advocate Lai Chee-Ying (known by the name Jimmy Lai), founder of the popular Hong Kong newspaper “Apple Daily” and media company “Next Digital.” Beijing forced these companies out of business. Earlier, he created the successful clothing company Giordano.
Police seized Lai at his home, then took him to his newsroom in handcuffs, a calculated public display involving 200 officers. Simultaneously, authorities arrested others.
These thugs echo the repression by the Nazi Party in Germany, and the communists of the Soviet Union, in an earlier era.
However, this is not Germany in the 1930s, or even the Cold War Soviet Union. 20th century totalitarians did not have to face pervasive public media. Today, anyone with a cellphone can disseminate information.
Almost immediately, witnesses transmitted the shocking Hong Kong events worldwide. Pointed editorial commentaries accompanied visual imagery.
The employees of Lai’s publications were not silenced, quite the reverse. As police rifled through desks and seized files, their police-state tactics unfolded in real time on Facebook Live.
This is stark evidence of Beijing’s extreme repression in Hong Kong. In June 2020, China made public a harsh new national security law. The law was moved through the rubber-stamp national legislature and signed in secrecy.
The United States opposes this despicable, disturbing dictatorship. In 2020, the Trump administration ended Hong Kong’s favored trade status. The Biden administration has continued this policy
In July 2019, Lai visited the United States. He met with Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Meanwhile, Britain’s government announced Hong Kong residents holding British passports and their dependents may seek citizenship. The British colony became a “semiautonomous administrative region” of China in 1997. Beijing today has ended that freedom, and Xi’s hypocrisy is obvious.
Other governments should penalize China enablers, and public discussion of their business practices is essential. In 2019, Google announced termination of Project Dragonfly, a China censorship tool, after tremendous criticism, including from within the powerful corporation. Other U.S. companies, including Cisco Systems and Microsoft, have also aided China’s dictatorship.
In terms of economic influence and military power, vastly larger China dwarfs both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Yet economic realities provide opportunities for positive leverage on Beijing.
U.S. government leaders must reinforce actions to date with a sustained strategy to restrain China’s repression and expansion. The NATO summit in Madrid for the first time has included government heads from Asia, specifically Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
Beijing has been deterred before. Today, global commercial and political tides are moving in the direction of freedom.
Ben Franklin and associates would support Jimmy Lai and his courageous associates, and so must we.
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War.” Contact firstname.lastname@example.org