By Noah Dawson
I usually try to focus on local issues, but this week, I wanted to focus on an issue that makes it painfully clear just how important it is to ensure individual liberty is protected.
This week, I wanted to take a brief look at the situation in Hong Kong. To summarize the situation, following the First Opium War, Hong Kong was ceded to the United Kingdom. The colony was expanded following the Second Opium War, and was again expanded following China being placed into a weakened state after the First Sino-Japanese War. This expansion, in 1898, came with a 99 year lease agreement. Under British control, the economy of Hong Kong flourished (aside from Japanese occupation during the Second World War), even as communism (and famine) ravaged China during the 20th century.
But, in 1997, the 99 year lease expired, and Hong Kong was given back to China. China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep its autonomy, at least until 2047.
However, numerous attempts have been made by China to begin slightly veering from the "one country, two systems" principle. (Some speculate that the reason for China's new attitude is that China has finally had some luck in building up its economy, though various means including some market liberalization. When Hong Kong was handed over, it was basically the only part of China with a successful economy.) China has implemented measures to pre-screen political candidates and has begun enforcing national laws at a high speed rail station in Hong Kong. Most recently, a law has been proposed that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.
In response to this proposal, the people of Hong Kong have begun to engage in massive protests. China, in turn, has responded by stepping up police presence and placing military equipment on the border just outside of Hong Kong. Additionally, China has begun a massive propaganda campaign, attempting to discredit the protestors. Many fake social media accounts gave popped up, especially on Twitter, often with gibberish alphanumeric handles and zero followers. China has also created videos of misinformation, claiming the protests are fueled by the United States.
It's worth mentioning what is at stake here. Though China has recently been attempting to put itself in a position to become a global superpower, with increased investment abroad, it still is not a free country. Due process, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion are practically nonexistent in mainland China. Economic freedom, despite some slight reforms in recent decades, is also practically nonexistent. This is the same nation that, as famines associated with the inevitable pitfalls of central planning occurred, disfavored political groups were made to bear the brunt of the famine. This is the same country that currently actively places many people belonging to religious groups into concentration camps.
In other words, the freedoms that have defined the people of Hong Kong are being threatened.
Most recently, the situation has become violent. Graphic videos can be found online of police indiscriminately attacking protesters.
The eyes of the world are watching Hong Kong, reminding us that, even today, even where freedom has flourished, authoritarianism remains a dangerous threat.