Twenty years ago it was hoped that as China traded with the world, it would become more “liberal”. The opposite is happening.
Hong Kong is just one of a series of touch points. Others include Beijing’s extension of territorial claims into the South China Sea, its aim to dominate global communications and the intense lobbying campaign to let Huawei into the UK’s critical national 5G infrastructure, and the development of the Belt and Road Initiative into the developing world.
It also includes China’s intensive cyber espionage as well as the growth of overt and covert influence in other states, accompanied by an increasingly harsh tone.
What can we do in Hong Kong? We can be clearer about defending values and calling on China to respect the basic law, however much it irks them. Hong Kong is now on the global front line for civil freedoms. Above all, we need a global strategy, post-Brexit. In a recent study with the Henry Jackson Society, I argued for a more integrated foreign policy and a greater understanding of how we deal with the new authoritarianism.
Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia and an expert on China, spoke to the foreign affairs committee last year, telling us: “China respects strength and is contemptuous of weakness. China respects consistency and is contemptuous of wavering.”
Frankly, we have been weak and wavering. We need to be proud of our values, and be more consistent about defending them and our interests.
There are two visions for humanity. The first is the Western liberal model of a law-governed society, universal rights and limited government.
The second is the new authoritarian model championed by China, Russia and other states where freedoms are more curtailed, politicians above the law and where surveillance will become ubiquitous. In this struggle, Hong Kongers are campaigning for that first vision. China wants the second. Hong Kong is now on the global front line for civil freedoms.