In many ways, it hardly seems surprising. After a previous geopolitical embarrassment, an aspiring superpower bides its time, builds its economy and expands its military despite speaking a tone of international trade and cooperation. Democratic nations, eager to enjoy a prolonged period of peace, ignore the warning signs and focus on the positives in order to justify not taking any action. But at some point, the expansionist party decides that the time has come. Usually they try to take advantage of a large-scale distraction, but when they do finally move, the rest of the world just sits by and stares. It would be a lie to say we did not see this coming, yet that is what everyone so badly wants to tell ourselves.
You would be forgiven for thinking I am recounting the painful and impotent period of Nazi German expansion we now conveniently mock Chamberlain for. But unfortunately we are watching all this happen again. So the question is, why should we care about Hong Kong? Who are we to tell the Chinese how to conduct their affairs?
The problem is that at some point we have to take the other party at their word. And since coming to power, the CPC has never once recanted on their goal of reclaiming the undisputed position of geopolitical power broker throughout Asia, and even beyond. But why now? We did nothing as the CPC invaded Tibet. But we did draw a line in Korea. Imagine how much worse off the world would be without South Korea as the only other true democracy in Asia? And what did drawing that line accomplish? More or less, China backed off any blatant expansion attempts for several decades. There was the proxy war in Vietnam, but that was never technically even a war, even on the American and Australian side it was officially called a “containment effort.”
For some reason we, in the democratic West, decided to take a gamble. Desperate to drive a wedge between China and the USSR forever, we declared a policy of warming relations and trade development. What did we do? We gave the CPC Taiwan’s seat on the UN Security Council. We officially acknowledged the CPC as the legitimate government of greater China. We gave the CPC special access to our global financial system without any of the obligations we placed on everyone else (such as a floating currency). And with every opportunity, the CPC built their economy and political power base.
In the West, academics and politicians asserted that democratization would come with trade and market liberalization. But after 50 years, it is time to call this a failed experiment. Propping up the CPC may have helped end the cold war with the USSR, but the cost may yet prove to have been worth it.
And so it is with utter silence that our democracy-loving brothers and sisters in Hong Kong watch their tiny oasis of relative freedoms and open, tolerant international multiculturalism crumble into the hands of the CPC. The world is not silent, Boris Johnson has said that Britain will consider allowing immigration of up to 3 million Hong Kong citizens and Taiwan has more or less declared a policy of open welcome as well, but more than a few Hong Kong citizens are quietly wishing that Britain would send a few Royal Navy gunboats back into Victoria Harbour.
I worry, as we all should, that those Hong Kong residents lucky enough to flee to Taiwan may find themselves breathing easy prematurely. I mean, the aspiring tyrant promised that the Sudetenland would be enough, and well, nobody really cares about Czechoslovakia anyways. But there is no way the tyrant would be crazy enough to try and invade Poland, right?
Hitler never threatened to invade Poland. Consider this as we wake up to the fact that at some point we will have to start taking the CPC at their word. And their word is unequivocally that Taiwan is next. What a pity, Taiwan itself has just started to realize something that could be called democracy for itself.
So what happens next? I wish that I could say that the younger generations in the Democratic West will state the same resolve past-generations have shown to stand up to aspiring tyrants. But for some peculiar reason, the concept of democracy being something that must be defended has become passé in our Universities these days. If anything, proposing that the Democratic West help defend Hong Kong’s somewhat democratic tradition of semi-autonomy would be labelled as “neocolonialism” by a frightful majority of younger university graduates these days. Who are we to judge other cultures and political systems? And freedom of speech, freedom of association, and open elections are all just expressions of European male colonial tyranny aren’t they? But Marxism, now that is a truly Chinese idea worthy of us tolerating its hegemonic power expressions in the form of murdering public protesters, invading semi-autonomous ethnic regions, banning half of the internet, concentration camps for religious minorities, organ and blood harvesting of the imprisoned, arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political negotiation and on and on. Criticizing any of this is just so passé, the Cold War is over Grandpa, didn’t you know? Biden’s VP pick and what crazy thing Trump said last night is the only thing that really matters right now.