Monday, June 10, 2019

What's happening in Hong Kong?

(Over 1 million protestors in Hong Kong marched against mainland China's proposal to allow extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China. Date: June 9, 2019. Source: Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times.)

Christians in Hong Kong

1. What's happening in Hong Kong right now is tremendously disconcerting for anyone who cares about religious freedom. Indeed, it's disconcerting for anyone who cares about democracy in general. This includes Christians in Hong Kong, which is why I'm bothering to post about this.

2. It'd be good for people to consider praying for Christians in Hong Kong. Not only for Christians in Hong Kong, but for democracy in Hong Kong, because democracy allows Christians to freely share the gospel without fear of recrimination, without fear of being silenced, without fear of being whisked off in the middle of the night to re-education camps, without fear of being executed (such as in mobile death vans).

3. At present, there are still many evangelical Christian churches in Hong Kong. However, that could easily change for the worse. In fact, it's already starting to change for the worse. For example, I've heard credible reports of so-called Christians attending churches in Hong Kong who are in fact spies for the communist government and reporting on church activities.

The extradition bill

1. More to the point, the Chinese government has proposed a law which would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. This would mean dissidents in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China. It's no surprise the term dissident is vague enough to include anyone the Chinese government deems troublesome. Political and religious dissidents (such as Christian pastors) in Hong Kong could be officially made to disappear into China. Never to be seen again. Most likely either executed or forced into re-education through labor camps, alongside countless thousands if not millions already in these present-day camps.

2. Of course, political and religious dissidents in Hong Kong have already been made to disappear in the recent past. For example, that's what happened in 2016 in the Causeway Bay Books disappearances. Not to mention a couple of these bookstore staff likewise have citizenship in Western nations including the United Kingdom, but that didn't stop the Chinese government from making them disappear. In any case, I bring this up because China has been making dissidents disappear for a while, but this extradition law would make it official.

Isn't Hong Kong already under China?

Understandably, some people might be confused by this. Isn't Hong Kong already under China? Isn't Hong Kong already governed by Chinese law?

1. The short answer is, after the British handed over Hong Kong to mainland China in 1997, China had agreed to guarantee Hong Kong its democratic system of government for the next 50 years until 2047. However, it's 2019, and (no surprise) China doesn't care to keep its promise.

2. The longer answer is, in 1997, the United Kingdom handed Hong Kong over to the People's Republic of China, i.e., mainland China. At the time the UK could have refused to return Hong Kong to China (despite the 99 year lease). That's because China was and is a communist nation, while Hong Kong was and is a democratic city-state, and to handover a free people to a communist nation would likely have meant (sooner or later) an end to their freedom. That's what seems to be happening today.

Instead the UK made a bargain with mainland China. The UK would handover Hong Kong if China guaranteed Hong Kong's democratic freedoms for at least the next 50 years until 2047. China readily agreed. Hence "one country, two systems" was born: China and Hong Kong would be a single nation under China, while Hong Kong could retain its democratic system of government until 2047.

3. No doubt a large reason mainland China readily agreed to the UK's terms was because Hong Kong was an extremely developed and wealthy city-state at the time. In fact, at the time, Hong Kong's economy alone was approximately one-fourth ($120 billion) of China's entire economy ($445 billion). Hong Kong was one of the "Four Asian Tigers" (along with Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea) which became highly developed and economically prosperous nations in the wake of World War II. It's arguable Hong Kong's wealth significantly contributed to China's economic success today.

4. Another reason China agreed was because the Chinese communist government had no intention of keeping their word after the British left. That's obvious today, and it should've been obvious then. At least to my knowledge, Hong Kong was the first and only time in history in which a democratic nation (city-state) was peacefully given over to a communist nation.

5. Today Hong Kong is the only place in China where the Tiananmen square massacre (suppressed on June 4, 1989) is publicly and annually commemorated. It's illegal to do so everywhere else in China. However, candlelight vigils have been held in Hong Kong every year since 1989 with tens of thousands in attendance. [Correction: Macau is allowed to commemorate the Tiananmen square massacre too.]

6. What's more, tensions have been increasing between Hong Kong and mainland China in recent years following the Umbrella movement which took place at the end of 2014. Related, mainland China has essentially handpicked their own candidates to govern Hong Kong for years now (e.g. Carrie Lam is a lackey for the Chinese communist party). All this is in tension with allowing Hong Kong to have democratic elections.

The white man's burden

1. I assume the main motivation behind the British handover of Hong Kong was guilt over its role in imperialism and colonization in China's "century of humiliation".

2. However, my understanding is China had ceded Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula to the UK, and only the New Territories were under the 99 year lease. If so, then the British could have kept Hong Kong island (where most of Hong Kong resides) and the Kowloon peninsula. The British didn't have to leave.

3. Another option is the British could have declared the deal void since Imperial China no longer existed. Then the British could have either stayed or granted Hong Kong independence. If the British had granted Hong Kong independence, the mainland Chinese would have regarded Hong Kong like how it regards Taiwan today. However, the British could have played guardian to Hong Kong like the US toward Taiwan.

4. However, suppose for the sake of argument the British were guilty of imperialism and colonization in China. Does it therefore follow that they should have returned Hong Kong?

I won't answer this question here, but I'll mention a few considerations in passing:

a. For one thing, both the British and the Chinese in 1997 were no longer the same British and Chinese in the 19th century.

b. What's more, British Hong Kong became a prosperous and free democracy, which gave the world many benefits (e.g. cultural exports, martial arts, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan whom Roger Ebert once compared to incomparable Buster Keaton for physical comedy, many films which influenced Western filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese such as The Departed being based on the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs). By contrast, China became an anti-democratic totalitarian communist state that censors free expression in literature and film and, of course, does much worse things.

c. The British have been "humiliated" in their past history. Does that mean the nations that triumphed over the British should handover lands that were formerly British? Indeed, the mainland Chinese like to play the victim card when it suits them. For example, China often attempts to shame the West about its "century of humiliation", knowing how many Westerners feel about victimhood, racism, cultural appropriation, and so on.

The future of Hong Kong

1. I suspect the handover may have spelled Hong Kong's doom as a democracy. The time for intervention on behalf of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong should probably have been before Hong Kong was given over to China. Since the British have left, and the Chinese have come in, what more can be done? However, I hope I'm wrong.

2. What's more, this doesn't necessarily mean to imply Hong Kongers shouldn't fight for their freedoms and rights. It doesn't necessarily imply Hong Kongers shouldn't resist. Maybe there's still a fighting chance. It may even mean the entire city has to be willing to go to war against mainland China. Give me liberty or give me death. Better to die free than to live slaves. Otherwise, what will become of their children and their children's children?

3. One would hope the British would condemn China at a minimum.

4. Perhaps a viable option is for the United States to intervene. However, that may not be prudent for us for a variety of reasons.

5. Short of intervention, the US has stated the extradition bill could affect American businesses in Hong Kong, and as a result it would consider demanding repeal. Moreover, what Trump is doing now with China in the trade war looks like it may significantly hurt China's economy in the long-run, which in turn could potentially help Hong Kong, though that's far from guaranteed. In any case, what Trump is doing against China does seem to be an improvement over what past presidents (since the 1990s) have done to stem Chinese ascendance. Time will tell.

The Chinese diaspora

1. Interestingly, all this likewise exposes some tensions among Chinese communities outside mainland China. For example, in the US, there are Chinese from mainland China, Chinese from Taiwan, Chinese from Hong Kong, Chinese from Singapore, and Chinese from other nations (e.g. Vietnam). At the same time, there are many Chinese-Americans with familial roots in each of these aforementioned places.

Although there are notable exceptions on all sides, my impression is the mainland Chinese in the US often pressure and shame (if not worse) non-mainland Chinese to be more patriotic toward mainland China. This happens in person as well as on social media. For example, see "I'm from Hong Kong".

2. This isn't helped by the fact that there are estimated to be approximately 300,000 mainland Chinese students studying in the United States, not to mention other Western nations. In this respect, it parallels Imperial Japan in the 1930s sending students to study in the United States and Europe.

3. Just as troubling is that the Chinese extradition law isn't limited to Hong Kong citizens. It includes foreign citizens who are on Hong Kong soil, even if only on a layover at the international airport. Such as American citizens of Chinese ethnicity.

4. I regard mainland China like I regard the Imperial Japanese prior to World War 2. A formidable foe. Much more so than the former Soviet Union ever was. The Soviet Union had a fraction of China's population. The Soviet Union had a fraction of China's economy even at its height and accounting for factors like inflation. Indeed, the US bankrupted the Soviet Union, whereas China is extremely wealthy today while we are in the red. The Soviet Union had a fraction of China's influence in the West (e.g. many Chinese students studying in the West, many Chinese purchase expensive real estate in the US, many Chinese own shares in large American and European companies). The Soviet Union had less or at worst equal influence with the rest of the world as China does today (e.g. China is turning Africa into China's China, China has expanded into the South China Sea by building its own man-made islands and placing military bases on these islands in order to control the South China Sea in which one-third of the world's shipping passes through).

5. I'm highly skeptical about Western hopes that China will become more democratic with more Western influence. For example, Victor Davis Hanson has written almost the exact same:

First, we must give up the 40-year fantasies that the richer China gets, the more Western and liberal it will become; or that the more China becomes familiar with the West, the greater its admiration and respect for Western values; or that China has so many internal problems that it cannot possibly pose a threat to the West; or that Western magnanimity in foreign policy and trade relations will be appreciated and returned in kind. Instead, the better paradigm is imperial Japan between 1930 and 1941, when Tokyo absorbed Asian allies; had sent a quarter-million students and attachés to the West to learn or steal technology and doctrine; rapidly Westernized; declared Western colonial powers and the US as tired and spent, and without any legitimate business in the Pacific; and considered its own authoritarianism a far better partner to free market capitalism than the supposedly messy and clumsy democracies of the West.

6. What China is doing in Hong Kong is a foretaste of what China will do in the rest of the world. Indeed, China is already doing similar things in other parts of the world. China is already claiming lands (e.g. the 2017 China India border standoff) and seas (e.g. the Spratly islands dispute). They've already infiltrated many nations on their borders and even beyond (e.g. there are Chinese spies in Western nations). They've already bribed people with money including American and European politicians. Most are aware of though they often turn a blind eye to Chinese espionage and theft (e.g. technology). All this is part of China's strategy of softening up nations.


1. In 1997, the British handed over Hong Kong to mainland China with the promise that China would leave Hong Kong's democratic system in tact and generally not meddle in Hong Kong affairs for at least the next 50 years until 2047 ("one country, two systems"). However, over the years, the Chinese government has failed to keep this promise (e.g. the Umbrella movement, the Causeway Bay books disappearances).

2. The recent proposal for an extradition law may very well be the death knell of religious freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. The extradition law would allow Hong Kong citizens deemed to be dissidents to be extradited to mainland China.

3. If and when this extradition law goes through, it would not be surprising if Hong Kong evangelical Christians suffer greatly in the coming years. Many will likely be extradited to mainland China on trumped up charges. Many may even be executed. This isn't scaremongering, but the reality of living under a totalitarian government.

4. China's extradition law not only applies to Hong Kong citizens but to foreign citizens on Hong Kong soil too.

5. What China is doing in Hong Kong is a foretaste of what China will do in the rest of the world. Indeed, China is already doing similar things in other parts of the world. Think of China as akin to Imperial Japan in the build up to World War 2. Or think of China as a gigantic and affluent version of North Korea.


  1. ///I suspect the handover may have spelled Hong Kong's doom as a democracy.///

    I don't know ... there's a saying, "possession is 9/10 of the law", and given its geographic location, it would be hard (I think) to day that under any circumstances, that Hong Kong wasn't going to be dominated by China.

    ///The Chinese diaspora ///

    Probably one of the more hopeful things going on with respect to China these days. I can point to a "Pittsburgh diaspora" and I have seen the effects in my own lifetime. Pittsburgh had some hard times with the closing of the steel mills in the 1970s. Many, many young folks left. As a result, there is a "Steeler Nation" effect -- Pittsburgh Steelers fans in virtually every NFL city in the US. The area itself has mostly recovered -- thanks in part to its fine university system and medical systems -- the attractiveness of which is no doubt enhanced by all those young people who moved out "way back" but still have family in and affections for the region.

    1. "I don't know ... there's a saying, "possession is 9/10 of the law", and given its geographic location, it would be hard (I think) to day that under any circumstances, that Hong Kong wasn't going to be dominated by China."

      "What if" scenarios are difficult. There are multiple possibilities. Yes, it could have turned out the same for Hong Kong. However, it could have turned out differently too. For example, Hong Kong could have been granted independence in 1997. If that happened, it's arguable Hong Kong could have become something like Singapore, which is a sovereign and wealthy city today. (Of course, China would like nothing more than to have control over the straits of Malaaca.)

      Back in 1997, China wouldn't have had the wherewithal to strongarm Hong Kong like it does today. (And part of that may have been precisely because Hong Kong was handed over and China could capitalize on Hong Kong's wealth to build up other parts of China.)

      Also, if China did try anything with Hong Kong at the time, China likely would have faced the ire of the British as well as the US. Indeed, after the 1997 handover, the US passed the US-Hong Kong Policy Act which allows the US to treat Hong Kong differently than the rest of China in terms of economics and trade. So there was support for Hong Kong from the US at the time. At the time, Hong Kong was a major center of trade and banking for Asia.

    2. "///The Chinese diaspora /// Probably one of the more hopeful things going on with respect to China these days. I can point to a "Pittsburgh diaspora" and I have seen the effects in my own lifetime"

      I'm curious if this "Pittsburgh diaspora" includes Asian-Americans (e.g. Chinese-Americans)? Thanks, John.

    3. My church, City Reformed in Pittsburgh, is right in the middle of the Pitt/CMU campuses. There are many Asian-Americans attending, including these two men, who are part of the educational structure there: