Updated: September 06, 2021 09:17 AM GMT
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rules by fear. But the harsh reality is that it is the CCP and its henchmen that are most afraid.
That’s why they lock up a million or more Uyghur Muslims. It’s why they bulldoze Christian churches and tear down crosses. It’s why they persecute Falun Gong practitioners and Tibetan Buddhists and disappear lawyers and citizen journalists. It’s why they cover up Covid-19 and refuse any international investigation. And it’s why they are shutting down the free press in Hong Kong, locking up pro-democracy activists and castrating what’s left of the judiciary.
Xi Jinping’s regime is like the emperor with no clothes: terrified of being found out. And the problem is that for far too long the rest of the world has gone along with it. For too long the rest of the world has been like the emperor’s servants in the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, whereas what we need is the little boy who declared truthfully: “But the emperor has nothing on at all!”
The CCP’s rule of fear has been especially on display in Hong Kong over the past 12 months, with ever-increasing cruelty and absurdity. It is dismantling every last vestige of freedom in the city because it fears people who think for themselves, and even more so those who speak for themselves.
The crackdown has gone from the realm of grim, cruel repression — from locking up protesters to disqualifying and jailing elected legislators to forcing the closure of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper — to acts which, if they were not so devastating in their consequences, are so ridiculous as to be laughable: arresting speech therapists for writing a children’s book about sheep and wolves, and a young man for booing the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics.
The pro-Beijing camp has criticized Hong Kong’s badminton player Angus Ng Ka-long for wearing a black outfit without Hong Kong’s flag on it at the Olympics, as black was the color worn by protesters in 2019. A regime that is scared of children’s books about sheep, of people who boo the anthem and of athletes wearing black is not a secure, confident, mature regime.
The white terror sweeping through Hong Kong is far from over and the near-term prospects of things getting better are simply non-existent
Last week the first person charged under Hong Kong’s draconian national security law was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. Tong Ying-kit, who had been remanded in custody for over a year, was charged with driving a motorcycle into a group of police officers while carrying a banner with the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times”. While few would condone the act of driving a motorcycle at anybody, it was the flag that most incensed Beijing, and it resulted in him being convicted of incitement to secession.
It should not be forgotten that when a Hong Kong police officer did exactly the same act — crashing a motorcycle into a group of protesters, minus any flag — he was given “suitable written advice” and remains in the police force.
The news broke yesterday that the University of Hong Kong was banning from the campus students who had attended a Students Union council meeting on July 7 in which a resolution was passed expressing sympathy for a man who killed himself after stabbing a police officer on the anniversary of the city’s handover.
There is a clear line between condoning violence and understanding or even sympathizing with the factors that might drive a person to desperate, extreme action, but the CCP and its proxies in Hong Kong have shown a complete inability to see that difference.
It was also revealed yesterday that the public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) is deleting its tweets and disabling comments — the latest move in the rapid dismantling of press freedom and freedom of expression in Hong Kong.
And the news that veteran British journalist Steve Vines, who has lived in Hong Kong for 35 years, has left the city provides another shocking symbol of the rapid repression of a city that until a few years ago was one of the freest in Asia.
Vines, a former president of the Foreign Correspondents Club, wrote in an email to friends: “The white terror sweeping through Hong Kong is far from over and the near-term prospects of things getting better are simply non-existent.” He said the very essence of Hong Kong was being destroyed, adding: “Hong Kong is now in a very dark place as the Chinese dictatorship has slashed and burned its way through the tattered remains of the one country, two systems concept.”
All of this has happened not because Hong Kongers are afraid but because the CCP and its puppets are afraid — of Hong Kongers, of dissent, of a free press, of academic freedom, of religious freedom, of an independent judiciary, of freedom of thought, of anyone who isn’t slavishly, blindly, unquestioningly loyal to the party.
Every bully is at heart deeply insecure. The more Beijing bullies at home and abroad, the more its insecurities are revealed
That’s why it has imposed an oath for legislators and civil servants — an oath not of loyalty to the country but to the CCP. That’s why it lashes out against critics abroad with ever-increasing vitriol via its “wolf warrior” diplomats and wumao (hired trolls) on social media. That’s why Xi Jinping warns critics abroad that they will see “their heads bashed bloody against the Great Wall of Steel” and it’s why state media recently warned the United Kingdom that if it interferes in the South China Sea, “then it is being a bitch … asking for a beating.” Hardly edifying, statesmanlike words.
Every bully is at heart deeply insecure. The more Beijing bullies at home and abroad, the more its insecurities are revealed. The world needs to remember that the only way to handle a bully is to stand up to it, to challenge it, to call it to account. That’s what we must all now do with the CCP regime. No more kowtowing, no more compromising, no more appeasement.
We need targeted, robust and well-coordinated action that makes it clear to Beijing that it cannot continue trampling on universal human rights, basic freedoms and international norms with impunity.
That means sanctions against officials in the regime responsible for the genocide of the Uyghurs and the dismantling of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy, as well as the litany of other human rights violations, from the persecution of Christians, Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners to the forced harvesting of prisoners’ organs, from the disappearance of human rights lawyers and jailing of citizen journalists to the use of slave labor in global supply chains. It also means sanctions against Chinese state enterprises complicit with these crimes.
Undoubtedly the CCP will retaliate. But if countries which value freedom, human rights and the rule of law stand together, and don’t allow themselves to be picked off by Beijing, then we can stare the regime down like any playground bully. When dealing with a regime that rules by fear and that is filled with fear, we have less to fear than it does if we have the confidence of our convictions. After all, unlike the CCP, we are not afraid of children’s stories about sheep and wolves.
* Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, senior analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. He is the author of six books, and his faith journey is told in his book “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.