Three books on the repression of democracy in Hong Kong and China

The opening of the Winter Olympics brings sportswashing to the forefront of the world stage. The Chinese government has devoted vast resources to the Games, hoping they will convey an open and attractive image of China and distract from the country’s totalitarian practices at home and threats abroad. Fortunately, new books on China offer a counter-narrative, detailing, among other things, the attack on Hong Kong’s freedoms and the assault on China’s Uyghur minority.

Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World: What China’s Crackdown Reveals About Its Plans to End Freedom Everywhere

By Mark Clifford

Saint Martin Press


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Mark L. Clifford’s “Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World” (St. Martin’s, 306 pages, $29.99) captures all that has been wrested from the people of Hong Kong – a measure of how far Beijing is willing to go to destroy liberal institutions and democratic norms and secure its tight lock on the power of the Chinese Communist Party. After Mao took control of China, Hong Kong was a prosperous and free port for the Chinese, “a haven, protected by the British rule of law and run by able and largely hands-off administrators”. When Britain returned the colony to China in 1997 – it was then one of the world’s fastest growing financial capitals – it did so under an international treaty whose commitments Beijing brazenly violated. , especially in the past two years. Instead of respecting Hong Kong’s autonomy, China has suppressed its freedoms, jailing key pro-democracy politicians and journalists.

“This small former British colony”, writes Mr Clifford, “is a testing ground for attempts to limit the freedoms of open societies”. What Beijing did in Hong Kong, it could try anywhere, if left unchecked. “The communist destruction of territorial freedoms marks the only time in contemporary history that a totalitarian government has destroyed a free society.” The most recent crackdowns, Mr. Clifford notes, have “shut down a free press and terminated freedom of speech and assembly, and curtailed the right to be presumed innocent, the right to a jury trial and the right to hold private property without the government arbitrarily seizing it.

A journalist and business executive in Hong Kong for nearly 30 years, Mr. Clifford became a human rights activist after his experience on the board of Next Digital, the listed company that published Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s leading pro-democracy newspaper. exit. (Full disclosure: I served on the board of Next Digital at the same time.) Without a court order or conviction, Apple Daily was forced out of business last year under the all-powerful Privacy Act. national security, imposed in 2020 on Hong Kong and applying globally – which treats dissent and other forms of free expression as subversion and collusion with foreign forces. Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai has been jailed since 2020. Mr Lai’s top journalist colleagues, the “Apple Daily 7”, are also being denied bail and jailed.

When Apple Daily was under siege, Mr. Clifford witnessed the impact of the government’s extralegal actions. He is haunted, he writes, by “the memory of IT staff fleeing the building as the latest issue of the newspaper was in preparation, frightened by rumors that the police were returning. Staff members begging us to ensure their safety after the building is raided (these workers are now in jail). From a tearful executive, confessing that he was so broken by the events that he thought about suicide. Mr. Clifford aptly concludes by asking whether “Hong Kong can be both a global financial center and a city that holds political prisoners”.

The Impossible City: Memories of Hong Kong

By Karen Cheung

random house


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A mystery is why so many Hong Kong residents now in their 20s, who might otherwise have been indifferent or intimidated, took to the streets to protest Chinese government policy. Hollow promises of greater autonomy and 50 years of “one country, two systems” have radicalized an entire generation, claims Karen Cheung in “The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir” (Random House, 319 pages, $28.99). Ms Cheung – who was a baby when her family moved to Hong Kong from the mainland and was 4 when her adopted hometown returned to China – describes her difficult upbringing, studying at school and university, and her first guess that she and her peers would have until 2047 – the year Hong Kong’s terms of autonomy dictated by the treaty will officially expire – “to build our identity, more British, and not quite yet Chinese fact”. But when the Chinese Communist Party insisted on “patriotic” education and forced extradition to the mainland for political offences, “it became clear that the promise of democracy would never materialize, that it was probably never meant to be held”.

The student-led protests have gathered up to two million people, about a quarter of Hong Kong’s population, or the equivalent of 80 million Americans marching on Washington. Authorities responded with tear gas and bullets. Freewheeling Hong Kong is dead, Ms Cheung writes: “I don’t know where to find the language to describe the grief I feel when I walk through the city and see ghosts of riot police pouring down mall and street corner escalators. , the gray stain of crudely concealed protest graffiti in underpasses and tunnels, or the demolished “Democracy Wall” at my alma mater.

Darren Byler is an academic who for a decade studied the Uighur Muslim community and Beijing’s use of the world’s most advanced digital surveillance in Xinjiang, the western region where China’s Uighurs originate. He says he personally knows 40 Uyghurs who disappeared in government camps there; they are among the 10-20% of adult Uyghurs currently detained by the Chinese government.

In the camps: China’s high-tech penal colony

By Darren Byler

Colombia World Reports


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Among the persecuted characters Mr. Byler profiles in “In the Camps” (Columbia Global Reports, 159 pages, $15.99) is Vera Zhou, a Chinese-born member of the Hui Muslim Group who went to high school near Portland, Oregon, and was a student when she was arrested in 2017 while visiting China – the pretense was that she had used a virtual private network, or VPN, to access his University of Washington student email. For this, she was sent to a prison described by its guards as a “centrally controlled education training center”. Muslims like Ms Zhou are jailed for violating any of 75 “pre-criminal” cyber offences, including using a VPN to access the internet or installing the WhatsApp platform on their phones. These acts are declared to be signs of “religious extremism”. The Chinese government, Mr Byler observes, can now apply the surveillance and biodata technology it honed in Xinjiang – the work of “algorithm tinkerers, facial recognition designers, DNA mappers” – everywhere where he wants.

Indeed, Hong Kong and Xinjiang are canaries in the mineshaft. As Mr. Clifford puts it in his own book: “The Chinese Communist Party’s pathological intolerance of dissent and the government-sponsored campaigns of intimidation, blacklisting and violence are part of a totalitarian model”, and this model is increasingly evident outside the country. China recently punished Australia for demanding an independent study into the origins of Covid-19 and Lithuania for opening a Taiwanese representative office. China has also coerced companies into complying with its demands, as we have seen in its dealings with Intel, HSBC Bank and the National Basketball Association.

To this list of collaborators, now add the International Olympic Committee and its corporate sponsors for failing to protect athletes around the world. Chinese authorities have warned Olympians that they are “subject to certain sanctions” if they dare to criticize China while in the country.

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