We could have done it 31 years ago, after the People’s Liberation Army’s tanks liberated thousands of protesters from their lives across Beijing. We could have done it 23 years ago, when Hong Kong was handed over to communist China. We can do it now, as the short and uneasy era of “one country, two systems” seems to be coming to a close.
The people power in Hong Kong last year has managed to derail to extradition laws that the communist government of China was planning to impose on the enclave. Now that the rest of the world is distracted fighting Coronavirus, China’s rulers are imposing “anti-sedition laws” on the former British colony that effectively end any semblance of freedom its residents have enjoyed thus far under their special status.
In a few days’ time, on June 4, the world will remember the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmien Square massacre. Hong Kongers too have commemorated this occasion over the years, partly in solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters of yore, partly in fear that China’s past might become Hong Kong’s future should Beijing finally grow weary of tolerating a form of liberal democracy in the enclave. This year, for the first time, the local authorities have refused to grant a permission for the public remembrance of the massacre, in line with the hard line being adopted from the capital by the Party. Ostensibly, this is an anti-COVID measure, but the real virus threatening Hong Kong is communism.
Comes the next week, we are likely to nevertheless see a huge crowds gather in defiance of the authorities, to remember the Tiananmien dead and to protest the death of Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy. Comes the next week, we are likely to see violence and bloodshed on the streets on Hong Kong, as the local forces of law enforcement, supplemented by the fraternal assistance from across the border, continue escalating their increasingly brutal crackdown on dissent.
Many countries – including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – have already expressed concern about the new laws that effectively end Hong Kong’s special status under the original Britain-China agreement that led to the 1997 handover. Should there be violence against the people of Hong Kong, no doubt there will be condemnations from many more quarters. Quite likely sanctions will be placed on both the Hong Kong and the Beijing authorities, the concern over the fate of the enclave feeding into the growing concern with China in general in the wake of the pandemic and in light of the Chinese government’s actions inside and outside of the country all throughout it. But there is nothing that anyone can do to stop China from asserting the full communist authority over Hong Kong.
What the world can and should be doing, however, is offering a way out for those Hong Kongers who are unwilling to live under communism.
They are exactly the sort of migrants we in the West, particularly the English-speaking part of it, need – hard working, entrepreneurial, freedom and democracy loving, tyranny despising. Most already have some knowledge of English and share with us the heritage of the British political, legal, economic and social institutions.
I confess I have had a similar thought all those years ago when Hong Kong was handed back – unwillingly – to China. Sadly, the need is now becoming even more pressing. So here is my proposal:
Let us offer Hong Kong residents an opportunity to build another home, another pearl of the Orient, down under. Let us create a special zone in the northern Queensland, near Cairns or Cooktown perhaps, where migrants from Hong Kong can build another version of their home – this one safe from communism. Australia needs to decentralise too, and Queensland could do with another centre of gravity up north, a great urban enclave of vibrant democracy and free market, a financial and business hub taking advantage of both Australia’s resources and institutions as well as proximity to the Asia-Pacific region. Combine our country’s stability and democracy, the Far North’s natural beauty, and the talents of the freedom-loving Chinese people of Hong Kong. It’s a win for everyone, delivering an economic boom for our regions as well as a safe new home for all those who don’t want to live under an authoritarian regime.
Let’s call it the Belt and Road of Freedom.