On the Duty to Resist and why the West ought to support Hong Kong independence.
I've written this essay for a competition, but I thought I'd tweet it as well while I still can.
At the time of writing, the Chinese National People’s Congress had just announced their plans to impose a national security law on Hong Kong, bypassing the local legislature in hopes to crush the on-going resistance, sparked by a now-seemingly irrelevant draft bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. In retrospect, that was nothing in comparison to what we now face. This is a direct act of aggression from Beijing. This is our darkest hour. For many, it seems like the end of Hong Kong is near. Yet as Churchill said, ‘this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.’ Beijing seems to think that the measure would be sufficient to crush dissent. They were wrong. Such a move would only further justify and strengthen Hongkongers’ sense of moral duty to resist. Activists were not wrong in saying that this could very well mark ‘the end of Hong Kong’ – only that, by the same token, it would mark its rebirth as well. Beijing has already failed its political mission: Hongkongers are now awakened to the fact that independence is our only way out – and the free world has a duty to stand with us in this struggle.
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident,’ read the beginning lines of the American Declaration of Independence, ‘that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.’ It is these unalienable, natural rights of man that governments, arisen from the people, ought to protect, according to 17th-century English philosopher John Locke. In his 1690 Two Treaties on Government, Locke argued that governments are in a social contract with the people, wherein the latter would agree to transfer certain rights to the former, on the condition that the former offers stability and the protection of their natural rights of life, liberty, and property. Yet since the summer of 2019, it is evident that the Hong Kong government has failed its part of the contract. In February, Bloomberg commented that the city showed ‘symptoms of a failed state.’ Its once-‘Asia's finest’ police force, facing numerous accusations of selective enforcement and police brutality, now unable to protect its citizens from violent attacks by pro-Beijing mobs and its own officers; its once-independent judiciary, now under threat from Beijing, unable to uphold those natural rights enshrined in the Basic Law relentlessly under attack by those in power; and its executive, once known for its efficiency, now unable to protect the interests of its people nor its markets, rather to pursue a political mission assigned directly from Beijing. In the past, the Hong Kong government, propped up by a successful economy and vague promises of universal suffrage – promises expressed as constitutional statutes in the Basic Law – held its part of the contract. But no more. The people of Hong Kong have woken up to its lies and deceptions, and the very fact that this government does not serve our interests, but rather those of Beijing. It has failed its part of the contract, and it is now our duty to rise against it to protect our natural rights.
Certainly, this line of reasoning may come at the horror of the international community. A separatist movement in Hong Kong will justify Chinese military intervention, and therefore must not even be discussed – this has been the argument that many have accepted in the past. But no more. Independence must no longer be kept off the table, and the international community has a duty to support it should the people of Hong Kong decide to pursue it, for they owe us a choice. In 1972, the United Nations succumbed under Chinese pressure to remove Hong Kong and Macau from its list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, stripping our right to self-determination. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, former Governor Chris Patten recalled a man in a mental hospital who asked him, ‘“how it is that Britain, the democracy, is handing over Hong Kong to an authoritarian power without consulting [its] people…without giving them any choice?”…[it was] extraordinary…the man with the sanest question in Hong Kong is in a mental hospital.’ Britain has betrayed us once in 1984 with the Sino-British Joint Declaration, deciding our future without consulting us. Today, those promises of ‘universal suffrage’ and those that claim the city will ’retain its way of life for 50 years’ are blatantly being broken by China, and Britain must not turn its back on us again. As Patten said, the UK has a ‘moral, economic, and legal duty to stand up for [Hong Kong].’ Yet so far, Britain’s response has been ‘limp, inane and could have been copied and pasted directly from their previous statements’, said Johnny Patterson of the Hong Kong Watch. Opponents of a confrontation argue that the UK has ‘too much at stake’, that China, being an emerging superpower and the UK’s third-largest market, is an essential trading-partner especially for post-Brexit Britain, and that, therefore, confrontation may trigger a trade war that Britain could not afford. Wherefore, did Britain leave the European Union? Was it not to regain our ‘sovereignty’ from a distant, technocratic Brussels? Was it not to regain our international significance as an ‘independent, global Britain’? Where does this leave us as a country, if we are to, as Benedict Rogers said, ‘“take back control” from Brussels only to surrender it to Beijing’? What does this say about our ‘British values’ of freedom, democracy, respect, and tolerance if we are to ally with, as the independent China Tribunal founded in 2019, a ‘criminal state’?
Duty, for 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, arises from the imperfect rationality of human beings in the struggle between universal reason and selfish desires, which must be followed in accordance with the Goodwill. Yet in the past twenty years, Hongkongers and the West have appealed to our selfish desires. We have turned a blind eye to Chinese atrocities in Tibet and Xinjiang, militarism in the South China Sea, hostility in the Taiwan Straits, and encroaching influence on Hong Kong’s autonomy. We have been led to the irrational, selfish belief that ‘at the end of the all the kowtowing there’s this great pot of gold waiting for us’, as Patten said. The myth that if we simply do what China wants, if we turn our backs from our humanitarian responsibilities, if we stay silent on our moral duty to uphold the rights of man as a member of the free world – somehow we will have economic prosperity. Yet we know ‘it’s always been an illusion.’ It is the elephant in the room every time we deal with China, every time our politicians promise a ‘golden era’ in relations with Beijing, every time the Foreign Office issue a template statement mildly condemning Chinese interference. No more. Reason has wakened us to the fact that ‘China is not an ally,’ as Ian Duncan Smith MP said. Reason has wakened us to the fact that the future of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the free world, is not worth the sacrifice for our short-term economic gains. Reason has wakened us to the fact that for the past twenty years we have abandoned the people of Hong Kong at the hands of an authoritarian power. No more. The moral duty that has arisen must be fulfilled by the Kantian Goodwill. It is a perfect duty – a categorical imperative by both Kant’s universal and humanity law formulation – that Britain must fulfil. Appeasement of authoritarian powers had led us to war in 1939. History must not repeat.
‘These are times that try men’s souls…’ to quote the English American revolutionary Thomas Paine, ‘tyranny like hell, is not easily conquered: yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.’ The people of Hong Kong did not choose to stand up to China. She came for us. It is our duty to resist, and it is one that we will persist to the end, for persistence is not found in hope: hope is found in persistence. The time for reconciliation has passed. ‘To talk friendship with those in whom our reason forbids us to have faith, and our affections wounded through a thousand pores instruct us to detest, is madness and folly.’ This is our darkest hour. With the new security law, Beijing is directly undermining the few remaining freedoms we were promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and our natural rights as human beings, and the West has both a moral, economic, and legal duty to stand with us in this fight. Allow me to conclude with this quote from those in America 244 years ago, who found themselves in the same situation as Hongkongers do today:
‘O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!’