June 3, 2020 | Washington Examiner

Hong Kong is the new front line for China’s oppressive ambition

June 3, 2020 | Washington Examiner

Hong Kong is the new front line for China’s oppressive ambition

Last month, China’s legislature resolved to introduce a new national security law for Hong Kong. That law criminalizes “treason, secession, sedition, [and] subversion.” It empowers Beijing to deploy national security instruments to the once-autonomous island.

The new national security law subverts Hong Kong’s foundational “Basic Law.” Beijing imposes it by bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature, relying instead on the rubber-stamp Chinese National People’s Congress. Last year, the people of Hong Kong struggled valiantly and won key concessions. But, as we see now, those were temporary wins.

This latest Chinese Communist Party encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy is damning in its procedural and its substantive details. But this is a case where the devil is not in the details. The devil is in Beijing’s overarching ambition. The Chinese Communist Party pursues a global, authoritarian agenda. And Beijing is exploiting the COVID-19 crisis to accelerate that agenda. Xinjiang was yesterday; today is Hong Kong. Tomorrow will be Sydney or Taiwan, after that the world.

The United States, its allies, and its partners must wake up, band together, and act with resolve. Acting with resolve does not mean empty rhetoric or ineffective sanctions. It means horizontal escalation: Dedicated action, not in a directly responsive, tit for tat fashion, but in parallel domains, where the U.S. can leverage enduring strengths and capitalize on Beijing’s vulnerabilities.

COVID-19 illustrates what happens when an authoritarian state claims outsize influence over the international system. Beijing obfuscated this virus into pandemic form. Now — with the world paralyzed, distracted, and disconnected ⁠— Beijing is moving in at pace. Hong Kong is the front line. It is evidence of how resolutely the CCP manipulates global crisis and how dire the implications are for the world order.

The CCP’s threat extends well beyond Hong Kong. Beijing’s ambitions are, and have long been, global. While the CCP subdues Hong Kong with force, it uses subtler tools to control the international stage. Beijing builds the foundations for global authoritarian influence by weaponizing industry, capital, and information systems. Beijing co-opts global networks, standards, and platforms ⁠— the systems undergirding markets and resources ⁠— in order to govern the world’s exchange and set its rules.

Even before the pandemic, we were letting Beijing do so. First, we surrendered influence over critical global resources and supply chains to “Made in China 2025” and Beijing’s larger industrial offensive. Then, we surrendered control of information infrastructures and multilateral institutions to China’s Standards Strategy. Now, Beijing is accelerating all of those plays. It is capitalizing on COVID-19 dislocation to capture strategic market share, assets, and infrastructures the world over.

When we come out on the other end of COVID-19, the Chinese Communist Party will almost certainly have swallowed up Hong Kong. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has effectively ceded this loss already. Beijing risks also having captured the foundations of the global order.

This is a pivotal moment. The world must stand up for Hong Kong. That does not mean vertical escalation in Hong Kong. It might mean horizontal escalation. Maybe the U.S. recognizes Taiwan tomorrow. Maybe it commits to the quadrilateral relationship with Australia, India, and Japan, to include sharpened security cooperation and assistance in the Indo-Pacific. Or maybe the U.S. uses economic levers. This could include free trade deals that restrict Chinese room for economic manipulation by promulgating common foreign investment review criteria. Such moves are long overdue, given China’s predatory economic practices.

We cannot just burrow into our socially distanced isolation. And we cannot just rely on language. The CCP is not going to wake up tomorrow, see the democratic light, and give up its coercive global ambitions just because we chastised it or slapped the wrists of select actors.

Nor can any party act alone. The U.S., Europe, and our democratic allies and partners must act together ⁠— in reacting to Hong Kong’s immediate plight, also in defining a positive path forward. Doing so will demand a joint, coordinating mechanism designed specifically to address China’s threat. NATO might serve as a useful model. This institution will need a clear mandate and accountability mechanisms. It will need a competitive vision. It will need to bring together the stakeholders of today’s world order to protect that world order.Hong Kong should be our wake-up call. China is overthrowing a developed, mature, healthy democracy that has, for decades, served as a crucial hub in the global banking and financial sector. China is not the actor we want in control there. Nor is it the actor we want defining our global systems. Now is the time to respond.

Hong Kong should be our wake-up call. China is overthrowing a developed, mature, healthy democracy that has, for decades, served as a crucial hub in the global banking and financial sector. China is not the actor we want in control there. Nor is it the actor we want defining our global systems. Now is the time to respond.

Emily de La Bruyère and Nate Picarsic are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and co-founders of Horizon Advisory.

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Issues:

China COVID-19 Indo-Pacific Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy