August 14, 2020 | Policy Brief

Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Strategic Defense of Democracy

August 14, 2020 | Policy Brief

Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Strategic Defense of Democracy

Hong Kong police on Monday arrested Jimmy Lai, the 71-year-old pro-democracy founder of Hong Kong media company Next Digital and its newspaper, Apple Daily, on charges of violating China’s new national security law. Beijing has targeted Lai to prove that the national security law is no empty threat, that there will be no more freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and that no one, no matter how old or well-respected, is safe from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Authorities also arrested Lai’s two sons, four executives at Next Digital, and prominent activist Agnes Chow, among others, in what constituted the third sweeping round-up in Hong Kong since Beijing imposed the national security law on June 30. Most of those arrested – including Lai, his sons, and Chow – were released on bail late Tuesday night.

“When I was in custody I could not sleep,” Lai told BBC News. “I was thinking, if I knew that was going to happen to me now, [with] even more hardship [to come], would I have done the same thing?” The answer: “I would not have [done things] another way. This is my character.”

Hong Kong residents demonstrated their support for Lai by buying copies of Apple Daily in bulk and distributing them around the city. But Hong Kong is a small, isolated outpost in the process of being swallowed up by the CCP.

The CCP’s actions in Hong Kong underscore its disregard for its own laws as well as international norms. The national security law violates Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the Sino-British Joint Declaration on the status of Hong Kong, and even Beijing’s own constitution. The kidnapping of the Panchen Lama, a Tibetan Buddhist leader, and, most egregiously, the genocide against the Uighur minority in Xinjiang further illustrate the CCP’s contempt for international standards for human rights.

Beijing is also a rising great power intent on spreading its influence internationally. Whether through use of force, economic coercion, or acquisition of media outlets, the CCP’s crackdown on free speech is already global.

Beijing has even tried to intimidate members of Congress. On Monday, China sanctioned six U.S. lawmakers for speaking out against its repression in Hong Kong.

The United States is the only country with the ability to inspire an effective response to Beijing’s oppression. The U.S. effort should begin with direct, tactical responses to the situation in Hong Kong, such as assisting refugees, supporting independent media, or nominating Lai and Chow for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet these steps alone are insufficient. They would allow the CCP to set the terms of the conflict. The United States can halt China’s offensive only if Washington defines the playing field and, in the process, targets Beijing’s sensitivities and protects in advance against China’s next assaults.

A strategic response to Beijing’s gross violations of democratic norms and international agreements should target the CCP’s sensitivities regarding U.S. recognition of Taiwan. Beijing considers Taiwan’s independence and independent international relationships to be core, enduring threats. The United States currently bows to the CCP with a “One China” policy that rejects Taipei in favor of Beijing. Washington should make clear that it is prepared to respond to Beijing’s rejection of international norms by discarding its “One China” policy and recognizing Taiwan.

Taiwan is a robust democracy and longstanding U.S. partner. It is also next in Beijing’s line of fire. To grant Taiwan diplomatic recognition would signal U.S. resolve and put Beijing on the defensive. It would also reassert American values at full volume. The exclusive on the story could go to Taiwan’s branch of the Apple Daily.

Emily de La Bruyère and Nathan Picarsic are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and co-founders of Horizon Advisory, a strategy consulting group focused on the implications of China’s competitive approach to geopolitics. Emily and Nathan both contribute to FDD’s China Program, Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP), and Center on Economic and Financial Power (CEFP). For more analysis from Emily, Nathan, the China Program, CMPP, and CEFP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Emily on Twitter @edelabruyere. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_CMPP and @FDD_CEFP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


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