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Opinion | Can Hong Kong’s Resistance Win?

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What do they see in China today? A factory for the world, to be sure. China has much more wealth and influence than it had three decades ago. Its economy interlocks with the world’s, and it aims to extend its reach through an ambitious “Belt and Road Initiative.” But its wealth was built on the backs of low-wage labor by rural migrants, unprotected by safety regulations, unions, a free press or rule of law.

Political power in China operates in ways that resemble the underworld. The strengths of the system are the speed and efficiency of its governing machine, which is well oiled by corruption, protected by a vast police system and has no competitors. Human beings? They are but its cogs. If humans have other wants or needs — like independent thinking, free expression or personal happiness — well, those are things for our rivals, the Western democracies, to pursue. The West’s production model is less efficient than ours. Ours has “Chinese characteristics.”

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At root, the confrontation with the West is not about trade. It is about two fundamentally incompatible political systems, two different understandings of what modern civilization is. The Chinese government’s model of human sacrifice in service of the wealth and power of the state (and of the super-elite) inevitably conflicts with democratic ideals. Western governments and businesses that piggyback on China’s system in search of their own profit should remind themselves: To know that your actions harm human dignity and to go ahead and continue them anyway is the essence of iniquity.

The youth of Hong Kong, who have grown up well informed by the internet, are keenly aware of the stark alternatives before them. They are accustomed to freedom, personal rights and access to information. They know what they want, what they are defending and the nature of the opposition they face. They have watched the freedoms of Hong Kong — in the media, education, housing, commerce and elsewhere — slowly slip away, and they know that the Communist Party stops at nothing in pursuing its interests.

Hong Kong’s legal autonomy, which is at stake in the extradition bill, seems to them perhaps the last autumn leaf on their tree before a harsh winter sets in. They know what that winter looks like: arbitrary arrest, secret detention and contempt for facts, fairness and justice. Lose the present battle and all will be lost, they feel. Lose and they, like people in Tibet, Xinjiang and the mainland democracy movement, will live under persecution and attack and have no recourse.



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