This pregnant question is now confronting not the Clinton Administration, but its successor and the Republican-controlled 108th Congress. For the PRC is poised to effect its latest -- and perhaps terminal -- effort to strip the people of Hong Kong of their freedoms: a legislative initiative expected, all other things being equal, to be adopted on July 9 by the Beijing-controlled Hong Kong Legislative Council under Article 23 of the so-called “Basic Law.” It could be used to deny freedom of religion, press and expression guaranteed by the Chinese when Britain agreed to turn over its colony in 1984.
One of the most courageous of Hong Kong’s minority of democratically elected legislators, Martin Lee, has warned that “It is no overstatement to say that this is truly a last opportunity to preserve the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”
After a meeting with Mr. Lee last week, the chairman and vice chairman of the bipartisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, Roger Robinson and Richard D’Amato, respectively, warned in a letter sent Friday to the Senate and House leadership that the “legislation...would give the Beijing-sponsored Hong Kong Government the ability to criminalize a wide range of religious, political and journalistic activities without due process or basic legal standards.” The congressionally mandated commission urged that “Congress take strong action as soon as possible opposing the proposed legislation and requesting that the Hong Kong Government withdraw the bill from consideration” and that “the President and Secretary of State should argue forcefully against the bill with their Chinese counterparts.”
As during the Clinton years, of course, there are countervailing pressures. The trade lobby will resist anything that might upset Beijing. President Bush is, moreover, being told that China can be helpful with its ever-more belligerent client, North Korea (although the PRC appears to enjoy the leverage that flows from the bad behavior of a proxy it equipped with nuclear and missile technology).
Mr. Bush also wants Beijing’s help on the war on terror (even though China, like Russia, has long had ties with all the state-sponsors of terror and some of the organizations they harbor and abet). And the Administration wants the Chinese government to stop its companies, like Norinco, from proliferating ballistic missile and other dangerous technology to the likes of Iran (as if this could have happened in China’s police state without government knowledge and clandestine approval).
Unfortunately, were Mr. Bush now to turn a blind-eye to the crushing of what remains of Hong Kong’s freedoms, it is predictable that the Chinese Communists’ ominous aspirations to extend their sway still further will be greatly encouraged. Coercive pressure will be applied against democratic Taiwan; it is even possible that an avoidable cross-strait war might be inspired by the West’s failure to stand up for Hong Kong. Inevitably, Beijing will be reinforced in its belief that, in due course, it will be able displace the United States as the preeminent Asian power and once again dominate that land-mass and the Western Pacific.
China’s new power on Hong Kong’s Article 23 play thus poses a momentous challenge for President Bush: As he commendably seeks to bring freedom to those around the world who have never known it, will he sit idly by as freedom is taken away from those in Hong Kong who yearn to continue to enjoy it?
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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