It was heartening to see several thousand Hong Kongers protesting on Sunday against China’s kidnapping of five men connected to an independent book publisher and bookstore critical of the Chinese Communist Party.
Their mysterious disappearances has attracted much global media attention. Even Taiwanese presidential candidates Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Eric Chu (朱立倫) expressed their gravest concerns about the threat of political censorship and the rapid deterioration of China’s “one country, two systems” in Hong Kong.
The story of the five missing men has further diminished the appeal of a rising China both at home and abroad.
Hostility toward independent publishers and critical intellectuals remains unchanged. Seeing no limits to the exercise of its surveillance power against citizens’ dissent, Beijing no longer tolerates any dissenting voices and activities. Security agents allegedly crossed the border to arrest these men in Thailand and Hong Kong.
Beijing’s displays of confidence and assertiveness in foreign policy and domestic politics coincide with growing popular expectations and discontent that is bound to inhibit the nation’s real assertiveness. Although China grants limited constitutional rights to its citizens and permits some space for semi-official and nongovernmental organizations, the regime’s survival still depends on containing the spread of universal values and keeping the discontented working and middle-classes localized.
The abductions of those who published books and magazines that smeared the Chinese Communist Party reflects Beijing’s obsession with political secrecy and stability.
Forcing ordinary citizens to be submissive differs from winning popular trust and showing strong leadership. When Beijing imposes the rule of “might is right,” the intimidation tactics betrays Hong Kong’s high level of autonomy under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law.
There have been frequent reports of Chinese security agents crossing the border to investigate cases and arrest suspects under Hong Kong’s jurisdiction. Although not everyone in Hong Kong engages in business and cultural activities concerning national politics, one hopes that Hong Kongers who participate in events and comment on subjects that are deemed to be sensitive by Beijing do not start disappearing under such overreaching efforts to impose censorship.
As Hong Kongers become inspired by Taiwan’s elections, they are still eager to assert their limited agency and reject China’s latest intimidation.
Joseph Tse-hei Lee is a professor of history and co-director of the bachelors’ degree program in global Asia studies at Pace University in New York.
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