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‘Beijing leaders and pawns in Hong Kong now crossing a rubicon’ - Larry Diamond


Leading democracy studies scholar Professor Larry Diamond of Stanford University said the world see the death of “one country, two systems” with Beijing enacting national security law in Hong Kong. He said the United States, Britain and other democracies should make Chinese and Hong Kong authorities held accountable for violating the rights of Hong Kong people, by invoking targeted visa and economic sanctions over Chinese and Hong Kong political figures and their families.

The following is CitizenNews’ Q&A with Prof. Diamond.

Professor Larry Diamond

1. How do you view Beijing's approach over governing Hong Kong? In the past, the controversial national security law is enacted locally within Hong Kong, what does it mean with this promise being walked back?

The Beijing authorities are now clearly pursuing a more aggressive and repressive strategy toward Hong Kong.  They never intended to allow "gradual and orderly progress" toward democratic, universal suffrage in Hong Kong, because they lack confidence in their own system, and they fear that if Hong Kong were to become a democracy that it would also become a very appealing model for the rest of China.  So what they have sought all along is "gradual and orderly progress" toward "one country, one authoritarian system."  Now they are tired of the "gradual and orderly" part of this and are no longer willing to wait until 2047 to crush Hong Kong's freedom and impose direct authoritarian control from the center.  That is my interpretation of everything they have been doing.  One always needs to keep in mind that it is still, in the Leninist or political sense of the word, a Communist Party ruling in the PRC, and their mentality is "control, control, control."

2. What is the implication for Hong Kong's autonomy, given Beijing will now enact laws to be directly applied in Hong Kong? Are we seeing the death or end of "one country, two systems"? What should be the way forward between Beijing and Hong Kong?

As I said, we are indeed seeing the death of "one country, two systems."  In the eyes of Xi Jinping and his fellow party bosses, the way forward is to gradually squeeze, intimidate, bully, arrest, harass, and demoralize Hong Kong democrats, in both politics and civil society.  Gradually, Beijing will take more direct control of political decisions, law-making, and law enforcement--which is why the extradition bill is so important to them.  They probably think, "We are the Chinese Communist Party, and we aren't going to be pushed around by a bunch of undisciplined and ungrateful Hong Kong protestors," even thought most of the protestors have shown remarkable discipline, and there is no reason an ordinary citizen in Hong Kong should feel grateful to the CCP.   There is no imminent way forward to democracy in Hong Kong.  It isn't going to happen until Communist rule collapses in China, or at least a visionary reformist leader takes the helm and moves the entire Chinese system in the direction of political liberalization.  In the near term, I think the strategy must be to avoid needless provocation of Beijing while raising the costs to PRC and HKSAR leaders of of engaging in acts of political repression or dismantling what remains of Hong Kong's autonomy.  A continuing campaign of civil disobedience can help to raise the costs for those leaders and make them think twice, but it has to be creative and adaptive.  Street protests are only one form of civil disobedience.  They are much more difficult in the era of the pandemic and the regime has learned how to contain them.

3. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeatedly warned about Beijing's crackdown in the past few weeks, which all points to deterrence against such a drastic law. But if Beijing is to press on with the new national security law anyway, do you think Hong Kong's special status under the US-Hong Kong Act should be revoked, and sanctions should be invoked under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act?

Whether to revoke Hong Kong's special status is an agonizing question.  On the one hand, we should try to avoid harming innocent people in Hong Kong; revoking Hong Kong's status would jeopardize tens of billions of dollars in trade between Hong Kong and the United States.  On the other hand, it's increasingly difficult for Secretary of State Pompeo to claim, with a straight face, that Hong Kong remains "sufficiently autonomous" to justify its special status under the US-Hong Kong Act.  And if Beijing does impose the national security law, it will simply be impossible.  Then it will have been Beijing that pulled the plug on the grant of special status--not the United States.

The United States and Britain and other established democracies should make it clear that if the PRC and HKSAR authorities are going to violate the human rights of the people of Hong Kong and trample all over their commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, they are going to be held accountable by the world's democracies.  Insofar as possible, this accountability should not perversely punish the people of mainland China or of Hong Kong for the sins of their rulers.  It should punish very specific individuals:  the political authorities and their families.  I would say to all these people who are dismantling Hong Kong's autonomy, civil liberties, and rule of law, "You can't have it both ways.  You can't send your families over here to study and to live, to buy property and recycle wealth, you can't park and launder your assets in our country, while you rampage over the rights of the people of Hong Kong."  So yes, I strongly favor invoking targeted visa and economic sanctions.  The Beijing leaders and their pawns in the HKSAR are now crossing a rubicon.  We need to show we understand that things have changed in a fundamental way, and act on that.


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