We have seen on our television screens this week scenes of rioting from the city of Hong Kong. We have seen pictures of ordinary people, particularly students and young professionals, taking to the streets with banners and signs. So why are they there - and why should we care? In short, these events have starkly reminded us of the dangers of rampant statism.
Protests in Hong Kong in part started because of qualms about overturning a colonial-era extradition law (the mainland is currently excluded). But as we have seen from previous protests in the city, there are much bigger issues at play. There are real ramifications to people’s everyday freedom and livelihoods if the change is made by the government there.
Hong Kong is an exemplar of global commerce, with one of the world’s largest stockmarkets, a vast banking system and similarly transparent rules to those which we enjoy in the West. In contrast, the People’s Republic of China remains a socialist dictatorship. The Chinese have previously abducted critics of their regime in the territory. The safeguards in the new law (which the Hong Kong executive insists are stringent) could well prove inadequate at defending free speech and free markets from a zealous Chinese state, which is continually determined to silence its critics and kneecap its economic competitors.
And there’s so much worth defending in Hong Kong. Before independence from Britain, it saw staggering growth rates and income rises. This was in large part because of the “positive non-interventionism” of Sir John Cowperthwaite during his time as financial secretary in the colony. According to Cowperthwaite, money should remain in the pockets of taxpayers for the most productive purposes, not be requisitioned by a high-taxing bureaucracy. As a result, Hong Kong is one of the most prosperous cities on earth. Citizens there know the real value of freedom.
The story from mainland China could not be more different. The 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre served as a convenient reminder of the tyranny that the Chinese communist party has wrought upon its people. And when questions about detention camps in Xinjiang were raised with the Chinese ambassador to the UK, he demonstrated a highly selective presentation of events. This is precisely the future that young people in Hong Kong are afraid of.
Of course, this isn’t the first time free citizens have lived alongside (and in fear of) an oppressive socialism government which claimed ownership over them. In recent history, we have seen many countries split between communism and capitalism. North Korea is one. Germany was another. Reflecting on the fall of the Berlin Wall after the event in November 1989, Margaret Thatcher had a succinct and prescient assessment of these circumstances:
“The message is clear, when people are free to choose they choose freedom, they turn their backs on a system which has been discredited—not by Western propaganda but by first-hand experience.”
Beijing’s dictators would do well to reflect on the damage that exploiting their power can create. The emergence this week of mass protests in Hong Kong, China's shining city upon a hill, show the inherent value placed on freedom over socialist tyranny. Young people love their freedom, and won’t surrender it lightly.