When we were discussing China’s new “national security” law for Hong Kong yesterday, it was noted that pro-democracy advocates were already railing against the betrayal of the promises China made when taking over control of the city from Great Britain. Protests were planned, but pro-Beijing lawmakers were warning that any sort of public demonstrations could be dealt with harshly. Well, that took all of one day to come to pass. Despite concerns about a new wave of coronavirus infections, demonstrators took to the streets and were quickly met by police forces firing tear gas canisters indiscriminately into the crowds at a large shopping center. And then the arrests began. (Associated Press)

Hong Kong police fired volleys of tear gas in a popular shopping district as hundreds took to the streets Sunday to march against China’s proposed tough national security legislation for the city.

Pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong have sharply criticized China’s proposal to enact a national security law that would ban secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference and terrorism in the semi-autonomous territory. Critics say it goes against the “one country, two systems” framework that promises the city freedoms not found on the mainland.

Tam Tak-chi, one of the city’s most well-known democracy advocates, was arrested shortly after the protests began. He had previously predicted that he would be detained if China moved forward with its new legislation and it turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. He was charged with holding “an unauthorized assembly.”

When Beijing first announced its plans to implement the new legislation, John wrote about widespread concerns that this could literally be the end of Hong Kong as we know it. China was supposed to honor the “one country, two systems” policy for fifty years, until at least 2047, but that promise seems to have been forgotten. Of course, when the new law goes fully into effect (which is expected to happen on Thursday), it really won’t be doing much beyond making official the same policies that China has been imposing on Hong Kong for years. The only difference is that they might be opening up CCP offices in the city, allowing them to directly intervene in Hong Kong’s affairs more quickly.

In that sense, much of the “freedom” enjoyed by Hong Kong since 1997 has largely been illusory anyway. China regularly intervenes in local elections if the residents begin electing too many people with crazy ideas about freedom and democracy. The top leadership positions, currently exemplified by Carrie Lam, are always held by pro-Beijing politicians who take their marching orders from the CCP. People have regularly been arrested in Hong Kong for demonstrating, giving speeches or contacting foreign media outlets, things that people in free nations simply take for granted.

Up until now, a certain amount of demonstrating and chatter about democracy has been allowed, apparently just to humor the locals. But now it appears that China isn’t going to even bother providing a fig leaf to the 1997 agreement they entered into. They’re probably sure that they can get away with it because nobody is going to risk going to war with them or attempt any sort of direct military intervention right on China’s doorstep to free Hong Kong’s citizens. And while it’s sad to say, they’re probably right.