If you ever find yourself worrying over whether American democracy has been “damaged” by this or that politician, just take a look at what’s going on in China and Hong Kong. That should make you feel better. Yesterday, Beijing overruled the results of the last round of elections in Hong Kong and ejected four legislators because of statements they had made in favor of democratic reforms. This led the remaining fifteen members of the legislature who are also pro-democracy advocates to draw up their own resignation papers as they prepared to quit the government in protest. Meanwhile, arrests of democracy advocates out in the streets of the city continued unabated. (Associated Press)

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers announced Wednesday they would resign en masse after four of them were ousted from the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s Legislature in a move one legislator said could sound the “death knell” for democracy there.

The resignation of the 15 remaining pro-democracy lawmakers will ratchet up tensions over the future of Hong Kong, a former British colony that has long been a regional financial hub and bastion of Western-style civil liberties but over which China’s government has increasingly tightened its control. A new national security law imposed by Beijing this year has alarmed the international community.

The mass departure will also leave Hong Kong’s Legislature with only pro-Beijing lawmakers, who already made up a majority but can now pass bills favored by Beijing without much opposition.

The four ejected lawmakers were charged under a new order from Beijing that came out earlier this week. Four new rules have been established, specifically for legislators, but they can just as easily be applied to anyone. It is now illegal to:

– Support Hong Kong’s independence
– Refuse to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over the city
– Threaten national security
– Ask external forces to interfere in the city’s affairs

You’ll notice that none of these new illegal activities actually involve someone doing something. They are all just examples of people saying things. These are thought crimes, pure and simple. If you’re an elected official who is determined to have had such unauthorized thoughts, you can be summarily removed from office with no opportunity to appeal. If you’re a protester out in the streets you can be taken to prison or, even worse, be shipped off to the mainland, likely never to be seen again.

Predictably, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, once again acted as nothing more than a mouthpiece for Beijing, speaking out in support of the removal of the legislators.

We cannot allow members of the Legislative Council who have been judged in accordance with the law to be unable to fulfill the requirements and prerequisites for serving on the Legislative Council to continue to operate in the Legislative Council,” Lam said.

As with all of the recent developments in Hong Kong, there really are no obvious solutions available for the pro-democracy forces in the city. Their calls for fairness fall on deaf ears inside the Chinese Communist Party. They have no military power to speak of while China has a literal army camped on their doorstep if anyone gets too far out of line. And their own government is powerless to do anything China doesn’t approve of as we’re seeing yet again this week. Outside help is pretty much out of the question, as nobody – including the United States – is about to get into a shooting war with the Chinese to save Hong Kong. External sanctions on pro-China leaders in the city have already been put in place but they seem to have no effect.

This is a serious tragedy that’s unfolding right before our eyes. Hong Kong was long established as one of the economic powerhouses of the world. Now its people are fleeing to the United Kingdom and Australia in significant numbers and trade is declining. Of course, that’s what always eventually happens when communism takes hold in a thriving society. Hong Kong is probably doomed at this point.