The Chinese Communist Party has picked this moment to effectively end it’s commitment to “one country, two systems” the agreement it made with Britain during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong. Since China’s previous attempts to crackdown on civil liberties in Hong Kong have been blocked by large street protests, Xi Jinping has decided to take a new approach. Rather than trying to pass anything through Hong Kong’s legislature, he is simply having his National People’s Congress pass the new security law in Beijing. That leaves no opportunity for protesters to influence what is happening. Today, local authorities quickly shut down a small march of elected officials citing the need to maintain social distancing because of the coronavirus:

“They are dealing a knockout blow to the democracy movement,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo. “All the fear, the desperation, the antipathy is now being answered by this national security law.”

Stunned and saddened, many protesters on Friday seemed demoralized and uncertain of their next move. While some on social media called for rallies or singalongs, several organizers said they would focus on events already planned for the coming days…

At noon, about two dozen protesters walked from a police station on Hong Kong’s western side to China’s Liaison Office, which represents the mainland government’s interests in the semiautonomous territory. As they walked, they chanted, “One country, two systems is dead” and “Hong Kong is the next Xinjiang” — a reference to the region in northwest China where the authorities have carried out a vast crackdown on predominately Muslim minority groups.

Police officers quickly ordered the protesters, largely elected officials, to stop. Citing social distancing restrictions, the police eventually cordoned them off into two groups and issued formal warnings. The march lasted about three minutes.

The connection of what is happening now in Hong Kong to the coronavirus is more than coincidental. Bloomberg reports that the virus has created a moment of crisis for the Chinese Communist Party. The social and economic disruption represents a threat to Xi Jinping’s leadership and a crackdown on Hong Kong is one way to look strong.

Facing rising unemployment in the mainland due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the potential for a big loss in Hong Kong legislative elections set for September, the Communist Party decided it had more to gain by acting decisively to stem any potential threats.

“Xi feels threatened, the leadership feels threatened — this is a crisis,” said David Zweig, an emeritus professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and director of Transnational China Consulting Ltd. “This is, ‘We’re not going to give an inch, we’re going to tighten up, and Hong Kong’s national security as a potential subversive center is greater than its economic value.’”…

The unease within the party leadership was on display at the opening of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, where Premier Li Keqiang announced China would abandon its decades-long practice of setting an annual target for economic growth due to “great uncertainty” in the world economy.

The U.S. is already hinting that Hong Kong’s special status as a trading partner could be at risk if China doesn’t maintain the “two systems” part of the agreement.

A new U.S. law requires the State Department to certify at least annually that Hong Kong, which experienced widespread protests last year over China’s extradition plans, retains enough autonomy to justify favorable U.S. trading terms. President Donald Trump warned on Thursday that Washington could react “very strongly” to China’s new restrictions…

Some $67 billion in annual Hong Kong-U.S. trade of goods and services could be put at risk as Hong Kong would lose its preferential lower U.S. tariff rate…

A U.S. revocation of Hong Kong’s special status would be viewed by Beijing as interfering with its sovereignty, and China has previously threatened to “take strong countermeasures.”

But with the economy already a mess, Xi Jinping has apparently decided to roll the dice on this power grab counting on the fact that the rest of the world is too occupied right now to react. If the gamble pays off, Xi will be able to prevent a renewed series of protests in Hong Kong this fall and demonstrate strength at a moment when he would otherwise look weak. This is red meat for Chinese nationalists and communists who have wanted a harder line on the pro-freedom troublemakers in Hong Kong for months. This is similar to Putin’s seizure of Crimea in 2014, the likely result will be increased support and approval for Xi’s leadership. But it really depends on how the rest of the world responds.

As for the protesters, organizer Joshua Wong tweeted responses to a series of questions, saying that Hong Kong’s independence appeared to be over and he expected to be one of the first who would be arrested under the new law.

I’ll wrap this up with this video of pro-freedom legislator Dennis Kwok. He predicts that in a very short time we could see “the end of Hong Kong as an international financial and business center.”