The response from Hong Kong civil society has been grimly inevitable. Democratic campaign leaders such as Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Agnes Chow have resigned, while groups such as Demosisto and the Hong Kong National Front have announced their closures. Dozens of social media accounts have disappeared. Yet even today thousands still marched through the city protesting against the new law. Meanwhile the Communist Party paper, the People’s Daily, has tweeted that over 180 people have been arrested, including seven for defying the National Security Law. There’s no need to send in the troops. Campaigners can be picked off according to the law.
In one sense it does not matter what, exactly, the National Security Law states. It is a simple, brutal, assertion of the power of the mainland over Hong Kong. Beijing has struck against the one area over which it governed which still guaranteed some freedoms. Xi does not believe in contested areas. The unity of China, the party and the people is his ceaseless watchword.
He fears becoming the Chinese Gorbachev: the man seen as losing the battle of ideas with the West and so overseeing his nation’s collapse. Xi’s entire approach to governing has been about emphasising the ideological battle between China and the West. No dissent is permitted, no liberties may be taken. This is a new Cold War, a form of ideological and diplomatic autarky in which China has chosen its path. The time has come for others to consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which Hong Kong is having to wrestle.