Thursday, May 27, 2004

Freedom Dying Quietly in Hong Kong

It's amazing how little attention the commentariat has given to the Chinese Communist Party's successful ongoing efforts to eviscerate the guarantees it promised to uphold under the terms of the 1997 handover. As hard as it might be for a lot of parochial individuals to understand, there are other things of great moment happening in the world other than in Iraq.

A veteran Hong Kong politician has told legislators he quit his radio talk show because of warnings he would be in danger unless he toned down his anti-Beijing views.

Allen Lee, who is also a member of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, said he quit after a number of people pressured him to keep quiet.

Four hundred academics have taken out an advertisement in a leading daily newspaper in Hong Kong expressing disquiet over the resignation of Mr Lee and two other high-profile talk show hosts.

Radio talk shows are a relatively new phenomena in Hong Kong but they have rapidly become an institution. Some estimates suggest as many as one in six people here listen to them in the morning. Ordinary people have the chance to air their views. Politicians find themselves challenged rigorously by the listeners and the programmes' presenters. But recently three talk show hosts have resigned, complaining of threats and intimidation. This hearing by Hong Kong lawmakers was an attempt to find out what is going on. Two of the hosts refused to attend, saying they feared for their safety.

But a third, Allan Lee, told the inquiry a retired Chinese official and other friends from the mainland had tried to persuade him to tone down his comments. He refused and decided to quit, after one Chinese official remarked "your wife is very nice and your daughter is very pretty". (emphases added)

I think Mr. Lee interpreted the message precisely as it was meant to be interpreted by the thugocracy which runs China. It is no exaggeration to say that China's government is probably one of the top five most repressive entities on the planet, and almost certainly number one if we go purely by sheer numbers of victims. Some may think that what goes on in Hong Kong is of little importance except to the unfortunate residents of that territory themselves, but the geostrategic significance of CCP intolerance of dissent and demands for accountability are far graver than a naive reading of events might suggest. For one thing, it makes it ever more likely that the people of Taiwan will eventually push for formal independence, and with that, dramatically increases the likelihood of a Sino-American war.