J.D. Little | United States
Hong Kong was not ruled over by tyrants while Thomas Jefferson was alive. But in the name of some classical American sagacity, it may be worth it to find out what he would likely think about the riots gripping the city-state. Jefferson frequently referenced a so-called “Empire of Liberty” in many of his key letters.
Most critically, on the 6th of September, 1824, he wrote to William Ludlow, “where this progress will stop no-one can say. Barbarism has, in the meantime, been receding before the steady step of amelioration; and will in time, I trust, disappear from the earth”. It is the duty of free people to ensure freedom in the face of rampant oppression, be it by a State or by other entities.
American Foreign Policy
This concept is deeply intertwined with the American Foreign Policy tradition. President Monroe proposed his Doctrine, which was intended to prevent colonial overseers from limiting the political and personal liberty of their subjects in South America. One can view this as a direct extension of the idea of the “Empire of Liberty”. The root for this is not always purely ideological, but can also be pragmatic in reasoning, as it was during the Cold War. Throughout the world, American Foreign Policy, through the State Department and Central Intelligence Agency, worked to halt the spread of that most anti-liberty ideology: Soviet Communism.
This was done through covert political and military support of either existing governments or rebel groups, from Chile to Angola. This reached a fever pitch in perhaps one of its most ill-advised instances, the funding of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. While the supplying of weapons to the Afghan rebels did lead to the eventual Soviet withdrawal in February of 1989, it sowed the seeds for the eventual Taliban insurgency that cost so much American blood and treasure. That being said, it did step up Charlie Wilson’s (the Texas Congressman most responsible for the project) playboy lifestyle. I think that’s something we can all get behind.
The world has fundamentally changed since the era of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Charlie Wilson. Looking around, there is no existential threat to either the American hegemony or the political liberty of her citizens. We are increasingly living in what Russian political theorist Aleksandr Dugin called the “Multipolar World” in his 1997 tome Foundations of Geopolitics.
However, there are a number of states emerging with undeniably authoritarian tendencies. Chief among them is China. China undoubtedly has an interest for expansion of its odd hybrid of Mandarin State Capitalism, as is clearly seen in its Belt and Road project of politico-economic expansion. As much as we all love private enterprise, the human rights conditions under Xi Jinping are abysmal; prosperity is no replacement for human flourishing. Uyghurs are being placed in mass concentration camps, eerily reminiscent of the early construction of Dachau in March of 1933.
Perhaps there is no more highly publicized instance of the repression of the PRC than in Hong Kong. Under the law enacted when the British (regrettably) handed over their colony to China, Hong Kong is allowed to have its own political system, relatively free from Beijing’s influence. This was squashed by the proposal of the Hong Kong Executive, Carrie Lam, to allow the extradition of prisoners to the mainland. The move sparked a massive backlash. In the almost 7 months since the protests began, there have been well over 2,000 injuries and 1700 arrests. Lam withdrew the bill in July, but the protests are still going strong. This is no longer about the extradition bill. This is about freedom.
Time to Arm Hong Kong?
The police in Hong Kong have been ratcheting up their response to the protests. It seems that with every day comes new images and videos of police firing live ammunition at unarmed protestors. The time for negotiation seems to have passed, and things will only get far worse as time goes on.
[1630 Tsuen Wan]
— W. B. Yeats (@WBYeats1865) October 1, 2019
Where do we go from here? It’s a question without an easy answer. The traditional response to protests seem to be sanctions on goods, but with the trade war in effect between the US and China, any such action would likely be lost in the noise of tariffs.
Let’s be radical, for a moment. I’d like to propose a vignette. A police officer shoots and kills a protestor, to which they respond with a barrage of fire from Ar-15s and other firearms. The police retreat and protestors storm the Legislative Assembly buildings, declaring their freedom from the tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party and a new, free Hong Kong.
Fanciful, I know. But we can be imaginative. In terms of pragmatism, what can we do? It would be prudent to arm the protestors. 3D printers pose an interesting solution, but as we have seen with the prosecution of Cody Wilson, it is easy for such activists to be discredited and delegitimized. A more surefire solution would be for a covert shipment of weapons to the protestors.
This serves the immediate purpose of protecting the protestors but also serves a greater geopolitical end. It opens up a new front that the Chinese authorities must deal with. By spreading the People’s Liberation Army thin, they will likely overplay their hand, destabilizing the regime. This cannot be understated as a key goal for freedom-lovers across the world.
Jefferson’s most well-known quote is: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure”. To put it bluntly, there’s a hell of a lot of this manure to go around in Hong Kong. We just have to give them the shovels to lay it on.