Hong Kong’s Experiment in Freedom Nears a Brutal End
Hong Kong’s freedom once provided a shining example for others to follow. While that freedom was never perfect, it enabled residents of the resource-poor territory to prosper. Residents enjoyed respect for their liberties that was rare in the region and unknown in neighboring China. But administration of Hong Kong was surrendered to China in 1997 and, as the recent raid on a pro-democracy newspaper demonstrates, the territory is losing its liberty as the world looks on in what the Chinese government clearly assumes is a mixture of disinterest and impotence.
Hong Kong was “a place where there’s an almost laboratory experiment in what happens when government is limited to its proper function and leaves people free to pursue their own objectives,” economist Milton Friedman said in 1980 in his Free to Choose documentary.
“Incredibly, it was in its way to become richer than its colonial ruler, Britain,” historian Johan Norberg pointed out when he retraced Friedman’s footsteps over three decades later.
Protecting that wealth-producing liberty was a key point in the agreement under which Britain surrendered control of the territory to China.
“The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the life-style,” promised the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. “Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment will be protected by law.”
The Chinese government initially kept to the bargain, apparently gambling that the wealth provided by Hong Kong’s freedom was worth tolerating the criticism of rulers and policies it also entailed. But, in recent years, China’s rulers seem to have decided that whatever they hope to gain from quashing dissent is worth more than what will be lost as people and capital flee the territory.
“The people of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, have traditionally enjoyed substantial civil liberties and the rule of law under their local constitution, the Basic Law,” Freedom House noted this year. “However, the chief executive and about half of the Legislative Council (Legco) are chosen through indirect electoral systems that favor pro-Beijing interests, and the territory’s freedoms and autonomy have been sharply reduced in recent years amid growing political intervention from the mainland.”
A case in point is the massive police raid last week on the offices of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy publication.
“Today, the Hong Kong Police raided the offices of Apple Daily newspaper for the second time in 10 months
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