• Daniel Ethan Finneran

On Hong Kong

August 2019

Our response to the situation in Hong Kong mustn’t be reticent; the struggle for liberty hasn’t the time for such hesitant harboring of thoughts. It hasn’t the convenience of the passing of hours, of the muted deliberations during which our sympathies might be cautiously considered and sheepishly sconcealed. Rather than be stifled, these thoughts should be made into words and these sympathies into deeds. Liberty demands—among so many things here unnamed—such things as unity, bravery, alacrity, and at times, yes, temerity. It’s only by that noble and intrepid combination of pressure and purpose, of determination and action, of vocalization and actual support, that freedom might ultimately be gained.

Liberty, you see, isn’t self-perpetuating, nor is it so very robust; liberty is liable to be lost. It doesn’t quietly tolerate neglect, nor does it wait for the attentiveness of a heart more concerned with its survival. It’s not something over which you can pass your attention in search of an excitement more pressing in time and greater in scope—for there is no such thing. To equate it to virginity (as a mind impoverished of analogy might do) wouldn’t be exactly right, but a parallel might be drawn. Though the exuberance of the former often leads to the loss of the latter, the two share a quality. Once voluntarily dismissed, one’s virginity—that chaste accoutrement of youth—can’t biologically be regained. Neither can liberty, from an ideological standpoint, easily be recovered once lost. Ravished of one’s prior freedom, the liberty by which one once was animated is made barren. In so hopeless and fruitless a case, liberty’s retrieval is nearly as difficult a task as when one’s sexual impenetrability has lapsed.

Liberty can’t exist unattended outside the idealist’s womb; its relationship is always symbiotic. That womb, for lack of a better image, is liberty’s nutritive encasement, its philosophical home. Dispossessed of this structural and intellectual scaffold, liberty falls to the earth stillborn. It gasps on the ground and, if unattended, soon dies. It must be supported, cradled, held. The miracle, by extension, is not in its conception—as any ideal, given enough time, can be conceived—nor in its acquisition, though this doubtless submerges us in an initial tide of reverence and awe. The miracle, rather, is to be found in its retention.

The maintenance of liberty is where the real work begins. The man by whom liberty is possessed (and who, reciprocally, is possessed by liberty) must forever safeguard this ethereal and fleeting freedom. Once his hard-earned aim, over which much blood was spilled and toil exerted, it’s now his jealously-defended property. It’s something toward which his indefatigable vigilance must turn. He must always ensure the health of its current state and the future of its viability. Initially earned and now owned in such a way, liberty becomes to all who participate in its possession a grand and daunting responsibility—one from which there should be no running away. To do so would be to adopt the pathetic complaisance of a slave yearning for his prior chains. It would be to embrace the servility of his past and to accept willingly the ornaments of his yoke.

Ironically, freedom itself can be a chain, but it’s also the ultimate key. The retention of this key, the magical and liberal device by whose gentle turn all doors to democracy push themselves ajar, is slipping from the hands of Hong Kong. The small peninsula’s sovereignty, once the liberal bastion of the far East, is now a vulnerability of which the wider world has become acutely aware. Its liberty, enshrined after its detachment from England in 1997, has become an Asian exception upon which the Communist government of China has insatiably desired to infringe. For the Chinese apparatchiks and bureaucrats fuming in Beijing, Hong Kong’s liberty has appeared to them to be not only brazen, but insufferable. Hong Kong can be seen as having flouted Chinese primacy. This was the case even before the events there unraveled over the course of the past twelve weeks.

From that time until this, millions of Hong Kongers, of whom many are young and rightfully disillusioned, have taken to the streets in protestation of the pro-Chinese administration of the state’s chief executive, Carrie Lam. She, by looking favorably upon a piece of legislation that would facilitate the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to the mainland of China for any number of nameless crimes, initiated the unrest. Maladroitly, Lam persisted by campaigning on the salubrious effects of this bill and has only very grudgingly postponed them. The citizens of Hong Kong, however—an enlightened and clearly animated bunch—were unconvinced that this bill was defeated. They sensed in Lam a politician who’d bide her time and impose upon them China’s will.

They were right in thinking as they did. Shamelessly (and quite audaciously, if I might add) China is in the process of taking steps toward the solidification of its totalitarian regime. Contemptuous of all constitutional constraints, President Xi Jinping has effectively made himself president for life (a constitutional amendment, one might add, to which our own president lent his applause). Time will offer no impediment to his power. His position in China henceforth will appear indistinguishable from that of an ancient, hereditary emperor of an oriental type. Visibly in no poor state of health, his reign is likely to last as many years as does he. Excluding the possibility of an assassination, this could amount to a few decades. Thus, there’s little political impetus for him to change his ways with elections being but mere staged annoyances to which he’s safely immune.

To longevity is added inescapability. Bringing to life the Orwellian terror from which that ill-treated Winston Smith had no recourse, the Chinese government is beginning in upcoming years more explicitly and intrusively to spy on its citizens. The objective is to create a database to which government officials can refer in the assessment and judgment of one’s fidelity to the state. Should one prove himself sufficiently loyal to the Communist regime (a measurement about whose formulation I’m admittedly curious), he will be awarded with either pecuniary or honorary gifts, compliments of the insidiously competent Xi Jinping. Should his disloyalty be on display, one can imagine the punitive consequences he’ll be made to suffer. Public disapprobation would be the least of his concerns—physical assault, disappearance, and death, probably the most.

No structure or enactment of government could be more repugnant to the liberal and progressive sentiments of the people of Hong Kong. It’s for this and other reasons that their resilience to this proposal of easier extradition to mainland China spread so fervidly. Ill-disposed toward becoming a subjected, invigilated, and molested people if they have a word on the matter, Hong Kongers have taken to the streets nearly every weekend, and now on most weekdays, to express their frustration and their desperate cry to be free. Equally exasperated is the Chinese government, which is now said to be mobilizing on the border its armed troops. Hitherto, the protests and demonstrations have been considered, albeit speciously, a purely internal affair. The issue now unambiguously girdles the world and bestrides the two states: the diminutive and democratic Hong Kong on the one side, and the corpulent and communistic China on the other.

With whom, then, should our sympathies align? Should we champion the cause of China or that of Hong Kong? Are we supportive of the Leviathan, as monarchical as it is massive and cruel, or the liberal, as democratic as we?

I need not answer that for you here; it would be too obvious and I value too highly your intellect. An image alone will suffice. Imagine, if you will, a group of Hong Kong protestors waving with unflappable resolution the stars and stripes of the American flag. Add to this mental vision the familiar and euphonious sound of music swelling in their lungs as they sing with unabashed pride our own National Anthem. The modern American is slightly chagrined at seeing and hearing such sights and sounds. For us, irreverence for the flag has become the public display du jour. We’re told rather to kneel in spite of it than to give thanks in standing deference because of it. We’re at pains to explain away our earlier, surely juvenile veneration of it. To the Hong Kongers, however, and frankly to all other liberty-loving people around the world, our flag is something quite different. To them, it’s an enduring emblem of liberty—a liberty to which they so indomitably aspire and one past which we so impudently look.

Though our president is a vociferous and necessary advocate for the flag, he hasn’t made explicitly known his sympathies in regard to struggle for Hong Kong’s freedom. This is a problem. Now would be the time for him unequivocally to state his support for Hong Kong as it navigates this intractable and inevitably violent conflict with China. Instead, he seems intent on appeasing both sides.

In any other circumstance, we might applaud as uncharacteristically diplomatic so cautious an approach to so frangible and thorny a foreign issue, but the country is in the tumultuous crux of a trade war. Doubtless, you needn’t my services to remind you that this is a trade war for whose instigation he stands uniquely responsible—indeed, it’s a war of which he’s overtly proud. As it’s been communicated to us, the supposition holds that China (even in the midst of the roguish North Korea) is the primary maleficent actor in the region. We’ve been led to believe that it’s the avaricious Asian beast, imperialistic by birth and communistic by inclination, against whom we should be fighting—not only economically, but ideologically as well. It’s because of their deviant trade practices that our farmers of soy, corn, and beef are beginning to feel the uncomfortable consequences of tariffs and the reason why our automakers and machinists are seeing inflated prices for their procurement of steel.

What better time, then, would there be to emphasize China’s wickedness and, in so doing, to justify the tariffs on which all previously sanguine financial forecasts have now soured? To highlight China’s tyranny—standing, as it does, in stark contrast to the autonomy of which Hong Kong is in desperate pursuit—would give added justification to these tariffs. These are tariffs, one might add, by which the economy lately has been made to feel quite unstable; all the benchmarks by which the economy is measured have come to look rather unpropitious (with an inversion of the Yield Curve and a recession on the horizon). Sure, the tariffs might persist in their insalubrious effects on American consumers and markets, perhaps even to the point of unanticipated economic exacerbation (including more expensive Chinese toys come the holiday season), but that might just be, as John F. Kennedy said, a burden that we’d have to bear. It might be a very literal price we’d have to pay in order, as stated in his immortal words, to “assure the survival and the success of liberty”. But first, before ensuring this liberty of which Hong Kong is deprived, we must make our voices heard. There is no time for reticence when liberty is on the line. We must speak, we must act, we must support the liberal zeitgeist of Hong Kong.

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