Hong Kong—the End of Freedom Begins
“Hong Kong is not China.” This was the battle cry of many protesters in Hong Kong on July 21 as they entered their seventh week of demonstrations. But the activists were met that night with a new level of violence that shows how intolerable such words are to Beijing, and that indicates how these protests might end.
A ‘Barren Island’ Transformed
In the early 19th century, Hong Kong Island was a sparsely inhabited area of just a few small fishing villages—fewer than 7,500 people. Lord Palmerston famously called it “a barren island with hardly a house upon it.”
But in January 1841, the British Empire raised its flag on the territory and began developing it. It immediately became a hub for European entrepreneurs eager to trade with China under British protection. Chinese nationals also flocked there for jobs building a new town. As the mainland underwent violent upheavals, several waves of Chinese refuges fled to Hong Kong. By 1956, the population stood at 2.5 million.
The flourishing territory took on a unique identity. “British rule,” Steve Tsang wrote in A Modern History of Hong Kong, “led to the rise of a people that remains quintessentially Chinese and yet share a way of life, core values and an outlook that resemble at least as much, if not more, that of the average New Yorker or Londoner, rather than that of their compatriots in China.”
As the 20th century progressed, Hong Kong’s population and wealth continued to mushroom. It became the world’s third-highest-ranking center of global finance, and one of the most densely populated, richest places on Earth. Under the British, the “barren island” was dramatically transformed into a beacon of prosperity and modernity.
The Closure of an Empire
After World War ii, the British Empire sharply declined. In 1997, despite opposition from a majority of Hong Kong’s people, the British handed the territory over to Chinese rule.
Hong Kongers feared they would be swallowed up by the authoritarian mainland, but Britain negotiated an agreement for the colony: China vowed to let Hong Kong retain its distinct identity under a rubric called “one country, two systems.” This formula guaranteed that for at least 50 years, China would allow the government and people of Hong Kong a high degree of economic, political and judicial autonomy.
Why would the nationalist leaders of China risk allowing part of their country to have far broader freedoms than the rest? Because despite the Chinese leadership’s abhorrence of the West (and especially Britain’s colonialism), they couldn’t deny that the system the British had established there was extraordinarily successful. In 1997, Hong Kong’s population—6.4 million—comprised half of 1 percent of China’s total population. Yet Hong Kong’s economy then accounted for a stunning 18 percent of China’s gross domestic product. Its gdp per person was $25,292, while the figure for mainland China was less than $800.
The Chinese promised to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms so the territory could enrich Beijing. Also, with Hong Kong’s deep integration into the international economic system, it could be an interface better connecting the world economy to China.
Cracks in the Compact
For a short time, the “two systems” model was vigilantly followed. But in the early 2000s, China began inserting itself into Hong Kong’s affairs. Now 22 years after the handover, China’s encroachment is ubiquitous. “As a local Hong Konger,” an analyst in the territory told the Trumpet on the condition of anonymity, “I can tell you that everything is under China’s control, either directly or indirectly.”
The current protests were sparked on June 9 by a proposed law that would allow China’s Communist government to easily transfer criminal suspects in Hong Kong—including foreigners—to the mainland to stand trial.
The possibility of suffering such a fate is horrifying to Hong Kongers because, unlike the rules-based judicial system they inherited from the British, China’s court system is utterly corrupt. There is no check-and-balance configuration among the organs of law enforcement, such as police, lawyers and judges, and Communist Party leaders are above the law. They weaponize the judicial system to punish their enemies and tighten their grip on power. Authorities routinely arrest individuals who are critical of the party and use torture to extract confessions. The conviction rate for Chinese courts is an astounding 99.9 percent, and those who found guilty are often executed just 72 hours after conviction. China executes more prisoners than the rest of the world combined.
Fear of being subjected to this Chinese system has driven 2 million Hong Kongers—more than a quarter of the territory’s total population—into the streets this summer. Protesters scored a victory on June 15 when Hong Kong’s China-beholden government suspended the proposed extradition law. But a suspension is not a withdrawal. And protesters feared that the move was designed to sap their movement’s momentum so the Communist Party can quietly push the law through later.
So they kept demonstrating, and broadened their purpose to challenge not just the proposed extradition bill, but China’s general encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy. They insist: “Hong Kong is not China.” And in a clear sign of their resolve to keep the territory’s colonial legacy alive, many of the protesters brandish the colonial-era Hong Kong Flag and the Union Jack.
The End of Freedom Begins
On July 21, demonstrators defaced Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong, marking the first time their ire was focused directly onto China itself. Later that night, Hong Kong police furtively left the Yuen Long district. In their absence, hundreds of well-organized pro-China “triad” thugs arrived and began beating the protesters with sticks and metal rods. They injured 45 badly enough to require hospitalization, including one man who remains in critical condition and a pregnant woman.
“In the past,” the Hong Kong analyst told the Trumpet, “we have never seen these triads beat up normal people.” The evidence shows that “China backed this, or the Hong Kong government backed this to please China.”
The crackdown was localized and far from the same scale as China’s all-out slaughter of pro-democracy protesters in Tienanmen Square back in 1989. But it was joltingly violent, and shows that Beijing will not allow the battle cry “Hong Kong is not China,” nor the separatist thinking it expresses, to continue indefinitely.
It shows that the Chinese Communist Party’s is willing to use barbaric violence to quash dissent and prolong its power.
These developments show that the Chinese Communist Party is “scary as an enemy,” the analyst said. “Any conspiracy you can think of, anything as cunning as you could imagine, they make it come true.”
He added an impassioned plea to all people: “From the bottom of my heart, I would warn anyone, in any country, beware of the Chinese government.”
In recent years, Chinese authorities have encouraged populations around the globe to welcome the rise of China. They have persuaded country after country to invite China into their borders with the Belt and Road Initiative and similar Chinese projects, promising to enrich host countries while still preserving their national freedom. These countries should look at Hong Kong.
A Bellwether for Troubled Times
For decades, American and British leadership stabilized much of the world and advanced civilization for numerous peoples and nations. This is perhaps more evident in Hong Kong than anywhere. But the temperate Anglo-American era is ending, and storm clouds are gathering for a dark new age.
During His ministry on Earth, Jesus Christ prophesied of this approaching global squall, calling it “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24).
Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry discussed it in our July 2014 issue, explaining that the term Gentile refers to non-Israelite peoples. The Israelite peoples make up “a lot more than the little nation in the Middle East,” he wrote, adding that in end-time prophecy, Israel means mainly modern-day America and Britain. (For an enlightening explanation, order your free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s The United States and Britain in Prophecy.)
“Once you understand who Israel is,” Mr. Flurry continued, “then you can understand how the Gentiles—the non-Israelite peoples—have started to take charge of the world right now.”
He continued: “While there are many Gentile nations around today, when this prophecy is completely fulfilled there will be two major powers.” He explained that one of these will be led by Germany, and the other by Russia and China.
“These ‘times of the Gentiles’ are yet to be fully realized,” Mr. Flurry wrote. “However, we are in the outer edges of this catastrophic storm.”
In Hong Kong, the effects of the transition from Israelite rule to Gentile rule are on display in microcosm. No one argues that British imperialism was perfect; it was administered by men, and all men rule deficiently. But when Hong Kongers anxiously brandish the Union Jack and insist that their colonial legacy means “Hong Kong is not China,” they are giving the world an early signal of how dark the times of the Gentiles will be.
Hong Kong is a bellwether for what Mr. Flurry called the coming “catastrophic storm.” And as Beijing tightens its grip on the territory, it reveals how violent the tempest will be.
In His forecast about the raging days ahead, Christ said “men’s hearts” will be “failing them for fear” (Luke 21:26). But in the very next verse, He promises that the storm clouds will break up and give way to a spectacular radiance: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (verse 27). These times of the Gentiles, the overcast outer edges of which the world is already in, transition directly to Jesus Christ’s return!
He will end the age of mankind’s tempestuous rule and usher in a new era of peaceful governance and calm skies.