Once an enterprise Canadians went to war for, the British Empire is now in disgrace. And no wonder. It owns many sins. The Atlantic slave trade, the Kenyan gulag, the theft of aboriginal lands, the list is long. And dark. But the history of civilization is the history of empires and even the darkest have often brought light.
Such is the case with the British Empire. Its brightest light, its jewel in the crown, was democracy. Wherever it went it left democracy behind.
We look at Hong Kong and we see a province of China that has practiced—for too short a time—a truncated but not insignificant degree of democracy. Its citizens are perhaps the fiercest defenders of democracy in the world today. How can this be? China’s history has little acquaintance with democracy and today the country is ruled by a totalitarian regime. How can freedom blossom here?
The answer of course is that this province is a former colony of the British Empire and therefore inherited democracy as a birthright.
Unfortunately the sun is now setting on this former fragment of the Empire. China, bridling at the serpent at its authoritarian breast, has imposed a new “national security law” on its unruly province, a law grandly entitled the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. To China, national security means suppressing anything that the Communist Party, or perhaps just its maximum leader Xi Jinping, doesn’t approve of. Such as criticizing the Chinese government, or the Communist Party, or Xi Jinping.
I have long considered democracy to be humanity’s greatest achievement in its world of politics, a dazzling exception to a history dominated by various styles of authoritarian imposition. Seeing the lights go out in Hong Kong is a bitter pill for this old geezer to swallow.