The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion China’s Hong Kong policy: One country, one brutal system

President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Osaka, Japan, on June 29, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

THE WORST fears about China’s ambitions to dominate Hong Kong and destroy its democratic ways are materializing. China’s ruling Communist Party intends to impose a security law that will create a powerful new secret police. Judging by China’s use of coercive repression on the mainland, free speech and rule of law will be on the run. President Trump’s recent warning of sanctions appears to have done absolutely nothing to stop Beijing from steamrolling Hong Kong.

A summary of the new law was published over the weekend by the official Xinhua News Agency. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has scheduled a decision on an unusually rapid timetable, starting another three-day meeting June 28. The new law, according to Xinhua, would create a Commission for Safeguarding National Security, answerable to the central government in Beijing, with new police and prosecuting departments to enforce new statutes. The structure allows the chief of the new commission to appoint judges and hear national security cases, which China has often defined as anything that threatens the party-state’s monopoly on power. China has used similar laws in recent years to punish labor organizers, lawyers, bloggers and peasants fighting development land grabs.

The peaceful protests of 2019 in Hong Kong objected to a proposed extradition law that many feared would give China’s security agencies the right to nab anyone in Hong Kong and take them to the mainland. When Chinese leaders were irked a few years ago at freewheeling Hong Kong booksellers, they kidnapped them and subjected them to secret interrogations and forced confessions on the mainland. This was a blatant intrusion on Hong Kong’s long-established autonomy and rule of law, supposedly guaranteed for 50 years under the 1997 handoff from Britain and the concept of “one country, two systems.” Now, China won’t have to extradite people to the mainland; it will have its own secret police right in Hong Kong. One country, one brutal system.

Mr. Trump, in Rose Garden remarks May 29, correctly criticized China for “absolutely smothering Hong Kong’s freedom” and announced he would “begin the process” of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong special treatment, and imposing sanctions on officials who participate in the “smothering” of rights and freedoms. But China’s leaders, including President Xi Jinping, appear to have calculated that they have nothing to lose by defying Mr. Trump. Perhaps they have concluded the president will run a China-bashing reelection campaign no matter what they do. Perhaps they think Mr. Trump will never follow through. Or, perhaps Mr. Xi remembers his June 18, 2019, phone conversation with Mr. Trump. According to the new memoir of former national security adviser John Bolton, Mr. Trump pledged that U.S. officials would not speak out about Hong Kong and gave in to Mr. Xi’s desire that it be treated as entirely an internal Chinese affair. “Trump acquiesced,” Mr. Bolton writes, quoting the president as saying, “I don’t want to get involved.”

Mr. Trump’s indifference was dangerous. China is now exploiting it.

Read more:

The Post’s View: China’s full-scale assault on democracy in Hong Kong demands a U.S. response — but a careful one

Joshua Wong and Glacier Kwong: This is the final nail in the coffin for Hong Kong’s autonomy

Josh Rogin: China can’t crush Hong Kong’s freedom and still profit from it

The Post’s View: China gutted Hong Kong’s autonomy. Trump’s reaction failed on every count.

The Post’s View: China kidnapped Gui Minhai. Now it wants to lock him away.