Arthur Waldron’s article (unfortunately no longer available free online) in the September issue of Commentary is worth reading. Waldron argues that the Hong Kong democracy movement’s surge in popularity, as exemplified by the huge anti-Article 23 demonstration on July 1, puts the mainland government in an existential bind. It would prefer to finesse the situation with minimal reforms and other half-measures, as it has attempted to do in the past. However, Waldron thinks the HK populace is unlikely now to accept such palliatives and that these measures will therefore not defuse the crisis.
The PRC government’s only real alternatives in HK are therefore violent suppression and real reform. But Waldron thinks a Tiananmen-style attack would be logistically too difficult to pull off, while the course of liberalizing reform is fraught with peril for the communist government, which requires centralized control for its very existence. Indeed, Waldron speculates that reform in Hong Kong could easily end up destabilizing the PRC — a bad outcome for its current rulers, but potentially a boon for the Chinese people and the cause of freedom generally.
How does all of this relate to U.S. policy and the Middle East? Waldron argues that our PRC policy of dealing only with the Communist regime, and of emphasizing stability above other values (such as freedom), has left us with little influence:
As far as U.S. policy is concerned, the point is that, by insistently betting on the Communist regime, and declining to consider the terrible difficulties with which it is beset, we have systematically robbed ourselves of the ability to influence the course of events in accordance with our interests and our values — and time has at last caught up with us.
This is also, historically, how U.S. administrations have related to the Middle East — “stability” was our highest goal. But we now realize that political stability in closed societies does not protect us, and the Bush administration has started to build a new policy based on the transformation of such societies into more free and open ones that are no longer threats. One hopes that Bush and company will adopt a similar posture toward the PRC. Waldron concludes:
Events, indeed, are already in the saddle. Beijing must either go with the people of Hong Kong, or oppose them. Fudging is impossible. And fudging is now likewise impossible for us. Most media coverage of the present crisis has given the impression that what is at issue here is the future of Hong Kong. That is incorrect. What is really at issue is the future of China and, by direct implication, the future of freedom. And that, above all, is why Hong Kong is so important.
Yes: freedom is on a roll. The people of Hong Kong understand this and are willing to take great risks to further the cause. And it’s as much in our interest to help them achieve self-determination as it is for us to do the same for people in Iraq or Iran.