Nicholas Goldberg: Democracy in Hong Kong is dying. But why should the rest of us care?

Can democracy be stifled? You bet it can. Look at what happened in Hong Kong.


The last time I visited there was at the end of 2019, just before the pandemic, in retrospect it seemed to be the last stand of the democratic movement. In those days, pop-up demonstrations were frequent occurrences, including street clashes between masked activists and police.

The Hong Kong government is already cracking down on dissidents and is increasingly supporting Beijing’s efforts to bring the city under its full control. But independent news organizations still challenge the erosion of democracy and freedom. Opposition politicians have spoken out to defend autonomy and independence.


There are signs of debate, dissent, and resistance everywhere: the wreckage of the previous night’s protests, peeling posters and angry anti-government graffiti.

But those days have passed.


Opinion columnist


Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg has been the editor of the editorial page for 11 years and is the former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion section.

The protest has been repelled.more than 100 democratic leaders and activists charged In harsh National Security Law Implemented in June 2020. Thousands of demonstrators were also arrested; allegations included subversion and separatism.


The government is weeding out critics. In 2021, the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities require elected officials and candidates for public office to be loyal not only to Hong Kong and its laws, but also to Beijing. Hundreds of Hong Kong District Council members resigned or were removed. If the authorities consider their oaths to be unreliable, even those who have sworn allegiance will be dismissed.

The suppression of independent media It has been intense-and very successful. In the last week of December, the independent democracy website Stand News was raided by hundreds of police; seven editors, board members and a reporter were arrested, and the organization stated that the website would be shut down. A few days later, on January 3, the small online news site Citizen News stated that it would also stop publishing due to concerns about the safety of its employees.

They are one of the last remaining independent voices in the city.Their closure followed Work stoppage in June The active independent tabloid “Apple Daily” is owned by costume mogul Jimmy Lai (Jimmy Lai), who is now in prison.

Teachers’ Union and the city’s largest independent union Disbanded in 2021Like the Civil Human Rights Front, it organized some of the largest democratic demonstrations.

The police and the courts have become “tools of Chinese state control, not independent and fair enforcers of the rule of law.” Human Rights Watch said in JuneSince my visit, academic freedom has been threatened, museums have been harassed, movies have been cancelled, monuments have been dismantled, political slogans have been banned, and library books have been removed.

The Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, is now only an official of the Beijing government.

This is how democracy disappears. Without leaders who dared to speak up, without a place to publish or disseminate independent news, without an independent judicial system, without the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed and protected by the government, Hong Kong people cannot resolutely oppose it. Invading overlord from the mainland.

Their conquest is very frustrating.

The city was under British colonial rule for more than 150 years, until the British handed it over to China in 1997. At that time, the Chinese government agreed to grant a considerable degree of political autonomy and personal freedom within 50 years under the framework known as “one country, two systems.”

But this promise has been broken.

Of course, the US government condemns this situation. After Stand News was closed two weeks ago, Secretary of State Anthony Brinken said “Journalism is not incitement… A confident government that is not afraid of the truth will embrace freedom of the press.”

But what is the United States going to do? There is a limit to how much pressure the US government exerts on a powerful superpower like China to protect the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is more important to China than to us.

If nothing else, what is happening in Hong Kong reminds us that democracy is fragile. This is what we should bear in mind.

In the period immediately after the end of the Cold War, some people believed that the advancement of democracy was irreversible and that the collapse of the dictatorship was inevitable., The liberal democratic order defeated totalitarianism and despotism. In the early 2000s, through various measures, the number of free and democratic countries increased dramatically.

But in recent years, democracy has been regressing.Economist “Democracy Index” For example, in 2020, due to “democracy regression,” only 8.4% of the world’s people now live in an environment that can be considered fully democratic. The “Global Democracy Score” of the index is lower than the level since its creation in 2006.

There has also been a setback in the country. The Economist now classifies the United States as Defective democracy. And in March last year, U.S. drops to new lows In Freedom House’s annual global ranking of political rights and civil liberties, it scored 83 points (out of 100 points), down from 94 points ten years ago.

So we cannot be complacent. Democracy, the rule of law, civil rights, and individual freedom are all important-they are in danger at home and abroad. The people of Hong Kong sent us a poignant message: if you live in a democratic system, please taste it and celebrate it-and fight for its survival.

@Nick_Goldberg