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Why China’s Hong Kong Crackdown Could Backfire

Chinese leaders are most likely already aware of the probable international consequences of pursuing an ultra-repressive course in Hong Kong. But by prosecuting 47 pro-democracy activists, President Xi Jinping is throwing down the gauntlet to a new US administration and its allies – and may be overplaying his hand.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – The year of the ox has begun darkly for the people of Hong Kong. On February 16, nine pro-democracy activists, including 82-year-old Martin Lee, the revered long-time leader of the city’s Democratic Party, went on trial facing charges of illegal assembly.

A week later, the Hong Kong government announced that it would enact a law allowing only “patriots” to serve on district councils, the lowest level of the city’s administrative apparatus, with responsibilities ranging from sanitation to traffic. This will likely result in the expulsion of democratically elected council members and the disqualification of future candidates deemed disloyal to the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC).

Then, on February 28, in the most sweeping crackdown yet since China imposed a draconian national security law on the former British colony last July, the Hong Kong authorities charged 47 leaders of the city’s pro-democracy movement with “conspiracy to commit subversion” under the law. Because the law rigs the trial process to ensure conviction, these activists face the prospect of years in prison.