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The Lonesome Death of Hong Kong

It is no surprise that COVID-19 has pushed Hong Kong and the protests that have roiled the territory out of the public eye in recent months. But out of sight should not mean out of mind, because the city’s fate will tell us much about the sort of China the world will be dealing with in the decades ahead. 

LONDON – The sword of Damocles that has been hanging above Hong Kong since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power has finally dropped. By taking advantage of the world’s preoccupation with the COVID-19 pandemic to impose draconian new security laws on the city, Xi has in effect annulled the agreement that has governed the relationship between China and Hong Kong for almost a quarter-century.

It is no surprise that COVID-19 has pushed Hong Kong and the protests that have roiled the territory out of the public eye in recent months. But out of sight should not mean out of mind, because the city’s fate will tell us much about the sort of China the world will be dealing with in the decades ahead.

A Compromise That Worked

Hong Kong’s prospects hang on whether or not a single agreement concluded nearly four decades ago can still be salvaged. In the 1984 Joint Declaration regarding the United Kingdom’s future handover of Hong Kong to China, the city was promised that it would be run after 1997 on the basis of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s “one country, two systems” formula. Although this model probably was devised as much, if not more, with Taiwan in mind, it helped both the UK and China to evade a tangle of moral and political problems concerning Hong Kong.

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