L. Neil Smith's

Number 23, March 1, 1997.

Swallowing the Poison Pill

© 1996 by Eric Oppen

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         This year, an era will end in the Far East. The British flag will lower over Hong Kong, as it's "returned" to the clutches of the "People's" "Republic" of "China" -- an entity that never held a square millimeter of Hong Kong and has contributed to its success only by driving out hundreds of thousands of its own best citizens. One of the planet's most murderous regimes -- notable not just for the percentage of its own it has killed (over 10%, far surpassing Stalin's record) but for its attempts to lobotomize its populace and erase 5000 years of history -- will be taking over one of Earth's freest societies.
         Despite being an Anglophile to my bootheels, I feel that, with this cowardly transaction, the British are again earning a reputation for utter indifference to the fate of their former colonies. Given that a vast majority in Hong Kong not only oppose communism, but either fled to the "evils of British colonialism" to escape it, or are descended from those who did, turning them over to the sadistic regime they fled seems particularly brutal. If self-determination and anti-colonialism are such great ideas, why not apply them and let Hong Kong be independent? It couldn't threaten the "People's" "Republic" (or as I sometimes call it, the "Great Satan").
         Unfortunately, the mass-murdering megalomaniacs currently ruling China think they've a divine right to every inch of land the Manchu emperors did. They've made it clear they will not stand for Hong Kong's independence, or for the British administration that turned it from a desolate backwater into one of the world's great trading loci. They weep over "unequal treaties" China had to sign in the 19th century, but when China's rape of Tibet, its 1979 assault on Vietnam, or its attempts to submerge the non-Chinese populations of Central Asia come up, they change the subject. They do not so much object to unequal treaties, as to unequal treaties in which they hold the bad cards.
         It would serve them right -- and be a wonderful joke -- if the British had completely dismantled Hong Kong by 1997. When China's own Khmer Rouge took over, they'd get back precisely what the Manchu Emperors gave up: " ... a barren rock, with hardly a house upon it." When I was little, I was told, when returning something I'd borrowed, to make sure it was in the same condition as when I received it.
         However sad I may be, the day the Union Jack goes down -- or two years later when the Portuguese give up Macau (I've a sentimental regard for Macau; I lost my virginity there) -- I'll also be smiling nastily, remembering another "high tide" that ended up more like a last hurrah.
         Remember the Russian invasion of Afghanistan? In retrospect, it was the first sign of imminent collapse in the Soviet Empire. The same could happen here, and serve the Chinese Communists right! Long before they're done, I suspect they'll bitterly regret not leaving Hong Kong alone. The "People's" "Republic" of "China" may shortly be in the position of someone swallowing a large, nasty poisoned pill.
         In the first place, much of Hong Kong's value will be gone the second their rotten flag goes up over it. At present, it serves as a neutral place to trade with even their bitterest enemies, a place where they can access the latest technology. But many who currently use Hong Kong will begin to avoid it, as they did Shanghai after 1949. In fact, the fates of Shanghai and Hong Kong may be parallel; the Communist takeover of Shanghai was a major impetus that turned Hong Kong from a backwater into a major port, as businesses and people fled the Reds.
         Secondly, the loathsome Deng regime will be disabling an important safety valve. Guangdong Province, abutting Hong Kong and Macau, is traditionally one of China's most rebellious and freedom-minded provinces. Sun Yat-sen's revolution against the Manchus started there. The terrible Taiping Rebellion, one of history's greatest wars until the 20th century, also began in Guangdong. Proverbially, it's "the first to rebel, the last to be subdued." Guangdong and southeastern China in general held out against the Manchus for a long time, and the Mongols were still fighting to subdue it, long after their armies had conquered as far away as Russia.
         Without Hong Kong and Macau, people who are most dynamic and impatient of misrule will have nowhere to go -- unless they try sailing 90 miles across the sea to Taiwan. Much as southeast-coast capitalist enclaves were abominated by the Beijing butchers, they served as a valuable safety valve, draining off those most likely to rebel, from one of the most unruly provinces in China. With no place to go, the next rebellion -- which hopefully will see the blood-soaked Tienanmen slaughterers dumped on the ash-heap of history -- may be led by those who would have fled to Hong Kong.
         At the same time they destroy their safety valve, the Communists will be taking in a large population they're likely to find uncompatible. The official language of China is Mandarin; most Hong Kong natives speak nothing but Cantonese. The language is even written differently on the two sides of the border; Beijing simplified ("dumbed down") the characters while Hong Kong uses the old style. Most importantly, former victims of "ruthless, evil British colonial imperialist oppression" have grown quite used to saying what they please, keeping what they earn, and doing as they like. Save only drugs, guns (I know, it's a bad shortcoming) and nominally, prostitution, the people of Hong Kong live in what amounts to a libertarian utopia. The contrast to conditions on the other side of the border couldn't be greater.
         To sum up, in taking Hong Kong and Macau, the Communists will be letting go an asset and acquiring a long list of liabilities. Some years ago, I read a cheesy technothriller, Pacific Nightmare by Simon Winchester, which portrays the "retrocession" of Hong Kong as the event that triggers full-scale revolt in Southeastern China. The author isn't as up on Chinese matters as he likes to believe, and the denouement is, to say the least, unbelievable, but I still enjoyed finding out that someone else had come to the same conclusions I have.

Eric Oppen has been to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. Some years ago, when visiting his alma mater of St. Olaf, someone asked if there were anything the Chinese Communist regime could do that would please him. He responded instantly: "Yes. They can resign en masse, apologize, and commit mass suicide."

A Juror's Creed: As an American juror, I will exercise my 1000 year old duty to arrive at a verdict, not just on the basis of the facts of a particular case or instructions I am given, but through my ability to reason, my knowledge of the Bill of Rights, and my individual conscience.
-- L. Neil Smith

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