WASHINGTON — The French revolutionaries’ instrument for administering the 1793-1794 Reign of Terror was the Committee of Public Safety. Today, China’s totalitarians, displaying either ignorance of this unsavory history, or arrogance in flaunting their emulation of it, call their new instrument for suffocating Hong Kong the Commission for Safeguarding National Security. Yet again, actual tyranny is imposed in the supposed service of safety.
Acting as communists do, the leaders of China’s Communist Party, which is the bone and sinew of that nation’s Leninist party-state, have, less than half way through their commitment, shredded the 1997 agreement to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047. The new law mocks the rule of law, which requires sufficient specificity to give those subject to the law due notice of what is proscribed or prohibited. The new law stipulates four major offenses: separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign governments. These will be defined post facto, in capricious enforcements against those whose speech is not chilled by the law’s menacing vagueness. The “law” authorizing the committee to operate secretly was released at 11 p.m. Tuesday, probably to deter demonstrations on Wednesday, which was the anniversary of Beijing’s 1997 agreement.
Modern technologies of communication enable the world to watch darkness descend on one of the world’s most vibrant metropolises. Modern technologies of surveillance enable Beijing to refine a deep, penetrating oppression beyond what Winston Churchill could have imagined when he warned that Nazism’s triumph would mean the world would “sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
China’s faux law, which echoes Stalin’s use of randomness to intensify fear, serves two purposes: It smashes Hong Kong dissent — Leninism brooks no challenge to the party’s supremacy. And it distracts attention from reports that Beijing is pioneering a sinister fusionism that melds Leninism and Stalinism with an ethno-nationalism reminiscent of fascism.
The regime reportedly is employing forced abortions and sterilization to inflict what has been called “demographic genocide” on Muslim Uighurs and other minorities. U.S. customs officials have seized some China-made beauty products perhaps made from human hair harvested in Xinjiang concentration camps. China’s signatures on the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and on the Sino-British Joint Declaration guaranteeing Hong Kong’s autonomy are equally constraining. Next year, President Joe Biden and a Democratic-controlled Congress should match Britain’s generosity in welcoming refugees from Hong Kong’s talented, freedom-loving citizenry.
In diplomatic parlance, China is a “revisionist” power, aiming to revise the global order. In less antiseptic language, it is a piratical power whose crudeness, born of cultural condescension toward others, includes special contempt for an America distracted domestically by various hysterias, and choosing retreat abroad. President Biden’s urgent foreign policy tasks will include revising the longstanding U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding Taiwan. Beijing is demonstrating in Hong Kong “one country, two systems” actually means one country, one simmering stew of Leninism and Stalinism flavored with fascism.
The dictator Xi Jinping has repeatedly said that Taiwan’s current status — nationhood in all but name — is intolerable and “should not be passed down generation after generation.” A reelected Donald Trump, whose cramped notion of America’s role in the world is confined to commercial bookkeeping, might swap Taiwan’s freedom for increased Chinese purchases of U.S. soybeans. When at noon January 20 the U.S. ends the policy of making America marginal again, Biden should adopt strategic clarity, informing Beijing that the U.S. legal obligation to sell Taiwan weaponry needed for self-defense entails a moral obligation to assist with that project.
The Korean War, which brought Americans into combat against Chinese troops, began 70 years ago after Dean Acheson, President Harry S. Truman’s secretary of state, gave a speech in which he left South Korea outside his definition of America’s defense perimeter. Beijing has drawn a “nine-dash line” to demarcate extravagant claims to sovereignty over the South China Sea — claims incompatible with international law and disdainful of the legal rights of various nations in the region. The Biden administration should draw a line that places Taiwan within the sphere of regional nations whose self-defense implicates vital U.S. interests.
Beijing should remember this: France’s Committee on Public Safety was created in April 1793. Maximilien Robespierre, who prefigured Lenin, joined it on July 27. One year and a day later, devoured by forces he had fomented, he was guillotined in Paris’s Place de la Revolution, now called Place de la Concorde. Beijing’s totalitarians, who have murderous French precursors, may one day have a similarly disagreeable rendezvous with their handiwork.
George Will’s email address is email@example.com.