Beijing did not send in the tanks to crush Hong Kong’s protests. Instead, it mobilised its grey men (and a few women) in the capital to put down the revolt excruciating-step-by-excruciating-step. All with a weaponised law that threatens to make protest illegal and will bring the Orwellian prospect of thought crimes to the SAR.

The names of the Hong Kong Quislings who gathered in the capital to cheer on the death of One Country Two Systems will live in infamy. When Hong Kong is freed from the shackles, as it will be, they will go down in history as the Wang Jingweis of the second decade of the 21st century. Like Wang, who headed the Japanese puppet government of occupied China, they will be reviled for their betrayal.

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Police surrounded student protests at the Civic Square on September 27, 2014. File Photo: Occupy Central with Love and Peace.

The hard, unflinching face of the Chinese Communist Party has now been revealed without the smallest attempt at disguise. The idea of Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong has been swept away while Chief Quisling Carrie Lam stood there blinking and applauding.

The high degree of autonomy that was consistently promised has also been flicked aside as so much dust lingering on the sleeves of the Beijing Mandarins.

The Party knows that this move to crush Hong Kong will not come without cost but, as ever, it believes that no price is too high to pay for exerting control and exacting obedience.

Before the Quislings even get to “vote” on the new national security law at the rubber-stamp National People’s Congress, the usual suspects have been lining up to airily proclaim that although there will inevitably be protests and widespread international condemnation, it is far better to bring matters to a head, suffer some short term pain before clamping down and extinguishing the flame of liberty.

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File photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

Look what happened after the Tiananmen Square massacre, they say. Sure, China went into diplomatic deep freeze, the economy took a bashing and yes, there was blood but, they add, we bounced back.

The memory of foreigners is short, the blood can be washed away and the mighty engine which fires the economy was fired up to produce even more spectacular results.

However the world has changed since 1989. China has propelled itself far higher up the international agenda, attracting fear and admiration in unequal ways. Fear has now triumphed over admiration as nations throughout the world reassess their relationship with the PRC and start seeing it as more of an enemy than a friend.

The implications for this are not merely political, it will also impact an economy highly dependent on exports.

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File Photo: May James/HKFP.

It is fair to say that even China’s most implacable opponents would not, in the last analysis, risk their own interests for those of the people of Hong Kong. But they are more than prepared to add this latest attack on liberty to the list of reasons why they need to stand up to Beijing.

Meanwhile, three decades on from the Tiananmen massacre, much has changed in Hong Kong itself. Indeed it can be argued that Hongkongers’ response to this event gave birth to the mass protest movement that, despite enormous setbacks, has stubbornly refused to go away. On the contrary, it has grown bigger and stronger.

Popular support for the democracy movement is at an all-time high. That support is even more tenacious among the younger generation, proudly identifying as Hongkongers and not even slightly convinced by the barrage of propaganda telling them that the best way to survive is to shut up and accept their fate.

Armed with fearsome powers under the new national security legislation, the state will not hesitate to mount a crackdown on dissent. It will be brutal and could well cow the people to an extent that they dare not venture out to defy the government.

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Tiananmen Massacre Vigil, Victoria Park 2019. Photo: Dan Garrett.

But, is this it? Is this the end?

Channelling the great American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, the slain Pakistani President, Benazir Bhutto said, ‘you can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea.’

Who seriously believes that the idea of liberty can be extinguished in Hong Kong? The answer is only those who despise this place and its people.

The defenders of autocracy really believe that dictatorships are impregnable and will live forever. History tells another story which is that they are brittle and have a relatively short shelf life.

The Chinese dictatorship has lasted longer than most, even exceeding the life of its mentor, the Soviet Union.

In tiny Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party had a unique opportunity to show the world that it is big and strong enough to accommodate an island of freedom within its sovereign borders. But it was scared by this challenge and ended up revealing its weakness by reverting to the only means of control it knows and really trusts.

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship