Here in the US, we have been distracted by the death of Jeffrey Epstein and other ongoing scandals swirling around people in positions of power. Half a world away, a drama is unfolding with the potential for truly epic implications.

Protesters in Hong Kong, who fear their limited autonomy from China is being whittled away have been bravely engaged in a struggle with Hong Kong police (who are often thinly disguised agents from mainland China). In recent days, as the protests have grown in size and intensity, so has the response by the Chinese government.

The Guardian outlines the issues, as perceived through Beijing’s lens, if this crisis is not ended quickly. “The Chinese government position is no doubt driven by fear of contagion to the mainland and geopolitical anxiety about Hong Kong’s loyalty. This must be balanced against the need to maintain Hong Kong’s perceived stability and prosperity, and to safeguard China’s influence in Taiwan.”

As the Chinese economy experiences an ongoing slowdown, there is a sense of urgency that the government must act swiftly and decisively. There was a time when an authoritative regime was able to keep the lid on such disturbances, calling them local disturbances. That time is over. A violent clamp down will lead to a violent response and the whole thing can spiral out of control and will not be contained within Hong Kong or Taiwan—or even across China.

With the deadly Tiananmen Square riots squarely in our review mirror, these developments are deeply concerning for all those who seek liberty and freedom from oppression. Jude Blanchette writes in Foreign Policy, “Some argue that Beijing will ultimately refrain from the use of violence due to a concern over its global reputation or domestic blowback…Yet this fundamentally misunderstands the party’s long-running political calculus and how it interprets past events, including Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968, and even June 4, 1989. The great arc of CCP history—indeed, of one-party political systems in general—shows that international opprobrium and domestic blowback are manageable, if costly. The uncontrolled deterioration of political authority is not. [italics mine] And that’s exactly what Beijing sees in Hong Kong right now.”

If we fail to take a stand or seem to straddle the fence, as President Trump has said, “I hope it works out for everybody, including China,” we further erode the principles of freedom from tyranny for which this country has stood for more than two centuries. The fact is that the US has been largely silent on these matters. This non-position takes away a moral mooring for the protesters. Backing from the US was once an important tool for activists against powerful adversaries like the Chinese government, a tool made even more significant as the global audience expands exponentially, including a vast following on social media. And, with the increased emboldening of authoritarian regimes around the world, Blanchette’s prediction seems more ominous than ever.

Everyone hopes there is no violence and all agree that it is important that the US not inject itself into internal affairs in countries around the world. However, it is equally important to realize that in this instance, if we do not stand solidly on the side of the protesters, we risk a much greater defeat, and our nation again loses its moral authority. We remain neutral in this struggle at our own long-term peril.

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