‘Earlier today, we arrested three local men, aged 63 to 72, for suspected participation in a non-approved gathering.” That bland-sounding statement — uttered by a police official — fell on Hong Kong like a bomb. The arrestees were “three local men,” yes: but not just any three.
One was Lee Cheuk-yan, of the Labour Party. Another was Yeung Sum, of the Democratic Party. These are two of the foremost democracy advocates in the city.
The third was arguably the most famous citizen in all of Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, the entrepreneur and businessman. He owns the media group that publishes Apple Daily, a newspaper. Lai is one of the best friends the democracy movement has ever had. He has bolstered democratic forces in Taiwan, the Mainland, and, of course, Hong Kong.
Apple Daily publishes in Taiwan, too. In 2012, our Jay Nordlinger visited its offices in Taipei. He found a bust of F. A. Hayek in the lobby. Underneath, there was an inscription, from the great economist’s Nobel lecture: “The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society.”
In Hong Kong, Lai, Lee, and Yeung were arrested for participating in a protest march six months ago: on August 31. The government says the march was unauthorized.
Jimmy Lai, born in 1948, is a Chinese Horatio Alger story: a poor kid who did not go past the fifth grade in school, who worked as a child laborer for $8 a month, and who rose to be one of the most admired businessmen in the Far East.
When you can touch him, you can touch anyone. When you can arrest him — and the two political leaders — you can arrest anyone, really. More than 7,000 people have been arrested in Hong Kong since the recent democracy protests began in earnest. Each person is valuable, no doubt. But the arrest of these three eminent figures puts the crackdown at a new level.
“One country, two systems” was the promise. It was the basis on which the British handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese Communist Party, in 1997. Hong Kong was to remain free and democratic for 50 years — until 2047, at which point, presumably, the CCP, if it was still in power, could do with the city what it wanted. Today, it seems that Hong Kong will be lucky to hang on for 27 more months, forgetting 27 more years.
In front of a police station, Lee Cheuk-yan said, “The charges will not hinder our fight for democracy, freedom, and our human right to continue to gather, march, and protest.” The people of Hong Kong will need all of that spirit they can get.