May 21, 2022

Event Coverage Highlight

Mark Clifford Discusses the Future of Hong Kong and China’s Global Strategy

by Chad Bouchard

The OPC’s recording of this event is scheduled to air on C-SPAN on Sunday, March 6 at 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

In OPC member Mark Clifford’s new book, he describes Hong Kong’s crackdown on anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020 in grim terms, calling it a singular example in modern history in which “a free, open, modern society is essentially destroyed in a matter of months.”

On Feb. 16, Clifford discussed the book, Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World: What China’s Crackdown Reveals About Its Plans to End Freedom Everywhere, with moderator OPC Governor Jodi Schneider, political news director at Bloomberg News, who served as president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China during the implementation of the National Security Law that served as a catalyst.

He said China promised Hong Kong it would have 50 years of a “high degree of autonomy” when it resumed sovereignty over the region in 1997, and many residents at the time hoped for free municipal elections and democratic governance. But he said two decades of struggle ensued, including mass protests in 2003 and the Umbrella Movement in 2014, culminating in protests during the “Summer of Democracy” in 2019.

“As Beijing tightened the screws more and more, it became clear that Beijing had no intention whatsoever of allowing free elections unless China knew who was going to win, and it was their guy.”

Clifford argues in his book that China’s repressive tactics in Hong Kong are a playbook for other repressive regimes, serving as what he called a “blueprint for the sorts of tactics that China is increasingly wielding against democratic societies around the globe.”

“If they have their way and Xi Jinping realizes what he thinks is his historical mission to bring Taiwan back into the fold, then that’s a very clear template. You go after education, as is being done in Hong Kong very aggressively, you go after media, you go after civil society and destroy NGOs. Eventually you go after free churches, which we think is one of the last areas to be rolled up in Hong Kong.”

He argues that China’s actions in Hong Kong are similar to its policies on Lithuania, Australia, South Korea and The Philippines.

“Country after country that steps out of line as far as China is concerned – and of course we can talk about Taiwan – is going to be whacked and hit hard. And the Chinese are seemingly picking quarrels, to use their language, with a variety of places. It’s just using a degree of coercion and trying to limit the ability of those of us in the free world, open societies, to be able to just have discussions like this.”

Responding to an audience question about the possibility of a financial collapse in Hong Kong, Clifford said that according to his research, international financial centers are historically very hard to destroy.

“Business can live with pretty draconian laws. If you have a financial center, you’ve got a ‘first move’ or advantage, and it’s hard to dislodge. But the combination of the National Security Law and the pandemic shows that China’s really giving that thesis a run for its money.”

The book is available for purchase here.

Clifford was a director at pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily when its journalists were jailed and it was shut down by the government in 2021, so has had a front-row seat on China’s crack down on Hong Kong.

Clifford is currently the director of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Hong Kong. An honors history graduate of the University of California Berkeley and a Walter Bagehot Fellow at Columbia University, he lived in Asia from 1987 until 2021. Previously, Clifford was executive director of the Hong Kong-based Asia Business Council, the editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), and publisher and editor-in-chief of The Standard (Hong Kong). He held senior editorial positions at BusinessWeek and the Far Eastern Economic Review in Hong Kong and Seoul and has received numerous prizes and awards for his books and journalism.

Click the window below to watch a playlist of video clips from the program.