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The People’s Republic of China is violently suppressing political dissent in Hong Kong through a recently imposed and sweepingly draconian national security law. Under the new national security law secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers—all ambiguously worded—are criminalized.

Individuals convicted of the foregoing crimes can face sentences up to life in prison. To investigate such crimes, the authorities may conduct searches without warrants and command internet service providers and platforms to remove messages. In sum, the Chinese Communist Party has criminalized “thoughtcrime” in an effort to stamp out ideological dissidents.

To appreciate how far the new national security law goes in crushing political dissent, it’s important to understand Hong Kong’s history.

On July 1, 1997, Britain formally completed the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China. Britain initially acquired Hong Kong Island in perpetuity from China in 1842, when the Treaty of Nanjing was signed at the end of the first Opium War (1839-42). Subsequently, China was forced to cede control permanently over the Kowloon Peninsula to Britain after the second Opium War (1856-60). Finally, in 1898 the British exploited China’s relative weakness after the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895) to acquire a 99-year lease over the New Territories — one of the three main three main areas of Hong Kong along with Hong Kong Island and Kowloon peninsula.

In 1984, China and the United Kingdom entered into the Sino-British Joint Declaration whereby Britain agreed to hand back the whole of Hong Kong — and not solely the New Territories that were the only areas subject to a 99-year lease — in return for a guarantee that Hong Kong citizens would continue to enjoy economic and political freedom not permitted elsewhere in China. To achieve this, Hong Kong was made a special administrative region under the People’s Republic of China under the formula of “One Country, Two Systems.” The Chinese Communist Party does not govern in Hong Kong as they do in the mainland’s other provinces.

“One Country, Two Systems” is enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Hong Kong’s Basic Law is the city’s constitutional document that guarantees executive, legislative and independent judicial power even though it is part of the People’s Republic of China. Until recently Hong Kongers enjoyed freedoms of the press, expression, assembly, and religion. Nevertheless, since the handover in 1997, Beijing has sought to control Hong Kong’s weak democratic institutions. Beijing’s ultimate goal in Hong Kong is clear: complete ideological control.

The world is witnessing at present the end of a free and prosperous Hong Kong. Additionally, the world may soon witness the end of Tibet as an autonomous region within China and Taiwan as separate from mainland China.

In 1949, Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China following the Communist victory over the Nationalist Chinese forces led by Chiang Kai-shek. The Nationalist Party, the military, and others fled mainland China. Most of those who fled in the wake of the Communist victory ended up in Taiwan — officially the Republic of China — with Chiang Kai-shek. Communist China has sought to reintegrate Taiwan with the mainland since Chiang fled.

The People’s Republic of China has long asserted that there is only “one China” and that Taiwan is a part of it. The “One Country, Two Systems” formula was rejected by Taiwan. Nevertheless, there is no consensus within Taiwan on Taiwan’s status. Approximately 20 countries recognize the Republic of China diplomatically. While America is not one of those countries, in the late 1970s the United States Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. The Taiwan Relations Act promises to supply Taiwan with defensive weapons and asserts that any attack by China would be considered of “grave concern” to the United States.

As for Tibet, immediately after the completion of the communist revolution, China invaded Tibet in 1950 based on the Communist regime’s claim that Tibet had been an integral part of China going back centuries. Tibet was forced to sign a “Seventeen Point Agreement” recognizing China’s rule in return for the Communist’s promise to permit political freedom and Tibetan Buddhism. After the unsuccessful Tibetan Uprising of 1959, the Dalai Lama was forced to flee. Since that time, Tibet has remained an Autonomous Region within China. It likely will not remain so for long.

At some point in the very near future China is going to make a play for the foregoing territories outright. Moreover, China will continue to press its territorial claims on the Indian border in the Ladakh region of Kashmir and in the South China Sea.

It is not difficult to imagine where the next major global conflict will arise. The only difficult question is whether America will be drawn into the conflagration.

Nigel E. Jeffries is an attorney in Charleston, by way of Elkins.