Not too many months ago — June, in fact — Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas wrote an Op-Ed for The New York Times in which he advocated sending in federal troops to quell the violence that had developed in American cities in the wake of George Floyd’s death in the custody of Minneapolis police. That didn’t happen.
What did occur, however, was the forced resignation of New York Times opinion editor James Bennet over the piece, in which Cotton noted, “public opinion is on the side of law enforcement and law and order, not insurrectionists.”
“According to a recent poll, 58 percent of registered voters, including nearly half of Democrats and 37 percent of African-Americans, would support cities’ calling in the military to ‘address protests and demonstrations’ that are in ‘response to the death of George Floyd,'” he wrote in the June 3 Op-Ed. “That opinion may not appear often in chic salons, but widespread support for it is fact nonetheless.”
Feelings do not care about your facts, however, and Bennet promptly found himself looking for a job after younger writers in the newsroom took up arms against the ancien regime.
There were plenty of post hoc explanations about why a sitting senator giving voice to a popular opinion should have forced Bennet out.
Vox’s Zach Beauchamp, a man who could find something complimentary to say about populist Hungarian strongman Viktor Orbán if Orbán endorsed Joe Biden, said members of The Times’ opinion section had “elevated trolling the Times’s liberal readership into a kind of raison d’être, one that [had] led to the publication of poor-quality material and damaged the ability of other staffers to do their jobs.”
Members of The Times newsroom even said the piece put them in “danger.”
Blessedly, Bennet’s gone and nothing like that is going to happen again, and certainly nothing like an apologia for China’s crackdown on human rights in Hong Kong authored by Regina Ip, a functionary whose ambition is to succeed current Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam as Beijing’s top apparatchik in the special administrative region.
The Op-Ed, published Thursday, is titled, “Hong Kong Is China, Like it or Not.”
Even the title is misleading; under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the 1984 treaty that stipulated the terms of the United Kingdom’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, China was obligated to leave Hong Kong’s system of governance mostly untouched for 50 years post-handover.
Hong Kong’s recent anti-sedition act is in violation of the treaty and therefore of international law — but no matter, since China already announced three years ago it didn’t believe the treaty still held relevance.
Anyhow, according to Ip, the people of Hong Kong wanted the anti-sedition law that eradicated their freedoms because they were tired of protests — and Beijing delivered. What’s the problem?
“Hong Kongers who wanted the city promptly to return to peace thought the authorities’ handling of the situation, which dragged on for months and grew more and more violent, was incompetent. For other locals, many outsiders and apparently much of the global media, a people’s legitimate quest for more democracy was being suppressed,” Ip wrote.
“Something had to be done, and the Chinese authorities did it.”
Again, Tom Cotton proposed deploying the U.S. military to temporarily put down violent protests with no concrete aim, and that was inflammatory. Regina Ip is defending a law that nullified freedoms enumerated in an international treaty negotiated between two nations as a precondition for the handover of Hong Kong — and those freedoms are presumably nullified in perpetuity — and this raises hardly an eyebrow.
The majority of the piece is one excuse after another about how the West has it all wrong. Who are you going to believe: Beijing or your lying eyes? And if you still believe your lying eyes, do you think Beijing cares?
“Like it or not, Hong Kong is part of China. And given the two’s vast disparity in size and Hong Kong’s growing economic dependence on the mainland, the city’s progressive integration with China is unavoidable,” Ip wrote.
“A realistic goal for Hong Kong ought to be remaining the freest and most international city in China and retaining its unique international status, thanks to the city’s many bilateral agreements with foreign countries and its membership in numerous international organizations.”
The problem is that “the city’s many bilateral agreements with foreign countries” included the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which China openly admits it has no intention of abiding by despite the fact it remains in force for another 27 years — like it or not. The Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to blatantly violating international law seems to be, “Yes, and?”
And then there’s the oft-proffered argument the West is trying to foist its own values on China:
“Foreign governments should not benchmark what happens in Hong Kong against standards that prevail in Western countries; those are governed by a political system entirely different from China’s,” Ip wrote.
“Instead, they should benchmark Hong Kong against the rest of China, and measure how the city can maintain its unique characteristics — openness, a commitment to personal rights and freedoms, respect for the rule of law and the ability to reinvent itself economically.”
Regina Ip’s “Samuel Huntington for Dummies” feint yet again neglects China’s obligations to the international community and to the citizens of Hong Kong. Furthermore, “benchmark[ing] what happens in Hong Kong” against Ip’s own words proves how hollow this argument is.
No one is asking the government in Beijing to adhere to Western standards. Beijing is merely being asked to adhere to what they said they would adhere to.
As for the post-crackdown Hong Kong having the same “openness, a commitment to personal rights and freedoms [and] respect for the rule of law” it once had, consider this passage from the Op-Ed and judge her intellectual honesty accordingly: “To some, the new national security law is especially chilling because it seems simultaneously vague and very severe,” she wrote.
“But many laws are vague, constructively so. And this one only seems severe precisely because it fills longstanding loopholes — about subversion, secession, local terrorism, collusion with external forces. One person’s ‘severe’ is someone else’s intended effect.”
There is no “openness” or “rule of law” where deliberately vague laws (“constructively” vague, she informs us) not only have “severe” consequences but have them as an “intended effect.”
This sinister defense of repression has gone without notice in The Times’ newsroom. No uproar, no mutiny, nothing.
This was never about editors who “elevated trolling the Times’s liberal readership into a kind of raison d’être, one that has led to the publication of poor-quality material,” as Beauchamp put it. It was merely that a Republican advocating for a return to law and order under legal means was a political leper. Regina Ip’s apologia for violent repression is fine, though.
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