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Flights out of the Hong Kong airport have been canceled today as the increasingly worrisome protests in Hong Kong moved into the terminals. The protests are worrisome not in that Hongkongers [an actual term for Hong Kong citizens by the way] are protesting, but because the backlash from the Chinese government promises to be brutal.
Rather than a modern dystopian film—where the evildoers are sophisticated and the coercion subtle—China’s response is noticeably old school: police and others have been brutally suppressing protestors while a seemingly endless caravan of troop transports has started arriving in Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.
I doubt this what Tom Friedman had in mind when he wished to be “China for a day,” but he has been oddly low-key about China’s “reasonably enlightened” leadership literally beating people with sticks.
You see, democracy doesn’t die in darkness, as the Washington Post haughtily asserts. No, democracy dies after a tumble down the stairs at its McMansion, pushed by an intellectual class long on ego and a thirst for power and short on humility and memory. Democracy doesn’t die because of some metaphorical darkness falling across the land, but when folks like Friedman praise the “efficiency” of China, or when economists like Joseph Stiglitz praise Venezuela and Hugo Chavez. Perhaps worse, though, is the simple shrug given by these same folks when China begins pummeling people or Venezuelans are forced to eat zoo animals.
The protests in China provide a clear reminder to us all: even if China is getting wealthier, even if the food and technology there is improving day-by-day, there is still a marked difference between democracy and freedom and one-party rule and subjugation. The two systems are not just bureaucratic variations on the same theme and we’d do well to remember that.