Dr. Mark Clifford gave a lecture on his book, Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World, on February 24, 2022 as a part of the Asia Initiative Lecture Series. During the lecture, Dr. Clifford analyzed Beijing’s crackdown on Hong Kong. By using Hong Kong as a case study, Dr. Clifford identified China’s motives, rationale, and strategy.
Dr. Clifford’s lecture began by discussing China’s goals. According to Dr. Clifford, China is determined to reclaim a prominent position in the world. He then provided context to his argument by looking at the trajectory of China’s influence throughout history. At the beginning of the 19th century, China had a significant role in the world economy. China’s economic influence had become minuscule under the rule of Mao Zedong. This moment represented the low point for a decline that lasted 150 years.
Currently, however, China is on track to return to its former position in the global economy. Dr. Clifford argued that the reclamation of economic might would bring increasing political and military might. If China can increase its prowess, Beijing could use its power to impose its brand of authoritarianism wherever possible.
Dr. Clifford then argued that Chinese leadership is willing to take big risks because it sees a unique moment to accomplish its goals. In addition to the militarization of the South China Sea and the abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Dr. Clifford highlighted China’s efforts to strip Hong Kong of its independence. In August 2020, China imposed a national security law permitting anyone perceived as criticizing the authorities to be sent to jail without trial or bail. The imposition of the national security law is noteworthy because it has been used to shut down Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily and arrest numerous citizens. Media shutdowns and arrests signify China’s willingness to strip its citizens of their rights and repress its population in its quest for sovereignty. Given its increasing might, now is a critical time for China to leverage its power and resist the influence of the international community.
Finally, Dr. Clifford discussed how Hong Kong serves as a model for future crackdowns. The one country two systems model China applied to Hong Kong was originally developed for Taiwan. Given that China is willing to leverage its power over Hong Kong without worrying about backlash from the international community, we should be concerned about a similar situation with Taiwan. Dr. Clifford emphasized Xi’s determination to control Taiwan to solidify this point. Xi Jinping has constantly asserted that he has a mission to reclaim Taiwan and exert sovereignty over the island. Dr. Clifford illuminated Xi’s philosophy on Taiwan by referencing a conversation between Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping about Hong Kong. Thatcher told Deng that China didn’t understand free societies and would ruin Hong Kong. However, Deng asserted that Hong Kong was China’s to rule regardless of the supposed outcome. Similarly, Xi doesn’t care what happens to Taiwan as long as the mainland controls it.
Dr. Clifford’s book lecture provided a comprehensive look into Chinese motivation and strategy by using Hong Kong as a case study. When considering China’s resurgence and actions in Hong Kong, we should be concerned about where Beijing looks next.
Dr. Clifford is currently the president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong. Before taking on his current role, Dr. Clifford was the executive director of the Asia Business Council. He was also the editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. Dr. Clifford has an M.A. in journalism from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Hong Kong.