China wages war on free speech

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Exemplifying the moral and strategic disgrace that is the European Union’s pursuit of a trade deal with Beijing, China is doubling down on its war against free speech.

In Hong Kong, a teenager, Tony Chung, was this week sentenced to four months in prison for insulting China’s flag. Chung also faces a trial for secession, which carries much longer sentences. On the mainland, journalist Zhang Zhan was given a multiyear prison sentence for reporting on the Communist Party’s failure to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan city. Beijing says that Zhang’s reporting was designed only to sow distrust in the party, but the truth of the matter is quite different. Zhang’s ultimate sin was to have embarrassed Xi Jinping and his cronies. Finally, a group of twelve Hong Kong activists have gone on trial for attempting to flee Hong Kong for Taiwan.

It’s important that we recognize what’s really going on here.

Each of these actions reflects the Communist Party’s desire to crush not only the act of questioning its authority but the thought of questioning that power. There is a distinctly totalitarian prism that subsumes this understanding. The regime fears that should more Chinese see the courage of their fellow citizens, the courage of those who choose truth over submission, many more of its citizens will ask whether the party is the best means to their future happiness. Xi sees this dynamic as a potentially existential threat to his regime.

The rest of the world, however, should not turn a blind eye to what is happening.

China only pursues its more aggressive strand of repression where and when it believes it can do so without significant international repercussions. It’s in this sense that China’s policy toward its own people is tied inexorably to its policies with the rest of the world. Where the international community uses levers of action in defense of basic human rights, China is forced to consider whether the measure of its persecution should be revisited. If the EU has any seriousness about upholding the values of freedom and human rights it claims to so revere, it should abandon its looming trade deal with China.