Can you imagine living in mortal fear of a 90-year-old man who preaches peace and love? If so, you know what it is like to be a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party. On Wednesday, communist authorities in Hong Kong arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen on a phony “national security” charge.
Zen’s immediate offense was his alleged involvement in a dissolved fund to defend those harmed by the ruthless crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. His real crime is his unwillingness to overlook Beijing’s broken promises about establishing democracy with universal suffrage in Hong Kong—a promise it made to get the former colony back from the gullible British.
I had the honor of meeting Zen in the early 2010s. Already technically retired at the time, he lived and spoke meekly. That is the irony of his arrest: he is not particularly political and has never called for the downfall of the Chinese government.
Pope John Paul II made Zen bishop of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the incumbent Red Pope has given Zen no support and cut a deal with Beijing to give the Chinese government veto power over the appointment of church officials in China. The Vatican’s foreign ministry is almost as bad as the ruling elite in the USA in selling out to China under the guise that doing so will tame its aggressive government.
Despite having to fight a two-front war against both the Vatican and officials in Hong Kong, Zen has kept his cool reserve and determination. He refused to abandon his people as they took to the streets in an attempt to preserve the freedoms they had and seek the ones they were promised.
That calm persistence probably terrified Beijing the most. Zen will not be corrupted or bullied. Both he and Beijing know the final chapter on Hong Kong has not yet been written.
Zen now joins other persecuted pro-democracy figures like jailed publisher Jimmy Lai, the founder of the pro-freedom Apple Daily newspaper, which authorities shut down last year.
Why does any of this matter to the United States? While our bipartisan ruling elite clearly deny it judging by their actions, China is our foremost adversary in the world. Yes, Iran’s government has seen itself as being at war with America since it came to power in 1979, and political Islam, which drives violent jihad, has not gone away. But China with its large economy, military, and population, its advanced technology, and its deep penetration of the American economy, poses a critical threat.
Dissidents like Zen and Lai pose a serious political challenge to the Chinese government. If they didn’t, Beijing would not go to such great lengths to silence them.
Free ethnically Chinese societies like Singapore and Taiwan today and Hong Kong before the crackdown of the past three years also pose a threat. They expose the lie that is at the heart of the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy: that democracy is impossible for China and that the only alternative to communist rule is anarchy.
Washington should understand this reality and embrace it. Forget about promoting human rights in the abstract, which in recent years has become more about attempting to spread neoliberalism globally. That woke form of human rights advocacy, which now includes hanging rainbow flags on U.S. embassies and holding up arms sales to longtime allies, has put us at odds with important partners like the Arabian Gulf monarchies, Singapore, and Hungary. It has comforted truly repressive adversaries like China and Iran.
Instead, we should back the political forces that are causing the most concern to our Chinese adversaries. We need to give strong support to dissidents and governments standing up against Beijing and Tehran, not a woke version of the ComIntern.
Of course, Washington in its current political composition will do nothing of the sort. The House just voted to spend $40 billion more that we do not have on a war in Ukraine where no vital U.S. interests are at stake. Fifty-seven Republicans voted against the handout, but a majority of both parties in Washington still thinks it is 1991, where we are the sole superpower, have money to burn, and haven’t racked up an appalling string of foreign failures.
Democrats are hoping increasingly elusive success in Ukraine will cause people and governments around the world to forget the humiliating loss Joe Biden achieved in Afghanistan last summer. It’s anyone’s guess why Beltway Republicans are joining them.
It will take a new president to set things straight. We need a larger military in the Pacific, but nearly as important, we need a coherent and determined political warfare effort against the Chinese Communist Party. In devising one, we ought to take into consideration the brave men and women—and the governments—who terrify Beijing.
This article is reprinted, with permission, from the author’s Substack.