Why it’s time for Australia’s Beijxit
It's hard to describe the feeling of standing among 1.7 million people in torrential rain.
Under an ocean of umbrellas stretching as far as I could see, a quarter of Hong Kong's population - billionaire tycoons, taxi drivers, pregnant women, elderly - defied police orders to march the city streets last August in anger at China's restrictive squeeze on their freedoms.
We had expected water cannons, but not one fist was raised. It felt like a historic moment of hope and courage.
Days earlier I had witnessed the brutal force regularly unleashed on Hongkongers.
Just minutes after a group of protesters gathered in the buzzing shopping district of Mong Kok, bus loads of riot police pulled up. Without even pausing to survey the scene, they began firing bean bag rounds and tear gas into the crowd of shoppers.
A screaming American pushed me out of her way, but a restaurant owner nearby just sighed and dragged down his roller door, diners still slurping noodles inside. Once the violence had passed, he rolled the door back up and busy night life resumed.
Over the past nine months, Beijing's iron first has tightened on Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, with more than 7000 people arrested.
There are now 12,000 Chinese troops in Hong Kong, with the government giving an extra AUD$5 billion to police forces in February, while also tripling its budget for tear gas and rubber bullets.
But few anticipated what would happen next.
The Chinese Communist Party didn't need the tanks or bloodshed of Tiananmen Square. It broke Hong Kong with one sweeping move.
Too impatient to wait until 2047 when the constitutional governing principle of 'One Country, Two Systems' expires, the regime sidestepped Hong Kong's government to impose new security laws on the island city.
The laws, which will be ratified in Beijing as soon as this week, will strengthen "enforcement mechanisms" to "prevent, stop and punish with forceful measures" threats to Chinese sovereignty.
It's being interpreted as the end of Hong Kong as we know it, with the international financial capital fully under China's totalitarian control.
Of course, it has been part of China since 1997. But it was like a forced marriage, with Hong Kong the vibrant and spirited young bride, whose autonomy has now been ripped away.
While the definition of the laws are vague, chilling consequences are expected: freedom of speech finished, political dissent considered terrorism, foreign interference (whatever China deems that to be) banned, information stifled, independent journalism stamped out, an expat mass exit and CCP security agencies secretly arresting citizens.
To brush this off as just a bunch of masked terrorists being brought into line is dangerously ignorant. Many fates hang on what is happening in Hong Kong, including our own.
If China's barley tariffs and beef ban were a slap in our face as punishment for Australia daring to suggest an independent inquiry into the Wuhan source of COVID-19, then their latest move in Hong Kong should chill us to our core.
For if we truly value the future of democracy and wish to protect it, we should be deeply worried by this development on our doorstep.
"This draconian law, if promulgated, is just the prelude to more oppressive controls on the local circles and expats living and working in Hong Kong," pro-democracy leader Joshua Wong told me on Friday.
"When Beijing is now literally turning Hong Kong into another city in China, it will affect both the local democratic movements and international interests.
"As a member of the free world, I hope Australian leaders take a firm stance to oppose this controversial legislation."
If coronavirus was the fuel, then these new Hong Kong laws are the flame that must ignite Australia to disengage from China and seek new trade and industry partners.
As American political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote last week: "We are not dealing with the China of the 1990s or even the 2000s, but a completely different animal that represents a clear challenge to our democratic values. We need to hold it at bay until some point in the future when it returns to being a more normal authoritarian country, or indeed is on its way to being a liberal country."
Until then, Australia must break away from the entangled grip of a totalitarian superpower ruled by a 'president for life' that runs Uighur concentration camps, ruthlessly grabs resources in the South China Sea, bullies supply chains, abuses civil liberties, tramples democracy and refuses to be held accountable for a global pandemic.
Surely, it is time for Australia's Beijxit.
Lucy Carne is editor of Rendezview.com.au
Originally published as Why it's time for Australia's Beijxit