Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, who was arrested on Monday under the new national security law, leaves Mong Kok police station after being released on bail on August 12, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Picture: ANTHONY KWAN/GETTY IMAGES
Hong Kong pro-democracy media tycoon and Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, who was arrested on Monday under the new national security law, leaves Mong Kok police station after being released on bail on August 12, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Picture: ANTHONY KWAN/GETTY IMAGES

It is tempting to argue that China must be a weak country if it feels compelled to arrest a leading publisher in Hong Kong under a national security law for his advocacy for democracy.

But the truth about Jimmy Lai is that he is a man of courage who holds in his mind the most dangerous idea for a repressive regime: that the people ought to be free to speak their minds.

Of course, Lai is internationally known and has met leading political figures in the US. He had a successful business career in China before launching Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper in 1995 and becoming an outspoken advocate for democracy and a free press.

Lai reportedly became a publisher and democracy advocate after students, workers and everyday Chinese citizens led the pro-democracy protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989 that was subsequently crushed. In other words, Lai is exactly the type of political and business leader who might have helped China make the turn away from communism.

Hong Kong has been a beacon of hope in the region for decades. It thrived under British rule by embracing a free economic system, and attracted droves of people from China. The city remained such a beacon even after it was handed back to China in the 1990s as the government initially embraced a “one country, two systems” model.

But for years Beijing has been ramping up pressure. The response has been extended protests. Most recently the response from China was a new national security law to clamp down on dissent. How it intended to use that law always seemed obvious, but was made plain by the arrest of Lai, who was paraded through his own newsroom in handcuffs. It’s hard to imagine any other motive than an attempt to intimidate the press.

As Lai wrote earlier this year in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, “the more [president Xi Jinping] pursues his authoritarian agenda, the more distrust he will sow at home and abroad. Far from transforming Beijing into the world’s leading superpower, his policies will instead keep China from taking its rightful place of honour in a peaceful, modern and integrated world.” /August 11

Dallas Morning News

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