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Opinion | Cheers in Beijing Can’t Drown Out the Protesters in Hong Kong

It was hard to imagine a greater contrast. While China’s rulers were celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic with an enormous parade of missiles and technological achievements meant to intimidate and impress, Hong Kong witnessed some of the most violent protests in four months of demonstrations against Beijing’s encroachment on the enclave’s autonomy.

There was no subtlety in either President Xi Jinping’s celebration of his country’s raw power, or Hong Kong’s rejection of the repressive rule behind that power. Something will have to give.

Mr. Xi was central to his show. Clad in a Mao suit, he made no mention of his immediate predecessors as he presided over an awesome display of what he calls the “Chinese dream,” a broad vision of China’s rise as an economic, military and police force to be reckoned with. “No force can shake the status of our great motherland, no force can obstruct the advance of the Chinese people and Chinese nation,” he declared.

These were not idle words. Mr. Xi has not hesitated to use force in bringing minorities like the Tibetans or the Uighurs to heel, and the showpiece of the parade was the giant DF-41, an intercontinental ballistic missile that can carry 10 nuclear warheads and strike anywhere in the United States.

Hong Kong protesters were manifestly not impressed. On the contrary, they welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to indirect Communist rule over their theoretically autonomous district by upstaging Beijing’s show. The day’s demonstrations began peacefully but turned violent in various outlying districts after nightfall as protesters, many dressed in black, set fires and clashed with the police. For the first time since the protests began in June, a demonstrator was wounded with a live bullet by a cornered officer.

There is nothing to suggest that Mr. Xi appreciates what is really taking place in Hong Kong. The system that the Chinese Communist Party has shaped over seven decades of repressive rule, like the 70 years in which Soviet Communists controlled their empire, brooks no diversity of thought or challenge to authority. Raised in the brutal paternalism of that system, Mr. Xi equates greatness with power and dissent with treachery; to him, the 50 years of relative autonomy granted Hong Kong, which ends in 2047, is time to wipe out whatever bad foreign habits its people picked up.

Those habits, acquired under British colonial rule, include a Western political culture of democracy, human rights, free speech and independent thought. And what began in June as mass protests against legislation that would have made it possible to extradite Hong Kong people to mainland China has morphed over succeeding weeks into increasingly violent and explicit protests against Chinese control, which is exercised in Hong Kong by an executive handpicked by Beijing and its local allies.

That some protesters have resorted to violence, including firebombs and bats, can only be condemned, as must be the excessive force of the police. The demonstrations had, and have, far greater power when they are peaceful.

That is one message liberal democracies should send the people of Hong Kong. The far more important message should be that the free world, to resurrect a Cold War term, stands with them in their rejection of what the Chinese Communist Party stands for. And the urgent message to Beijing, as tensions rise to the breaking point, must be that any attempt to crush the protests by forces from the mainland will meet with a strong response.

Unfortunately, President Trump saw fit to send Beijing congratulations on the 70th anniversary, without any mention of Hong Kong. Mr. Trump is locked into his own strange love-hate relationship with Mr. Xi, which includes personal praise and escalating tariffs, and he probably regards Hong Kong and its aspirations as a regrettable diversion. But that should not preclude Congress, or America’s allies, from speaking out.

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