We are all Hongkongers now

Hong Kong police massed outside the legislature complex ahead of debate on a bill that would crimina

Hong Kong police massed outside the legislature complex ahead of debate on a bill that would criminalize abuse of the Chinese national anthem in the semi-autonomous city. Photo: AP Photo/Kin Cheung - Credit: AP

ANDREW ADONIS finds parallels between the situation in Hong Kong and certain flashpoints of the Cold War.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during a media briefing in Downing Street. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Dow

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab during a media briefing in Downing Street. Photo: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Just as we were all Berliners during Stalin's blockade of 1948 and Khrushchev's construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, so we are all Hongkongers today.

The fate of Hong Kong and its people under Xi Jinping is a defining moment for freedom. If we fail them, western civilisation fails too, and Europe's own liberty and security are jeopardised.

The parallel with Stalin is eerie and compelling, as is the analogy of the Cold War which became the defining struggle of the west when the Soviet dictator attempted to seize West Berlin in June 1948 by closing its land borders with surrounding Russian-controlled East Germany.

Thanks to Britain's stalwart anti-Stalinist foreign secretary Ernie Bevin, and his equally resolute American counterpart General George Marshall, there was a renewed D-Day spirit. British and American forces worked as one, sustaining a dramatic 11-month airlift of food, fuel and people. It was heroism, risk and mission to match the greatest moments in history.

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Up to 7,000 tons of goods were flown into West Berlin every day for 323 days to supply the two million inhabitants. Bevin and prime minister Attlee's key decision, to allow the US to station in Britain B-29 bombers that were capable of carrying atomic weapons, convinced Stalin of the British-American determina­tion to stay in Berlin. After weeks when the world held its breath, Stalin did not interfere with the airlift and did not escalate to war. Stalin never attempted another coup in western Europe in his last five years of life and megalomania.

Parallels are never exact. Xi is currently a less rapacious tyrant than Stalin. There is no question of military resistance, by conventional arms let alone nuclear, to any Chinese army or judicial incursion into Hong Kong.

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However, Xi's transition to oppressor of Hong Kong and potentially also Taiwan, and purveyor of pandemics to the globe, where only a short while ago he was trusted supplier of limitless cheap goods to the west, is uncannily like Stalin's swift transition from cuddly wartime Uncle Joe to peacetime Russian Bear. In both cases, crises underpinned by ideology and paranoia are driving the change.

Similarly, while Hong Kong's territory cannot be protected from a mainland invasion or takeover, there can once again be an 'airlift' in the event of a 'blockade.' This time, it will need to be the people who are airlifted out, not the goods which are airlifted in. Or at any rate, as many of the people as wish to leave.

Don't succumb to fainthearts: such an airlift is probably viable. There are 7.5 million Hongkongers, a population not much larger than that of Denmark, Finland and Slovakia. Provided a group of western nations agree to underwrite the citizenship of these 7.5 million, offering them immediate safe haven in the event of oppression, then an 'airlift' is probably viable, assuming that Xi would not risk a complete breakdown in relations with the west by stopping them from leaving.

Britain must take the lead by virtue of inherited position. I am not a great admirer of foreign secretary Dominic Raab, but he appears to have taken the first decisive step by making two major and under-appreciated announcements in the last week: first, that the right to British National Overseas passports will be potentially extended from the existing 350,000 holders to about half of all Hongkongers; and secondly that these passports, which do not give a right of residence in Britain, will nonetheless give an automatic right to a one-year visa. This would amount to residency in the event of the city being subjugated.

British diplomacy now has a straightforward goal: to ensure that all 7.5 million Hongkongers have equivalent rights in a western nation, which means engaging the Commonwealth and the European Union in the mother of diplomacy. This is what Bevin and Marshall would have done, and this alone might act as a sufficient deterrent to further encroachment on Hong Kong by Xi.

Hong Kong alone will not determine the future relations of China and the west. But like Berlin in 1948/9, it will be decisive in demonstrating resolve and self-belief in facing up to the new Chinese dragon. Which is why, in this moment of peril, we must not flinch.

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