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In 1989, the world bore witness the Tiananmen Square protests striking a sudden spark of democracy’s flame in China. But all too soon it was snuffed out by the bru­tality of the Com­munist Party of China; the death tolls soaring into the thou­sands. 

The world stood pat that day and did nothing. Yet in one corner of the globe, 1.5 million people rallied in sol­i­darity with the cit­izens of Beijing. The cit­izens of Hong Kong rallied in support of the pro­testers in Tiananmen Square, more than a million deep, to demand the freedoms of their fellow man be respected by the Chinese gov­ernment. 

Thirty years later, Hong Kong seeks the pro­tection of freedom and democracy. And just like the pro­testers in Tiananmen Square, this city is besieged by the People’s Republic of China. The people of Hong Kong, who once stood side-by-side with their brothers and sisters in Beijing, are now facing the extinction of their own lib­erties and human rights at the hands of Xi Jingping and China. And where the United States failed in 1989, perhaps now it can lead the cause of democracy in China. 

Over the last month, the sit­u­ation in Hong Kong has rapidly dete­ri­o­rated. Author­ities in the city have opened fire on pro­testors, shooting three. Stu­dents at the Hong Kong Poly­technic Uni­versity have been bar­ri­caded in by the police, forcing many to unsuc­cess­fully attempt escapes through the sewers. Thou­sands have been arrested, and the social insta­bility has led many busi­nesses and res­i­dents to con­sider fleeing the island alto­gether. A former British con­sulate staffer for the United Kingdom in Hong Kong revealed he was recently tor­tured by Chinese author­ities over sus­pi­cions of sup­porting the pro­testers

There are a few glimmers of hope. Recent elec­tions in Hong Kong delivered a sharp rebuke to Beijing and their pre­ferred can­di­dates. Mean­while, Pres­ident Trump signed into law the bipar­tisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This prompted an angry response from Beijing, which accused the United States of ille­gally inter­fering in the internal affairs of China. And yet, despite recent efforts by law­makers, the people of Hong Kong remain largely on their own.

The sit­u­ation in Hong Kong is highly pre­carious. For one, Hong Kong is rec­og­nized as a part of China. The United States cannot simply send in troops to protect the people, as it would be a direct invasion of Chinese ter­ritory. It is highly likely that such a brash action would prompt China to imme­di­ately invade Taiwan in retal­i­ation. 

Direct mil­itary inter­vention is not the answer. The presence of a mul­ti­lateral mil­itary alliance serving as a deterrent, however, might be enough to keep China in check and leave Hong Kong be with its human rights intact. The Trump Admin­is­tration should entertain res­ur­recting the aban­doned Southeast Asia Treaty Orga­ni­zation (SEATO) or cre­ating a new mil­itary alliance with nations such as Aus­tralia, Japan, New Zealand, the Philip­pines, South Korea, and Vietnam to counter Chinese aggression in the far east. While China may feel con­fident about dealing with the United States on its own, it would likely be a dif­ferent story of the rest of Asia stood res­olutely against the men­acing dragon in Beijing. 

The United States must also pursue an aggressive eco­nomic policy that clamps down on the resources that China des­per­ately needs to fund its mil­itary and economy. In par­ticular, cutting off Chinese busi­nesses from capital markets in the United States would cripple their financial sector. Invest­ments in rare-earth mineral mining and pro­duction within the U.S. and reaching agree­ments with resource rich coun­tries in Africa would also break China’s stran­glehold on high-tech man­u­fac­turing. 

If the United States and the free world commits itself to the task of standing for freedom, perhaps the spark of democracy in Hong Kong can one day bathe all of China in the light of liberty. If the world acts now, one day we will see pro­testers again in Tiananmen Square. 

Only this time, instead of dying at the hands of a com­munist gov­ernment, the pro­testers will be tearing down the por­trait of Mao Zedong and bringing to an end a dark chapter in human history.