If you are a movie buff with a penchant for epic sagas then perhaps you remember one of the more memorable scenes from the Star Wars prequel trilogy, in which Senator Padme Amidala despairingly declares that democracy dies with thunderous applause. She does so just as Emperor Palpatine transformed the Republic into the First Galactic Empire under the guise of false promises for peace and prosperity.
Something equally as dramatic happened yesterday as the Chinese parliament voted on the controversial National Security Law, which many see as a provocation by Beijing to grip on to more power in Hong Kong. Of course, this does not mean that China is akin to the Evil Galactic Empire, but one cannot help but wonder what does the clapping in perfect unison in the Great Hall of the People of China mean for the freedoms of the people in Honk Kong.
What is concerning about the move is the timing of the action, as the world remains on tight alert over the coronavirus pandemic, with renewed fears for a second wave of infections in mainland China. With so many other headlines in the media, China's move to pass the contentious legislation is seen by many as a subversive grip for power and control, while it is being propagated as nothing of the sort.
The calculated timing of the vote is an indication of deliberate planning, which worries political analysts as China's premeditated actions may provoke further escalations in the already strained relationship between Beijing and Washington.
While it is indeed possible in practice for the new law to not distort the freedom of speech in Hong Kong, the Chinese authorities must have been acutely aware of the heated polemics that their actions would spur in the US. They must have expected their actions to be received in the States as a new taunt for the Trump administration, in which case the Chinese Communist Party must have also been aware of the following result – new diplomatic shockwaves between the two superpowers.
The main issue of these recent developments is therefore changed. The underlying problem is whether China is purposefully seeking to test the US' willingness and readiness to respond to such provocations.