HONG KONG — As this Thanksgiving Day dawned in America, thousands of people in Hong Kong — 13 time zones ahead of New York — were holding a mid-evening rally to thank America for supporting the territory’s massive democracy movement. Some came carrying American flags, many held up signs printed with American flags and the words, “Thank You.” They packed a huge plaza near the waterfront, spilled out onto the sidewalks and the ramps of a nearby parking garage, and stood on tiptoe at the edge of the crowd to watch speakers and singers on an open-air stage celebrate their cause of freedom and democracy.
The inspiration for this was President Trump’s signing into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which provides for regular reports monitoring the status of the rights and freedoms that China under treaty promised to Hong Kong, and penalties if these are found to be violated. There’s more to it, and plenty of debate over what the effects might be in practice. Maybe the main thing to know right now is that Congress passed it with bipartisan near-unanimity, and China’s government and its puppet administration in Hong Kong both hate it.
But if we might set aside the legal prognostications for a moment, Hong Kong’s protesters at their Thanksgiving rally were not debating nuances of U.S. law. They were underscoring a message that is important for the entire Free World: We must stand together. One of the basic tools of tyranny is the method of divide-and-conquer, with its isolation of those who would defy the tyrant. China’s propaganda has been sending that signal in spades, denouncing Hong Kong’s democracy movement as an offense to China and its 1.4 billion people (who, lacking such rights as free speech and a real say in their own government, have no genuine voice in the matter).
These Hong Kongers were thanking America for standing with them. “We know it’s a fight we have to fight on our own,” said one 50-year-old man holding up an American flag at the rally, “But it’s good to have friends who stand by us.” He added that it’s not only Hong Kongers who need support, but “the Uyghurs and Tibetans.”
Given the police brutality and arrests that have become a regular feature of even the most peaceful protests in this city, Hong Kongers took a risk in attending this rally at all — especially given its clear message of thanks for an American law denounced by Beijing. Yet they came, and everyone I spoke with had something good to say about America, and the freedom for which Americans themselves give thanks on Thanksgiving Day.
“Thank you, President Trump,” said one 21-year-old Hong Kong woman, who was wearing a face mask and holding up a sign with an American flag. “Thank you to America,” said a 25-year-old Hong Kong man, also wearing a face mask, and waving an American flag. He called it a “miracle” that America has passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, and said that whatever it amounts to in practice, he is grateful for the basic message: “It told us that we are not alone.”