(CITY JOURNAL) -- The last time a despotic power devastated Hong Kong was during World War II. On December 8, 1941, Imperial Japanese troops poured over the hills from China, overwhelmed the main line of British colonial defenses, and took up positions on the Kowloon peninsula, across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. From there, they shelled and bombed the island, then crossed the harbor and on Christmas Day completed a subjugation of the city that lasted until 1945, when Japan lost the war and Britain retook control.
Today, the tyranny ravaging Hong Kong is that of its own sovereign master, the People’s Republic of China. The tactics are less broadly lethal but brutal nonetheless, targeting the freedoms vital to the soul of this vibrant city. China is trying to grind down Hong Kong’s democracy movement, while preserving global-facing amenities like the airport and the banking system. It’s a campaign fought with propaganda, surveillance, arrests, and a local police force turned against Hong Kong’s own people. Beijing has threatened Hong Kong with “the abyss” and cautioned that “those who play with fire will perish by it.” China’s President Xi Jinping warned in October, clearly aiming at Hong Kong’s protesters, that any attempt to divide China would end in “crushed bodies and shattered bones.”