Whatever the outcome of the current battle, Hong Kong’s protesters have the advantage in the longer-term war for rights and freedoms

Once upon a time, pompous British bureaucrats working on Hong Kong policy before the handback of the city to China in 1997 would haughtily declare that they were focused on preserving the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. This language, married to a “one country, two systems” framework that promised a “high degree of autonomy,” seemed to set Hong Kong up for a fine future as a special administrative region of the world’s most populous country.

Over the past few months, the atmosphere has dramatically changed. At the heart of this shift is the simple, brute fact that the British deals over Hong Kong’s reversion to China were not only highly abstract, but were also undertaken by officials who believed that Beijing would continue to be a middle-ranking power reliant on the financial and economic importance of the territory it was inheriting.

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