US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s four freedoms, which he promised Americans in the face of economic strife and growing authoritarianism abroad, are freedoms that this newspaper is more than happy to sign up for.
Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear? Well, they work for us. In London – in the UK, and indeed in much of the west – we almost take them for granted.
Perhaps they were taken for granted in Hong Kong, too. No longer. The move from the Chinese Government to essentially outlaw dissent in the now-puppet legislature of the territory is a flagrant attack on basic democratic freedoms, and one for which no right-thinking democracy should stand.
It’s heartening that Dominic Raab – the Foreign Secretary who has more than most Cabinet members distinguished himself over the past year – spoke out on Wednesday against the latest assault executed by the Beiing Government, increasingly acting with total impunity.
But whither the businesses who call Hong Kong home? FDR had it right. You can’t have freedom from want, no matter how much prosperity you create, without freedom of speech. You can’t have freedom from fear without the freedom to speak out against authoritarianism. Freedom is an absolute: you have it, or you don’t.
So where, we ask, are HSBC in this debate? Where are Standard Chartered? The two firms have found prosperity in Hong Kong – the former is simply known as ‘the bank’ there – but are silent today.
Silence, of course, is an improvement on previous performances. HSBC previously backed Beijing’s heinous National Security Act saying that it supported “all laws that stabilise Hong Kong’s social order” and StanChart said they believed “the national security law can help maintain the long term economic and social stability of Hong Kong.” To call it kowtowing is too polite.
FDR viewed his four freedoms as indivisible. The market’s power to create wealth – the freedom from want, as we interpret it – is married to those other freedoms.
Bosses at HSBC, StanChart and those other firms who turn a blind eye to an assault on democracy the like of which seemed literally incredible as recently as 1997 may wish to remember that.
What seems politically convenient now may define them for decades. And if they think that cosying up to the Chinese government is a foolproof strategy?
Well, ask Jack Ma how his plans for Ant’s IPO worked out once Beijing decided it wasn’t in their interests.