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The 235 days that rattled China and shook the world

WASHINGTON — They were 235 days that shook the world, rattled China’s regime and refuted the most pernicious wishful thinking since the appeasement of dictators collapsed eight decades ago. Nothing more momentous happened in 2019 than Hong Kong’s heroic insurrection.

It began with the April 3 introduction by Beijing’s Hong Kong satraps of an extradition bill that would have facilitated the sweeping of inconvenient people into the mainland’s suppression machinery that is both Kafkaesque and Orwellian. The convulsions culminated in, but did not end with, Nov. 24’s cymbal-crash elections in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which had counted on the island city’s majority to rebuke the demonstrators, learned the limits of its sterile program of purchasing subservience by promising prosperity.

Elsewhere on China’s periphery, Taiwan has a presidential election in less than two weeks. China’s President Xi Jinping began 2019 with a Jan. 2 speech identifying Taiwan as the focus of his campaign to make China great again. If — when, probably — on Jan. 11, 2020, Taiwan reelects President Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese will have joined Hong Kongers in disdaining the “one country, two systems” fudge as a formula for the incremental suffocation of freedom.

Thirty autumns ago, as the Berlin Wall crumbled and the Soviet Union teetered, approximately 1.5 billion people lived under communist regimes. Today, approximately 1.5 billion people still do. The 1989 figure was 29% of the world’s population compared with 20% in 2019, but 89% of today’s 20% are caught in the tightening vise of China’s Leninism, whose inviolable tenet is that nothing shall challenge the party’s supremacy.

With this year’s revelations about the million, or perhaps millions, swept into the gulag archipelago in northwestern China, it is possible to hope that in 2020 we will hear less from American businessmen who are as obtuse as they are cocksure. Just 51 days before The New York Times published more than 400 pages of documents on China’s concentration camps, presidential aspirant Michael Bloomberg said the CCP’s leaders “listen to the public,” and “Xi Jinping is not a dictator.”

Not content to just “listen to” the public, the CCP, using ever-more-sophisticated technology, surveils almost everything done by almost everyone. Perhaps 2019 foreshadowed the day when today’s Bloombergs will be remembered as Charles Lindbergh and others are remembered because they thought dictators in the 1930s were “the wave of the future.”

Would that America’s serial grovelers had the gumption of the creators of “South Park.” When China, a supposedly great power that was actually discombobulated by this animated TV series, banned it, the creators said: “We welcome the Chinese censors into our homes and into our hearts. … Xi doesn’t look just like Winnie the Pooh at all. … Long live the Great Communist Party of China! May this autumn’s sorghum harvest be bountiful! We good now China?”

“We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi,” said America’s president, who also said of Xi: “He’s a friend of mine.” Xi should reciprocate friendly feelings because Donald Trump’s biggest blunder, made three days after his inauguration, was jettisoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership, thereby unraveling a 12-nation fabric of commercial cooperation that excluded China.

Two other Trump chums are Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The former continued his incremental dismemberment of Europe’s geographically largest nation, Ukraine, and the latter took Trump’s warning against attacking the Kurds as seriously as Trump meant it.

North Korea’s Kim Jong Un does not have to settle for mere friendship — in 2018 Trump said “we fell in love” — but in 2019 the romance seemed unreciprocated. Kim ended a 522-day self-imposed moratorium on ballistic missile tests, but Trump minimized their importance because the missiles could not reach the continental United States — just South Korea, Japan and the 80,000 U.S. forces in both places. However, North Korea has given Trump until right now — the end of this calendar year — to make additional U.S. concessions, beyond the scaling back of joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, to avoid “shocking punishment.” Fresh concessions are North Korea’s price for resumption of negotiations that will lead, if the future is like the last 25 years, to other concessions.

However, because nuclear weapons are at issue, you must remember this: In 1945, having witnessed the New Mexico birth of something used on Japan three weeks later, the Manhattan Project’s leaders would have been have been pleasantly surprised had they known that 2019 would be the 73rd year without the use of what they had created. Sometimes what does not happen is itself momentous.

George Will is a Creators Syndicate columnist.