Acton Institute Powerblog

Jimmy Lai: China must embrace ‘Western values’

Jimmy Lai, the Hong Kong-based entrepreneur and dissident, says he would gladly be arrested again, because advocating for human freedom is part of his character. And until China respects the freedom embedded in human nature, peace will not return to his formerly free province – or the world.

More than 200 police officers stormed the offices of Lai’s newspaper, Apple Daily on August 10 under the terms of the nation’s draconian new “national security law.” They handcuffed the 71-year-old Christian, who spent the week sleeping on the floor of a prison cell before he was released on $64,500 bail.

“When I was in custody I could not sleep,” Lai said. “I was thinking, if I knew that was going to happen to me now, [with] even more hardship [coming], would I have done the same thing?”

“I would not have [done things] another way. This is my character,” he declared. “Character is my destiny.”

Lai believes that character will dictate China’s future, as well.

“Without assimilating into Western values, there won’t be peace in international trade, politics and diplomacy,” Lai said. “If we don’t change [China], the world will not have peace.”

The West long defined itself by its commitment to Judeo-Christian values and such God-given rights as freedom of religion and speech, equality before the law, and the economic liberty implicit in the unalienable right of the “pursuit of happiness.” However, Lai’s comments come even as the Western intelligentsia has abandoned or watered down the concept and definition of transatlantic values.

Lai hopes he lives to see the People’s Republic of China import the values that U.S.-based protesters and rioters wish to eradicate. “I want people to have the right to keep the rule of law and freedom of speech we have,” he said.

“Without the rule of law, the international financial center will be finished,” Lai said. “Without freedom you have nothing left.”

The Chinese Communist Party, however, came to diametrically opposed conclusions about the future of the special administrative region. The CCP organ People’s Daily said Lai will not be able to “escape from precise punishment” under the law. The government’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office added, “People who colluded with foreign forces to endanger national security should be sternly punished under the law.”

“Hong Kong will not have stability if this danger is not removed,” it concluded.

Lai said punishment will not dissuade him or the millions of Hong Kongers, often waving American flags, assembling for freedom. But they will need to exploit new tactics. “We can no long have two million people walk on the street,” he said. “I think in the future there will be innovation.” All resistance must be non-violent, like that offered by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Violence is a game we had no right to play,” especially since “the CCP … have guns and tanks.”

Lai’s godfather, Wall Street Journal editorial board member William McGurn, said the eyes of the West remain fixed on Hong Kong.

“This is a billionaire who’s willing to trade in the comfort of a billionaire’s life for a possible prison sentence as a dissident,” he said.

Lai could have easily used his passports to the UK or Taiwan to flee his home island, McGurn and Paul Gigot noted on Fox News Channel this weekend. “He has a home in Paris,” McGurn said. “He could live anywhere in the world. … And the corollary to that is, Hong Kong people are saying if a billionaire isn’t safe, what about me?”

Lai, a devout Roman Catholic, said he places another traditional value ahead of his personal comfort: laying down his life for his friends. “There is always a price to pay,” he said. “It’s a time to get ready for sacrifice.”

As WSJ tells the story of his heroism and China’s persecution on its network television program, the Acton Institute is spreading the word to an ever-expanding audience around the world.

Acton’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website has posted a French translation of Communications Director Eric Kohn’s article, “Pro-democracy media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai arrested in Hong Kong.” The heart of his post is a statement by Acton Institute Co-founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico. His words have now been translated by Benoît H. Perrin into French, the language of 275 million people worldwide, as part of Acton’s French-language translation project. Rev. Sirico’s statement in French reads in full:

Comme prévu, l’entrepreneur des médias de Hong Kong et militant pro-démocratie Jimmy Lai a été arrêté lundi matin par la police de Hong Kong sous le couvert d’une loi dite « de sécurité nationale », récemment adoptée. La salle de presse et les bureaux de son journal Apple Daily, ont également fait l’objet d’une descente de police.

J’ai le plaisir de connaître M. Lai et sa famille depuis plus de vingt ans. Son histoire fascinante est retracée dans le film The Call of the Entrepreneur. Il raconte son voyage de la Chine continentale à Hong Kong à l’âge de 12 ans, comment il y a appris l’anglais et comment il a fini par y créer l’une des plus importantes entreprises de médias d’Asie.

Le sens des affaires et l’intelligence de M. Lai ont pu s’épanouir sous le règne de la liberté à Hong Kong. Cette réalité est  fatalement une menace pour un régime totalitaire comme le Parti communiste chinois. Un tel pouvoir redoute la liberté humaine et sa créativité, qui va à l’encontre du contrôle centralisé sur le cœur et l’esprit des gens.

Je suis convaincu, connaissant M. Lai comme je le connais, que ces tactiques ne l’intimideront pas le moins du monde.

Lorsque je me suis entretenu avec lui en juin dernier pour Acton University, il s’attendait à ce que cela se produise et il était prêt à payer le prix qu’il faudrait au nom de la liberté.

Les personnes qui aiment la liberté et qui sont engagées dans la défense des droits de l’homme devraient s’élever avec force contre cette attaque flagrante et extrême, non seulement contre M. Lai et sa famille, mais aussi contre la dignité humaine fondamentale et la liberté que cette dignité humaine exige.

Jimmy Lai est un homme d’une foi, d’une conviction et d’une force extraordinaires. Lui, sa famille et son Hong Kong bien-aimé ont besoin de nos prières maintenant.

You can read the full translation here.

(Photo credit: Associated Press.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.