The power of sanctions and greater global awareness
But there is more the global community could do too if it was willing to show a little more moral fortitude and a little less economic pragmatism. A good place to start might be to look at how the international community tackles other rogue authoritarian regimes that behave in a similar way. North Korea, Russia and Iran are subject to significant economic sanctions and a degree of political isolation by the international community.
Such sanctions have a limited effect and it could be argued that they actually make the human situation in such countries worse as the regimes in question double-down to hold onto power. But they do send a clear message that the world will not tolerate this type of behavior and for a country like China, which has ambitions to be a global power, this could have an effect.
Equally, economic sanctions on China could be interesting given how the regime has built its entire power base on the perception of economic prosperity. This rhetoric continues to hold true despite the fact that there are still hundreds of millions of Chinese people living in abject poverty and the supposed economic miracle in China is, according to many experts, built on what is ultimately an unsustainable level of debt.
The freezing of overseas assets of CCP officials would be a good start as few people are in any doubt that anyone at the top of the Communist Party is anything other than obscenely wealthy thanks to their access to public money. If CCP leaders are hit in their own pockets, it might cause a change of tack.
Another step which could have a potential impact is to issue travel warnings to people against going to China if they have ever spoken out publicly in favor of democracy. Anyone who applies for a visa to enter China is thoroughly vetted and many are declined, but Lee’s case sets a new precedent.
He was permitted to enter Chinese territory and then arrested, charged, and sentence for supposed crimes which were not committed on Chinese soil. That could now happen to anyone, no matter where they are from.
Analysts are probably right when they say that people from Taiwan and Hong Kong are at a far greater risk than others. Maya Wang, a researcher for Human Rights Watch suggested that this sentence is a warning was aimed at those in Hong Kong and Taiwan who oppose the idea of being subsumed into the Chinese state.
It would, of course, be politically damaging for the CCP to sentence an American or British democracy advocate to jail time in the same way as Lee. But it could now happen and if the threat has to be seen as real, so western governments surely have a responsibility to warn their citizens accordingly?
Taiwanese legislator Wang Ting-yu (王定宇) has already called for the Taiwanese Government to warn Taiwanese citizens of the risks of traveling to China in the wake of this case. He is right to do so. Whether traveling there for business or pleasure, they are now putting their freedom in the hands of a hostile foreign regime. Why would anyone choose to take that risk? Many will opt not to, and I know after writing this article, I would hesitate too.
To read more, click on Part One of this article.