Michael Brendan Dougherty of National Review Online explains why China’s recent actions in Hong Kong require the free world’s scrutiny.

Beijing’s attempt to impose a national-security law on Hong Kong that would vitiate the city’s semi-autonomous status and undermine its common-law system is the most important political story in the world right now.

Why? Because it demonstrates a lesson we all need to internalize. The West long ago convinced itself that Chinese economic development would eventually lead to Chinese political liberalization, having previously applied the same theory to Warsaw Bloc countries in the later stages of the Cold War. In Poland and Czechoslovakia, history proved the theory to be precisely backward: Political revolution preceded economic reform. In China, a West-enabled economic boom has coincided with the Communist Party’s predatory capture of industries and the skills that go with them, which in turn has made the Party’s grip on political power and its influence over neighboring countries and the West only stronger.

For doe-eyed analysts of the 1990s, political and trade liberalization were two sides of the same coin; free nations would necessarily have an easier time accessing capital, manufacturing goods, and achieving prosperity. But China’s rise hasn’t worked like that. At the time of the peaceful handover of Hong Kong from the British in 1997, the city accounted for nearly 20 percent of the entire Chinese economy. Now, it accounts for less than 3 percent. Beijing recognizes the strong leverage that decline affords it, and has set out to make Hong Kong choose between prosperity and freedom. …

… The pretense that China is just another “market player” allows China to put the same question to the West’s technocrats: What do you really value in the grand scheme of things — this abstraction called “political freedom,” or the freedoms that come from putting bread on the table?