The trial of 47 opposition figures under the national security law is inevitably reported as “democracy on trial” in the foreign news media. Straightforward, no? There are actually many problems with this narrative. For one, only 16 are now on trial to fight their charges as 31 others have pleaded guilty or are willing to admit liability. Reading many foreign news outlets, you suspect the writers aren’t even aware or else care nothing about this little factual detail. Trying 47 democracy fighters certainly makes a better headline than just 16. This kind of lack of attention to basic facts is fairly typical when it comes to reporting on Hong Kong and China in general. But there is a much deeper problem with this narrative, which has to do with the question: why did Hong Kong enjoy more democracy and freedoms for more than two decades under Chinese communist rule than it ever did under British colonialism? Let me show my hand now so you can stop reading if you don’t like what I am about to argue. Beijing was perfectly willing to accept democracy in Hong Kong, but not when the democrats and their supporters sided with the Western powers and were willing to open the city to foreign influence and infiltration. Hong Kong 47: ex-lawmaker says opposition plotted Legco ‘weapon of mass destruction’ Opposition action escalated from relatively peaceful protests to outright violence, first with the Occupy movement in 2014, then the unprecedented and highly coordinated riots in 2019. The West naturally saw only democracy at work, but Beijing, not unreasonably, considered such action a direct threat to national security. The central government saw what happened to countries hit by those so-called colour revolutions, from the Middle East to eastern Europe and Ukraine, whose fallouts and consequences the world is still paying for today. Those “revolutions” were encouraged, extolled, in some cases, even funded by Washington and its allies. When you remember how those leading democrats in Hong Kong flew to Washington and other Western capitals – with red carpets rolled out for them – to appeal for support and in several instances openly call for Western sanctions against their own governments in Hong Kong and Beijing, how do you think the central government would interpret such actions? For more than two decades, the democrats had mostly hedged their bets. They were willing to negotiate with Beijing while maintaining good relations with Western governments. That was a good and politically mature strategy. They achieved the most successful outcome in 2010 when the Democratic Party negotiated directly with Beijing and secured, for the first time, the so-called five “super seats” for every eligible voter in the city. Beijing thought the new compromise for the legislative elections in 2012 would demonstrate its sincerity in moving towards full democracy, albeit slowly. That was not to be. The rest of the democratic camp painted it not as an achievement, but a “black box operation” to deny the city full democracy. The Democrats were discredited, and a new generation of young people were told it was nothing less than a betrayal of Hong Kong. Henceforth, you lost votes if you tried to talk to Beijing, and the most uncompromising candidates for the district and legislative elections were favoured. While the democratic camp stopped talking to Beijing, it doubled down on developing ever closer relations with the Western powers, especially Britain and the United States. They were forming an alliance in fact, if not in name. Courting technology: why some Hong Kong lawyers are slow to go paperless But Beijing’s fear about Hong Kong could not be understood outside the international political climate in the late 2010s. In previous decades, it became obvious that the global centre of gravity had been switching from the West to the East. But that was mostly economic. However, following the last global financial crisis, the West’s decline and China’s rise became two of the biggest economic and geopolitical trends that the Western ruling elites had to decide whether to acquiesce to; tolerate and manage; or actively reject and fight against. Thanks to the war in Ukraine, the West, but especially the Anglo-American sphere, has made its decision, now for all the world to see. Perhaps long blinded by the cliche that Hong Kong was a bridge between the East and the West, the opposition and its supporters didn’t realise the two worlds were about to collide and they didn’t have a choice in who they could side with. They made their bed when many clearly had no conception of the consequences. Now they know, but it’s too late.