There is little, alas, the United States can do to stop China from throttling Hong Kong. Beijing never intended to keep its pledge that the 1997 hand-back would allow Hong Kong autonomy for 50 years. At the present rate, it could be over in 25. Pity, because HK is a great city that we visited often when I had my Fulbright in nearby Macau. World’s best subway.

Britain had no choice but to leave. It took Hong Kong Island as a colony in 1842 after the First Opium War. It was soon too small, so Britain leased the New Territories on the mainland — the source of Hong Kong’s water — for 99 years, and in 1997 the lease was up. In 1984, Britain negotiated a deal whereby HK would become the Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of China. Under the formula “one country two systems” (1C2S), HKSAR would have internal self-government for 50 years. Portugal got a parallel deal and left Macau in 1999.

The real purpose of 1C2S was to bait Taiwan into a similar deal, but Taipei didn’t nibble. Looking at Hong Kong’s fate, Taiwan hardens policy toward the mainland and is ready to accept Hong Kong refugees. This angers Beijing and heightens regional fears of a Chinese invasion.

A pro-democracy Hong Konger called this a new cold war and Hong Kong the new Berlin. Maybe, but with important differences. Beijing has sovereignty over HKSAR and military, economic and police control, so there’s little the U.S. can do to keep Hong Kong autonomous.

With Berlin, the 300,000 U.S. soldiers in Europe made Moscow fear escalation if shooting started. The Berlin Wall in 1961 was the most they could do, and not a shot was fired at Checkpoint Charlie. Next year, Moscow blinked over Cuba. We do not have this kind of leverage with China. Moving carriers close is super-risky, as China has effective anti-ship missiles. Lack of a trade deal hurts us (hog and soybean exports) as much as it hurts China.

Some call the new rivalry Cold War 2.0. Marxist ideology is gone, but nationalism, the strongest and most bellicose ideology, grows, especially in China. (The U.S. is not far behind.) For Beijing, instead of proletarians overthrowing the bourgeoisie within a given country, China sees itself as a victim nation breaking capitalist-imperialist hegemony.

A residual Marxism lingers in Beijing’s expectation that the capitalist West is decaying and doomed. Chinese analyses kept this quiet until the 2008 financial meltdown, which seemed to prove that capitalist contradictions would destroy America. Deng Xiaoping’s patient “hide and bide” policy vanished in favor of Xi Jinping’s bold maritime claims and New Silk Road.

Xi fears Western liberal democracy penetrating and subverting China and has clamped down on ideas of pluralism and democracy in universities and the social media, which are watched for foreign visitors and notions. So, some ideology continues.

The big switch is now Russia is junior partner to China. Actually, Russia led only from 1950 to 1960, from the Sino-Soviet defense treaty to Mao’s catastrophic Great Leap Forward, when the Soviets pulled out their extensive foreign aid and personnel and the Sino-Soviet split came into the open. Mao, especially with Khrushchev’s 1956 destalinization speech, strongly felt he should lead world communism.

Will Moscow forever consent to being led by a strong China? The Russo-China border is officially settled, but China will not likely forget that Russia seized most of Heilongjiang province in the northeast by “unequal treaties” in 1858 and 1860. Now, as the Russian Far East depopulates, Chinese arrive to farm and timber, worrying some Russians.

Losing Hong Kong as a world banking and commerce hub does not bother Beijing. It would close the HK escape route for Chinese capital flight. Before World War II, Shanghai was China’s great financial gateway, which Beijing wants restored. Said one official: “Shanghai will be our New York. Hong Kong will be Toronto.”

“Inherent bad faith” on both sides defined the original Cold War. Even during our wartime alliance, American diplomats’ suspicions of Stalin grew; by 1946 mistrust was confirmed as Stalin violated the Yalta agreement by turning East Europe into satellites.

Bad faith has returned with China. Washington and Beijing, after some hopeful years, now deeply distrust each other. Visas are harder to get. Journalists and researchers are expelled as spies. Claims and statistics are doubted and ridiculed. China’s COVID-19, for example, went from denied to massive and now to zero in months. I wish our bugs were as obedient.

As China’s “security” measures choke off HK freedoms, we, like Canada, Britain and Taiwan, could facilitate immigration by qualified Hong Kongers, who enrich their new countries’ finances and cuisine. We should be advertising midcoast Maine real estate in HK. For the price of a HK apartment, they could buy a lovely home here.