THERE are grim lessons for Britain amid the crisis in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protestors are pitted against the power of Communist China.

These lessons explain what the concept of ‘Britain’ means in the world today. The lessons speak of British decline – of the end of empire, of the psychological scars this loss of power left on the British psyche, and how the internalised humiliation over national decline led to the self-harm of Brexit.

These lessons also tell how Britain has squandered its right to wield moral authority in the world; how the country has now rendered itself both so powerless, and so dependent on other greater nations, that the UK is becoming a pipsqueak state.

What’s happening in Hong Kong matters to every democracy on Earth. A tyranny, in the shape of Communist China, is bearing down on people striving to live the way we do. Protestors want the simple freedoms that democracy provides.

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We may think our western democracies are currently broken, that voters and politicians are incapable of making sensible decisions. But at least we have the right to mess things up for ourselves. Each of us is intrinsically free. An army does not wait on the sidelines for us if we demand too much, or express ourselves too freely.

Of course, in the face of brutal police actions, the pro-democracy protestors have carried out acts of violence themselves, wounding their cause. Two wrongs never make a right. But any idea that the scales are equally balanced between protestors and tyranny is absurd.

We look back on bloody struggles for freedom like the 1956 Hungarian Uprising and see clearly that the protestors were right to defend themselves against Soviet totalitarianism.

As democrats, China’s appalling human rights record alone should be enough to convince us that the regime is rotten to the core, and any sane person should resist being under its control.

Despite the failings of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, it’s obvious that morally they tower above the squalid oppression of the Chinese state. How could anyone who sees themselves as a decent human being and a democrat not immediately side with the Hong Kong demonstrators, faults and all?

A little empathy goes a long way. Imagine this country felt the hot breath of an authoritarian superpower breathing down the back of its neck. How might our citizens react?

Britain has a responsibility to support Hong Kong. The whole history of Hong Kong is down to British empire-building. We got our hands on Hong Kong after the First Opium War, which was fought to allow Britain to flood China with drugs. It was one of our acquisitions, made at gun point, as we swaggered the world, taking countries as we pleased.

Then Hong Kong returned to China under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle in 1997. A capitalist micro-state became tacked on to the side of a Communist superpower. It was never going to work. China was always going to stifle any real attempt at democracy. And so the path to today’s protests and violence was paved.

Britain owes Hong Kong a debt. It should be us leading the world in condemnation of what is happening to protestors. However, by what stretch of the imagination can a country like Britain be seen any longer as a defender of liberty and democracy?

The Iraq War is the great cancer in the heart of this nation. The British government lied to the people of the UK and the world in order to invade Iraq. Claims of weapons of mass destruction were a con – fake cover for a war which killed hundreds of thousands of people, and set in train the events which led to catastrophe in Syria and the rise of Islamic State.

Britain – a nation with blood on its hands – doesn’t have the moral authority to speak out in defence of the pro-democracy demonstrators, even though they desperately need diplomatic support from western states.

Even if we had some moral authority left, why should China bother with what we say when we’ve weakened ourselves so badly? The loss of empire scarred Britain deeply. Mix this in with the sentimental mythologising of Britain during the Second World War and there’s a toxic brew. We’ve swagger and humiliation combined – that’s the psychology of the UK in the last half of the 20th century. And this curdled mix became Brexit.

The only way for a country like the UK to wield any power in relation to China is as part of a bigger bloc, like the EU. But we’ve chosen to go it alone in a world where only super-powers matter.

China knows we’re weak. After a Hong Kong police motorcyclist drove into a crowd – an action which could have killed protestors – a few British voices were raised, condemning human rights abuses. The comments made little impact.

However, China immediately moved to put the UK firmly in its place. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “If the UK doesn’t change its wrong course and continues to add fuel to the flames, it will end up getting burned itself.”

What did this threat mean? It’s frightening and unusual for a country like China to use such language to another nation.

The undiplomatic comments don’t mean the People’s Liberation Army are coming for us – what it signifies is a very brutal assessment of realpolitik. China is saying ‘sit down and shut up if you know what’s good for you’.

The Chinese firm Jingye is investing £1.2bn in a rescue package for British steel. It will save thousands of jobs. Do you think China respects a country which can’t run its own steel industry? Do you think Westminster wants to jeopardise such investments?

Britain isn’t alone in dependency on China. Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative sees it developing infrastructure in 152 countries around the world. China can either buy friends or scare nations into submission.

And so, a country like Britain, which dreams of itself as a great democracy, is supine in the face of tyranny. At a time when Britain should be making up for our sins of the past in relation to Hong Kong, the country has rendered itself increasingly insignificant on the world stage – a nation nobody much cares about anymore.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year