Are Hong Kong's Days of Freedom Numbered?
The murder in Taiwan of a 19-year-old Hong Kong woman at the hands of her boyfriend on Valentine's Day 2018 seemed routine enough. Another tragic story of a love affair going terribly wrong.
But Chinese authorities seized on the year-old incident to try and push through a new extradition law that would allow some crimes committed in Hong Kong to be prosecuted in China. The Beijing government badly miscalculated the reaction by citizens to this blatant attempt to curtail Hong Kong's "special relationship" with the Chinese government in their semi-autonomous province. This led to massive demonstrations which some estimates placed at over a million demonstrators.
On Saturday, China's puppet, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, apologized for introducing the law but resisted calls to withdraw it entirely and step down. "The government understands these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong," according to a statement from an unidentified government spokesman."
That may be, but it hardly satisfied anyone.
The chief executive admitted deficiencies in the government's work had led to substantial controversies and disputes in society, causing disappointment and grief among the people," a government spokesman said. "The chief executive apologized to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledged to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public."
Lam, who was chosen by Beijing to be the highest-level local official, suspended her effort to force passage of the bill on Saturday in an attempt to quell protests.
But pro-democracy activists say that's not enough, instead demanding the proposal be withdrawn in addition for calls that Lam step down.
“She should have apologized for not improving people’s livelihood. She should resign,” music teacher Chau Chong told the South China Morning Post. "But sadly, we know that even if she does step down, Beijing will just find another puppet to run Hong Kong.”
It isn't just that Hong Kong residents identify far more with their city than China. People in the city have a very different concept of "freedom" than the Communists in China. They are hyper-sensitive to any effort by Beijing to impose their political culture on Hong Kong residents, as evidenced by the massive demonstrations against the proposed extradition law.
Despite Lam's apology, tensions are still running high on Sunday:
Pro-democracy activists were calling for a general strike on Monday despite Lam's decision to suspend work on the legislation. Some labor unions, teachers associations and other groups were planning boycotts of work and classes, demanding the Lam administration retire the proposed amendments and not bring them up again for passage at a later stage.
"We encourage all the public to carry on the campaign," said Bonnie Leung, a leader of the pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front. "If any new violence takes place, it will be the responsibility of the police."
How could China miscalculate so badly?
Today, any call to public action, even the act of giving speeches to a rally, requires a greater degree of caution. The young activists involved in recent protests have switched tactics to form leaderless, anonymous collectives, hiding their identities with face masks and using messaging apps to organise. The government has begun to act against these, arresting one Telegram group administrator on suspicion of conspiracy to commit public nuisance. Many activists no longer welcome their photos being taken or doing interviews with foreign media. Within the course of a week, they are becoming as cautious as mainland Chinese dissidents. By shutting young people out of the political process, the government may well have created an underground resistance that sees that radical action can have results.
But the core values that Hong Kongers cherish include universal values, press freedom, judicial independence and civil rights. These are seen by Beijing as among the “seven unmentionables”, putting Hong Kongers on the frontline of the clash between western “universal” values and the Communist party’s need for total control.
Faced with these existential threats, Hong Kong’s default position has in recent years been a defensive crouch. “We don’t have a grand strategy,” the political scientist Ray Yep from City University told me before this round of protests had broken out. “In every situation, you just defend what you can the most. This is how you defend Hong Kong values. We defend what we have. It’s defensive but it can be offensive as well.” When one in seven of the population turns out to protest against the extradition legislation, defence becomes attack, particularly in the eyes of Beijing.
In short, Beijing simply doesn't care about the unrest. The murderers who killed thousands in Tiananmen Square in 1989 aren't squeamish about busting a few protesters' heads. Hong Kong is about to get a lesson in why Communists were once in control of half the planet. They will keep pressuring residents until the vast majority throw up their hands and give in to the tyranny. From Poland and Eastern Europe to Latin America, Africa, and Asia, the relentless drive for total control by Communists eventually wears people down and they give in.
Despite the massive protests, Hong Kong's days of freedom are numbered.