Section: Asia and Far East
More than a year after the beginning of the protests against the extradition law in Hong Kong - waned during the Coronavirus pandemic -, the Chinese central government once again shocked the international community and the pro-democratic citizens of Hong Kong by passing a new security law that further undermines the autonomy of the Special Administrative Region.
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when it retuned under the control of the Chinese Popular Republic. Since then, it operated under the formula 'one country, two systems', which consists in recognising a single Chinese sovereignty but assuring to the former British colony civil liberties and 'independent' legislative and judicial powers. However, in recent years the Communist Party of China (CPC) has had an increasing influence on Hong Kong's political system. This was also made possible thanks to the fact that the Basic Law, the mini-constitution regulating the relations between Beijing and Hong Kong, presents several ambiguities. Article 5 is the main subject of debate, as it states that 'the previous capitalist system and lifestyle will remain unaffected for 50 years', without proposing any solution on what will happen in 2047, upon expiry of the article's validity. Moreover, although Article 68 declares that 'the ultimate goal is the election of all members of the Legislative Assembly through universal suffrage', there does not seem to have been any progress on how to fulfil this promise. At the moment, only half of the Legislative Council is directly elected by the citizens: the rest is chosen by entrepreneurial élites who tend to be in favour of Beijing. Consequently, it is very hard to implement pro-democratic changes opposing the will of the CPC. That is why, according to Lee Cheuk-yan, former member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, the most effective way to resist the interferences from Beijing is through protest movements.
Over the years, several protests have been organised by the citizens of Hong Kong, but their requests have not changed: protection of civil liberties, universal suffrage and freedom from CPC's interferences. In particular, in 2014, the 'Umbrella Revolution' was born in response to the attempt of the Chinese central government to pre-select the political candidates of the former British colony. Last year, activists challenged the bill on extradition to China, considered as a threat to Hong Kong's judicial independence. However, Beijing did not get scared: during the Two Sessions 2020 approved, with only one vote against, the Hong Kong national security law, triggering a new wave of protests. This law, the text of which has not been clearly defined yet, provides for the adoption by the local government of norms 'prohibiting acts of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government'. The citizens of Hong Kong fear that this move of Beijing could be used to repress once and for all the pro-democratic protests, which would be considered no longer as mere demonstrations, but as acts of sedition. The law aims at establishing agencies to control the defense of Chinese national security in Hong Kong, punishing every act of treason. The goal is clear: to end dissent against the regime.
With this new bill, once again China catched the eye of the international community, as was the case in June 1989 with the Tiananmen massacre. The comparison is appropriate: indeed, the citizens of Hong Kong have always given great value to the protests of the students of Beijing. Even though this year the demonstrations for the commemoration of the 1989 massacre had been prohibited (under the pretext of keeping track of the Coronavirus spread), pro-democratic activists participated anyway to the vigil dedicated to the victims. Ma Jian, famous Chinese writer (author of 'Beijing Coma'), said that the CPC could replicate what happened in Tiananmen Square against the citizens of Hong Kong. 'Whether it happens dramatically with armoured tanks, or more covertly, over the years, as in Tibet or in Xinjiang, Hong Kong's unique nature will be attacked while the CPC tries to drag it into its network', writes Ma Jian in an article in The Guardian. Talking about repression of the dissent against the regime, it is hard not to find similarities with the Tiananmen massacre. The fear is that the CPC would rather stain itself with the use of violence, than govern a politically unstable country. However, many critics question this vision, arguing that the Chinese government will limit its actions, safeguarding the relations with the international community, which already expressed its support for the pro-democratic activists of Hong Kong. But how long will the CPC allow the opinion of the major world leaders to limit its actions? In other situations of great importance, it did not seem to worry about it, as evidenced by the violation of the rights of the Islamic community of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, who are still being detained by the regime in re-education camps. Indeed, Beijing seems to have already considered the possibility of intervening with paramilitary forces (the People's Armed Police) to stop the protesters, as shown by provocative videos uploaded on the web by the regime. It should be also take into account that the Hong Kong Basic Law allows the local government to grant access to Beijing's troops in order to 'mantain public order'.
In this dark time of the history of Asia, protesters might be discouraged by the grandeur and the rigour of their opponent, who pursues its objectives while ignoring the impact that it could have on the rights of civilians. However, a deep sense of hope still lives in Hong Kong, which keeps pushing its citizens to make their voices heard and to fight for their future. Losing this battle would mean having fundamental liberties taken away, which no one in the world should ever be ready to give up on.
'Free Hong Kong's democracy, free Hong Kong...'.
Translated by Roberta Sforza