by Brian Hioe
Photo credit: Okstartnow/WikiCommons/CC
RECENT PROTESTS in Hong Kong marking the 19th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British control to Chinese control on July 1st were another occasion for the internal conflict between Hong Kong’s political camps to demonstrate itself. More than 110,000 attended pro-democracy demonstrations, significantly higher than last year, in which 48,000 attended. Lam Wing-Kee, one of the recently returned Hong Kong booksellers who were kidnapped by China, was originally slated to lead the rally, but withdrew after threats to his safety.
Many cited participation in the march as necessary for preserving Hong Kong’s democracy and calling attention to the continued threat faced by Hong Kong from China. Hong Kong Executive CY Leung was also called on to resign by demonstrators. On the other side of the political aisle, the pro-Beijing camp would celebrate the return of Hong Kong to China, though there were calls for celebrations were toned down this year after the death of two firefighters who lost their lives in a 108 hour building fire. This in itself became a matter of political contestation, with some accusing celebrities of using the tragedy to promote themselves, or of addressing the tragedy but of refusing to take action on matters related to Hong Kong’s autonomy such as the blacklisting of singer Denise Ho. Jackie Chan, well-known for acting as an apologist for Beijing despite hailing from Hong Kong, was singled out in particular.
However, it would seem to be a recurrent pattern at present in which localist groups hold alternative events to more mainstream, pan-democratic demonstrations. Indeed, this year, more contentiously, demonstrations by localist groups Youngspiration, Hong Kong Indigenous, and the Hong Kong National Party were called off after several hours of demonstrating because of heavy police presence. Several were arrested on suspicion of carrying weapons, including several cutter knives and scissors, though reports have surfaced that some of these arrests may have targeted those taking pictures of police and that police targeted anyone wearing black, seeing as demonstrators were called on to dress in black and wear black masks. Among Hong Kong activists and organizers, much backlash against police has followed suit after these events.
In this sense, it would be that the anniversary marking the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong has become another occasion in which Hong Kong’s political divisions expresses itself. This is along the same lines as how yearly Tiananmen Square Massacre commemorations have also become politicized in recent years, with contestation about whether Tiananmen Square should be commemorated by residents of Hong Kong given the question of Hong Kong’s relation to China. Some, particularly localist groups, suggest that the Tiananmen Square Massacre should be treated as something which happened in another country, hence that there should not be such commemoration of the event in Hong Kong. While some suggested that this year’s commemoration would be smaller, as a result, according to organizers, 125,000 people attended.
In a more obvious way than Tiananmen Square commemoration, the anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese control would strike directly to the questions of autonomy at stake in Hong Kong, as marking the present era of governance in Hong Kong. So it would be obvious that the anniversary of the handover would become a politically charged event. Yet we can point to this as another case in point regarding the politicization of sovereignty issues in Hong Kong, by which everything from consumer goods to holidays become sites of contestation over issues of autonomy and identity.