by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: APEC 2013/CC
DEMONSTRATIONS took place this weekend across Hong Kong to mark the first visit of Xi Jinping to Hong Kong, the annual pro-democracy march on July 1st, the 20th anniversary of the British handover, and the turnover of Chief Executive from Cy Leung to Carrie Lam. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what is next for Hong Kong youth activists and others, seeing as youth activists expected more intense protest but this did not happen.
Namely, despite claims from organizers that they expected protest of over 100,000, according to organizers only 60,000 marched. Police claim a far lower count of 14,500 participants. Either way, 60,000 would be a two-year low for the annual pro-democracy march and 14,500 would be its second lowest turnout ever.
On Thursday, Joshua Wong and other members of his Demosisto party staged an action to hold a sit-in the Golden Bauhinia Park, an emblem of the handover, very likely in attempt to galvanize protest for the upcoming weekend in a similar manner to how Wong’s actions were the initial impetus for the Umbrella Movement. Wong, legislators “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-Hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and others were among those arrested when police eventually descended upon the park to evict demonstrators. Yet this was not successful either in galvanizing future protest.
Why? In past years, the visit of Chinese government officials to countries or territories with the issue of Chinese threats to their sovereignty has been an impetus for protests, even ones of the historic, such as the Wild Strawberry Movement in 2008 which was the impetus for the revival of Taiwanese civil society leading up to the Sunflower Movement. The Wild Strawberry Movement was a reaction to the visit to Taiwan of Zhang Zhijun, then the highest-ranking Chinese official to have visited Taiwan. Based on this sort of precedent, one would expect a strong reaction to the visit of Xi Jinping to Hong Kong seeing as Xi is, after all, president of China and the leader of the CCP.
Perhaps it was the high amount of public security which led low turnout then. Security preparations ahead of Xi’s visit were extensive in preparation for demonstrations and a number of overtly pro-independence demonstrations were declared to be illegal. Likewise, in a first, the usual location of the annual democracy march, Victoria Park, was not approved as a site for demonstrations. Yet was the reason why turnout was low because residents of Hong Kong feared the potential for reprisal by the government, then? Since the kidnapping of booksellers from Hong Kong who published books critical of the Chinese political leadership, it has increasingly come to be seen in Hong Kong that any and all forms of political reprisal are possible from the CCP. Those who continue to take political action in Hong Kong, then, will be those who assume any and all risks.
But it may be that a wave of demonstrations will be needed in the future if Hong Kong is to have any hope of preserving some measure of democratic freedoms. During Xi’s visit to Hong Kong, apart from warnings against any increased push for Hong Kong independence from young people crossing a “red line”, China’s foreign ministry also took the unprecedented step of declaring the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong to be null and void. Evidently, China intends to make Hong Kong into the same as any other Chinese city in the future, meaning that China will shrug off its obligations to preserve “One Country, Two Systems” until 2047.
The trend of China treating Hong Kong as it would treat any other Chinese city will only continue, then, in the lack of any strong show of force by the Hong Kong people. What Hong Kong has going for it, after all, as compared to Chinese cities, is international fame. So long as the world is cognizant of Hong Kong’s fate, stronger democratic freedoms before it fell to Chinese control, and aware of resistance against the deterioration of Hong Kong’s freedoms at China’s hands, Hong Kong has means to push back against China. China, after all, desires to be accepted by the international community as an equal even as it also claims that so-called international values as “democracy” are in fact only western values and do not apply to it.
But Hong Kong’s international fame, as well as its prior history of stronger democratic freedoms, is something which Hong Kong has that no Chinese city has. This provides a resource for Hong Kong to draw on in terms of putting international pressure on China, so long as there are people in Hong Kong willing enough to take a stand against China even if this means taking risks in order to demonstrate that the people of Hong Kong chafe against the degradation of democratic freedoms in Hong Kong because of China. As for long-term solutions to Hong Kong’s dilemma from China, they remain to be seen, but it may only be through continued resistance that answers emerge.