Hong Kong Moves On

As Hong Kong continues to see lowering numbers of reported COVID-19 cases, their parliament has shifted focus back to their continuously mounting buildup of un-filed legislative bills. One of these bills has crossed the fine line of niceties between the opposing political parties and caused utter mayhem, as their latest committee meeting resulted in frenzied physical altercations. Pro-democracy legislators are crying injustice on their mistreatment and all the recent detrimental violence surrounding their politics.

At the hearing on 11 May, council members scrambled desperately over one another to be the first seated in the empty spot leading the board, as they were set to elect a new house committee chairperson that day. It was apparently well-known before the gathering that a Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-supported member would be chosen, thus the ensuing inappropriate conduct from the council members. Pro-democracy legislators knew that if their opponent landed the chair, they would move ahead with a proposed bill concerning China’s national anthem, which they considered a breach of Hong Kong’s constitutional freedoms. This law would allow stiff fines and/or strict punishment to be brought down on anyone who would speak out against or “abuse” China’s national anthem, leading them to proclaim it infringed their right to free expression. Having previously been under British jurisdiction, Hong Kong has a separate governing system that still reserves some rights that the rest of China does not.

At the end of the scuffle, pro-Beijing (or pro-establishment) politician Starry Lee was named the new leader by a landslide vote as protesting legislators were dragged from the room, another tactless motion. This chaos unfolded after the prior abiding chair member, Dennis Kwok of the pro-democracy party, was relieved from the role and accused of “filibustering” the process to find a replacement. Some believe this was his attempt to halt dangerous bills from being reviewed and grant his party some temporary authority, while opposers considered it a democratic ploy to fully separate Hong Kong from China. As CNN recounted from his interview, Kwok proclaimed “The reality in Hong Kong today is that whenever [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam and the pro-establishment don’t like something, they will do whatever it takes, including breaking the system…”

This chamber meeting had also been called to settle charges for last May’s pro-democracy protest, which was a much milder diplomatic remonstration. This undoubtedly was one of the more significant motives behind the excessive vehemence at last week’s assembly. The indicted included several legislators and city influencers; the sentencing calling for them to face up to five years in jail. A sentencing which social activist Raphael Wong labelled “…a political prosecution” in Al Jazeera. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke on the subject, quoted by Reuters as agreeing that the pro-democracy lawmakers had been “manhandled” and that such interference by Beijing into Hong Kong’s affairs could change the territory’s standings with the United States.

At a recent news conference, the Hong Kong Free Press association included Lam’s take on the bill in question, claiming “There have been close to terrorist incidents in Hong Kong over the past year…” and thus the reappearance of such a bill was “understandable.” She did not comment on the actions of the committee but did seek to eliminate questions on her bias by highlighting the fact that more resources such as internet publications now had access to news briefings. She commented, “One of my priorities since taking office is to facilitate the work of reporters,” as she found their work of “great importance.” With their Chief Executive showing promising signs of attempting to establish peace, surely her legislators can find a way to do so, at least among themselves.

It is often easy to be swept away by emotion and raise our arms to defend what we believe to be right, but as this chain of events has proven, it will only produce increased conflict. As they saw one controversial expedition bill nixed last year, it is clear that concord can still be found between the parties if aggression is avoided. It would be best for the committee to hold more than one intellectual discussion over the content of each bill, and to open their chambers to neutral third-party readers. Also, instead of lashing out with their discontent, the democratic party could begin to make more solid alliances with human rights groups and other strong peace advocates to ensure they have ample support when needed. High-ranking personnel cannot continue to degenerate into such demeaning manner, or their citizens will surely follow suit.

Now more than ever, nations need and deserve harmony amongst their leaders to keep economies afloat, and Hong Kong could make this happen by reminding their lawmakers of the people, rather than the ideals, they serve to represent.

Heidi Moura