On June 30th, a national security law devised by state officials in Beijing under the President Xi Jinping administration was passed in Hong Kong. For years, Hong Kong has resided in an uncertain state, mainly due to its semiautonomous existence and relationship to the Chinese Communist Party. The territory’s access to freedom of speech and political agency have created a society which differs from that of mainland China – politically and culturally. The new law criminalizes these freedoms of democracy.
Hong Kong’s complex political status today stems from its previous state as a colony under the British Empire. Since the territory was handed over to China in 1997, various forms of resistance have emerged against the Chinese Communist Party in response to the legislation’s oppressive policies.
Joshua Wong is one activist who has been at the forefront of these political and peaceful mobilizations. Wong got his start as an activist in 2011, when his secondary school introduced a compulsory course in “Moral and National Education” into the curriculum. The course promoted the Chinese Communist Party as a progressive political entity, which Wong described as a “blatant attempt at indoctrination.” This eventually led to the pro-democracy protests in 2014 known as the Umbrella Movement.
The Umbrella Movement reached beyond the confines of age and nationality, garnering support from all generations and receiving international attention. The protests sought to establish a democratic political system in Hong Kong, since elections lacked a democratic dimension. This is evident in the 2012 elections where only 1,200 people decided on the appointment of C. Y. Leung as Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive.
The new national security law severely suppresses the right to protest, criminalizing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion. Any attempts to initiate pro-democracy movements from now on may be categorized as transgressive acts against the Chinese government. Years of peaceful protests now seem tragically futile: pro-independence banners were removed on the day after the law had been passed. The hope of Hong Kong obtaining autonomous status lies in ruins.
How will civilians continue to protest without the simple but powerful capacity for words? The national security law has created a complex socio-political situation for civilians who engage in acts of self-determination for Hong Kong. For instance, Joshua Wong and his colleagues, who are members of the pro-democracy party known as Demosisto, have had to disband under the new law. Many other activists have deleted their accounts on social media sites like Twitter, in order to erase any evidence that would now endanger their lives.
The national security law is primarily a means to oppress pro-democracy struggles in Hong Kong. This will impact on the capacity for activists to engage in organized forms of resistance, which has meant individuals like Joshua Wong plans to run for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election independently this coming September. However, it isn’t certain whether the city’s election figures – such as the current Chief Executive, Carrie Lam – will allow pro-democracy participants to run for these positions.
Under precarious circumstances, pro-democracy demonstrations have continued in the past few days. Footage of Wong handing out leaflets and giving speeches to civilians can be found on his Facebook page, which he has refused to delete. Alternatively, it was reported by the Hong Kong Free Press that a protestor on the 1st of July held a blank protest placard, which is highly symbolic of the situation for Hong Kongers. Protesting without words is the only means of resistance that civilians can engage with and so this approach might be an effective means to do so, in order to avoid the risk of imprisonment. Perhaps many more should hold blank protest placards next time? Tragically, actions considered transgressive against the state will attract penalties of at least ten years and up to life imprisonment for cases considered to be “serious.”
Yet it is unlikely that things will change for civilians and their right to publicly condemn the Chinese Communist Party from within Hong Kong’s borders. This means international support is necessary. Unfortunately, the Xi administration will continue to violently clamp down on forms of resistance with the Hong Kong Police Force, as well as the newly established Office for Safeguarding National Security. This is highly problematic when you consider the degree of police brutality that Hong Kongers have experienced, particularly evident last year during civilian protests. Amnesty International reported at the time that there existed “an alarming pattern of the Hong Kong Police Force deploying reckless and indiscriminate tactics.”
The international community has struggled to deal with the COVID-19 global pandemic in the past few months, which means countries have largely been dealing with their own domestic problems. While the rest of the world is distracted, the Xi administration has been pursuing its own national interests – for instance, clashing with India at the Himalayan border. This explains why China has been able to push its national security law in Hong Kong without international condemnation. 27 countries in a joint statement at the United Nations announced that China must reconsider its national security law, but this unfortunately feels too late. Greater efforts towards establishing transnational forms of solidarity must be made to deal with the current political crisis in Hong Kong.
Britain in particular must do more to adhere to the Sino-British Declaration, which ensures that the rights, freedoms, and pathways to democracy are ensured for civilians. The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has offered Hong Kong residents the chance to live in Britain for a period of up to five years. But this does not offer a long-term solution to the problem, and would force many Hong Kongers to abandon their homes.
Britain and the international community must work harder to seriously address the situation through diplomatic means in the coming months, in order to protect those, like Joshua Wong, who peacefully protest for Hong Kong.
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