A Hong Kong activist group that has previously organized an annual vigil on June 4 to remember protestors killed in Tiananmen Square in 1989 says it is disbanding after facing “national security charges,” according to Al Jazeera. This democracy group is the latest among many other activist groups in Hong Kong to fold and disband after the government in mainland China imposed a sweeping national security law in the city. Beijing also disapproved of a range of actions it considers threatening to its regime, including a key trade union grouping and a larger teachers’ union. “I believe Hong Kong people, no matter their capacity, will continue to commemorate June 4 as before,” Richard Tsoi, secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, told reporters of Al Jazeera on Saturday. On the same day, however, a vote to disband the alliance was supported by 41 members with only four opposed. The situation seems grim, and it does not look like Hong Kong can be a voice against the mainland’s regime anytime soon.
Under the new law, authorities froze 2.2 million Hong Kong Dollars, an equivalent to 283,000 USD, of the group’s assets this month after it was charged with inciting subversion. The new law prescribes terms of up to life in jail for anything Beijing deems to be subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces, reported by Al Jazeera. Due to this restriction, most democratic groups and activists have been jailed or fled abroad. On the other hand, Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly denied violating any human rights and freedom, saying that law enforcement has merely decided based on evidence.
The Alliance’s leaders, who were already jailed for participating in the anti-government protests in 2019 that stirred the whole city and beyond, have also been charged with inciting subversion. Members of the group have also been charged with failure to provide the requested information to the police by the set deadline. Police then sent a letter accusing the Alliance of being “an agent of foreign forces” and added that the missing deadline could result in fines and six months in jail, according to Al Jazeera. Hong Kong traditionally holds the world’s largest annual June 4 vigil, with many supporters remembering the event. This has heightened tensions with Beijing, which has banned commemorations and heavily censored any mention of the topic. To this day, Beijing has never released a full account of the 1989 crackdown. Officials gave a death toll of about 300, but many civilian witnesses claimed that the number could be up to thousands. In 1997 Hong Kong was returned to China under the umbrella of “one country, two systems.” However, China has played an increasingly large role in Hong Kong’s political and legal affairs, and has been accused of violating Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Ever since the large protests that happened in Hong Kong back in 2019, China has had less and less tolerance for political defiance. Hong Kong is different from Taiwan in the sense that the mainland government has more control. However, this new law could prove harmful to China as well. Hong Kong is one of the Chinese-controlled territories that have a high disapproval rating of the mainland’s government. After years of being under British control, the lifestyle and mindset of many Hong Kong people drastically diverge from those on the mainland. In the past, China has pursued peaceful resolutions by offering investment incentives and financial help to the Hong Kong elites to persuade them to cooperate with the mainland government. However, the dissatisfaction persists with those who did not receive any governmental help and wanted more freedom away from Beijing’s grip. Instead of trying to persuade those who dislike the mainland’s government, Beijing decided to pursue a more hawkish solution, in which most activists fighting for democracy and freedom are being severely punished.
This change in treatment not only makes people in Hong Kong more dissatisfied with the Chinese regime, but more and more international powers have also viewed China in a negative light. For instance, China has tightened its control not only in Hong Kong but in areas like Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, the South China Sea, and the East China Sea as well. In all the disputed areas above, China has become more assertive and negotiated less with the opposite side. In Xinjiang, for instance, China has pursued the solution of ethnic cleansing of the Uighurs under the pretence of driving away the terrorists. However, the threat posed by the Uighurs is far too small for China to justify such violent means. In Hong Kong, although the punishment is in no way comparable to what is happening in Xinjiang, Hong Kong is still considered a somewhat autonomous territory with the right to deal with its own affairs. China’s assertive rules increasingly interfere with that principle, and will in the future become harmful to Hong Kong’s freedom. Although China wants to do anything it can to protect its national security and its ruling party, its violation of Hong Kong people’s rights will only lead to more disapproval from people both in Hong Kong and abroad. For instance, the U.S. and countries in Europe have repeatedly pointed out their disagreements about how Beijing deals with Taiwan and Xinjiang. What happens in Hong Kong could lead to the U.S. further viewing Beijing in a negative light, especially if Beijing continues to put democracy at stake.
The solution that I am proposing is for China to ease its restrictions on the Hong Kong people and to pursue a less assertive way of keeping the Hong Kong people under its watch. The method of the harsh crackdown has never worked well in favour of China, especially in a place that is too familiar with a democratic ideology like Hong Kong. To avoid being an enemy to the Hong Kong people and to avoid international criticism, China should instead prove that its intentions are not harmful to the people of Hong Kong. Instead of pushing Hong Kong away, China should try to treat it more positively by providing aid to people in any way it can and by allowing people to make their own decisions. This should slowly improve relations, as China will give Hong Kong some freedom while also keeping indirect control. This solution I am proposing still involves China having control over people in Hong Kong, but this is a realistic view that would benefit both China and Hong Kong. It has also become apparent (at least in the near future) that Hong Kong could not claim complete independence from China due to its economic and historical restraints. Thus, the best solution is for both sides to cooperate well with one another and to avoid further escalation.
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