The People of Hong Kong Will Not Be Cowed by China

A protester uses a slingshot in Hong Kong on Saturday. Credit Lillian Suwanrumpha/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A protester uses a slingshot in Hong Kong on Saturday. Credit Lillian Suwanrumpha/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“If we burn, you burn with us.” A famous line in the movie “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” has been given a new life in Hong Kong’s summerlong protests: It has come to represent the spirit unleashed by hundreds of thousands of protesters. As many commentators have pointed out, the massive, leaderless resistance movement here is a critical front-line battle against the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party in Beijing. A dictatorial party facing domestic and global pressures — especially from the ongoing trade negotiations with the United States — the C.C.P. is getting impatient, apparently. On Friday, it targeted leading activists and politicians in Hong Kong with a round of arrests, possibly signaling that a broader crackdown may be around the corner.

That morning, while one of us, Joshua, was walking to the metro station, officers from the Hong Kong police snatched him and shoved him into a car. He was arrested on three charges related to a protest outside police headquarters on June 21. As Friday wore on, more activists, including two moderate pro-democracy lawmakers and an advocate of independence for Hong Kong, were arrested as well. The charges they face range from rioting and assaulting police officers, to inciting and participating in an unauthorized assembly, to damaging property and illegally entering the Legislature.

Even as the Chinese authorities try to intimidate protesters, they are using their vast propaganda machine to try to convince the public in China that foreign agents and local conspirators are inciting unrest in Hong Kong, hoping to create chaos.

Friday’s arrests mark another watershed moment in the fast-moving story of Hong Kong’s eroding freedoms. But so, too, does the protest on Saturday: Tens of thousands of people marched again for their rights, despite a police ban on any gatherings that day, braving arrests, tear gas and water cannons. The people of Hong Kong will not be cowed by the C.C.P.

On the very same day five years ago, the C.C.P. smashed Hong Kongers’ dream for electoral freedom by announcing that it would add more controls to the way the city’s leader, the chief executive, is nominated and elected. The Umbrella Movement was born out of that decision. This summer’s protest movement was born of the Hong Kong government’s push to hurriedly pass a bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to China, at China’s request a bill that would have sealed, right now, the death of the “one country, two systems” principle that is supposed to safeguard the city’s semi-autonomy until 2047.

Recent reporting reveals that a few weeks ago Chinese officials — very likely including President Xi Jinping himself — rejected a proposal by Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, to pacify the protesters. At the C.C.P.’s instruction, Reuters reports, Ms. Lam toughened her stance toward the demonstrators, squarely declining all five of their demands — including reforming the electoral system or appointing an independent commission to investigate police violence this summer. Just last week, she went even further, suggesting that the government could pass the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a version of martial law.

The ongoing mass movement in Hong Kong is civil unrest all right — but civil unrest that is the doing of the C.C.P. The protesters are only defending their beloved city, a beacon of liberty, equality and human dignity. In the past months, young students, middle-aged professionals and the elderly have come together and dared to resist the rising Chinese empire. Risking their future, our fellow citizens have braved batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and even slashing by triad members. They did so again Saturday.

The Hong Kong police has repeatedly abused its powers, by way of excessive violence on the streets but also, it is reported, by maiming first-aid volunteers, sexually harassing female protesters under arrest or assaulting other people in their custody. The authorities are also intimidating big businesses.

Hong Kong’s youth are maturing quickly from breathing in the toxic air that is being shot at them. Many teenagers buy safety masks with their pocket money — and their convictions strengthened. While the elderly implore police officers to put down their pistols and batons, professionals are making donations to the movement.

Righting the wrong that is being done in Hong Kong is also the business of the outside world and rests on its will to confront a C.C.P.-controlled China. World leaders cannot keep mistaking their wish for the peaceful rise of China (and one that perhaps will eventually become democratic) with the reality of the Chinese Communist dictatorship today. Any act or policy that sustains the lifeblood of the Communist dictatorship in Beijing is an offense to the peoples whom that dictatorship persecutes and oppresses — in Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and mainland China.

When Britain handed control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, some people thought that what was then a colony — a wartime trophy of European imperial empires — was about to come unshackled. But handing Hong Kong to a reviving empire only spelled its re-colonialization. If China had been a democracy in 1997, the handover would have meant no dispute. In reality, it turned the millions of Hong Kong’s residents into refugees in their own city, subservient to the authoritarian Communist regime in Beijing.

Many Hong Kongers are people, or descendants of people, who fled the mainland to escape a regime that starved tens of millions of its citizens decades ago, then murdered students in 1989 and has since persecuted political dissents incessantly. Today, that regime fuels Chinese nationalism on the mainland by delivering fragmented information and fabricated propaganda, or “fake news,” to its people.

We understand that some critics of American interventionism may be inclined to have sympathy for China as a still-developing country bullied by an over-dominant West. But please listen to us here in Hong Kong: Communist China is no alternative to the interventionism you hate or contest — that is an inconvenient truth that the world must reckon with.

The massive resistance movement in Hong Kong is a crisis of legitimacy for the Chinese government. The uprising is also a call for the rest of the world to support our crusade for human dignity, equality and freedom. The protesters at the front lines of these marches, who go out there in the city’s streets, are doing no less than taking on that enormously powerful communist-cum-fascist regime.

In September, the struggle will only take on more life. We know that the Chinese government wants grand celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the birth of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1; it wants to put history on its side by rewriting the memory of the people. But Hong Kongers won’t let it commemorate that day without a fight.

In the meantime, American legislators are supposed to vote on a bill, the Human Rights and Democracy Act, that would give the president of the United States power to penalize Chinese officials who interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs. The law could also allow the United States to revoke the special economic treatment that Hong Kong enjoys, as separate from the mainland.

If the United States Congress passes the bill, it will be delivering a firm message both to other silent allies of Hong Kong and to China’s dictators. The clock is ticking in Hong Kong. Our future is being determined now.

Joshua Wong is the secretary general of Demosisto. Alex Chow is a Hong Kong activist.

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