Anti-extradition protests broke out in Hong Kong after pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam moved to push extradition laws through the Hong Kong parliament. That legislation has now been postponed “indefinitely”, but the demonstrations haven’t stopped. If anything, they have grown bigger.
The protests come shortly after the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, prompting inevitable chills in Hong Kong at memories of how China handled that earlier eruption of dissent. Beijing now resorts to more silent and sophisticated forms of control when smashing dissent, but the goal and philosophy remain the same: one way or another all critics must be squashed. Also driving protesters is the common knowledge that Ms Lam some months ago played an integral role in banning the pro-independence party after its convenor, Chan Ho-tin, was arrested for criticizing Beijing.
Allowing Beijing to extradite individuals would violate the 1997 deal that handed over Hong Kong — an agreement which saw promises of social, legal and political freedoms for Hong Kong as an autonomous special administrative region (SAR). Hong Kong and China have different legal systems and different judicial cultures. Chinese prosecutors have a 99 per cent conviction rate that makes kangaroo courts seem fair. The outcomes are predetermined, with verdicts focused on what best serves the interests of the Chinese Communist Party. Justice takes a distant second place behind power, control, and tyranny.
One needs to have a clear-cut stand and dare to show the sword against them, to struggle against any erroneous words and actions that deny the leadership of the Communist Party, or slander the rule of law and the judicial system of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The quote above aren’t the words of a low-level CCP apparatchik. They come from Zhou Qiang, mainland Chief Justice of China’s Supreme Court. Entering into an extradition agreement would effectively stifle the right to a fair trial, equality before the law and the very integrity of Hong Kong’s autonomous justice system.
Although a million people were thought to be on the streets on Sunday, June 16, protesting for democracy, another 800,000 were estimated to be protesting in favour of the CCP. There is an explanation for this on social media forum WeChat. The CCP was offering mainlanders $500 Hong Kong dollars to visit the city-state and stage counter-protests.
Instead of fracturing society, the CCP’s attempt to take away freedom, autonomy, and fairness from Hong Kong’s people has incited and unified opposition. Students, bankers, lawyers, and workers alike are on the streets protesting for their rights. They continue to brave rubber bullets and suffocating tear gas while lobbing traffic cones and bricks at those attempting to enforce their silence and compliance.
In typical ‘death by a thousand cuts’ style, the extradition law represents a step closer to Hong Kong ceding sovereignty to Beijing’s central authority. Although the 1997 deal between the UK and China should have safeguarded Hong Kong’s freedoms for the next 50 years, the West broke a cardinal rule of diplomatic negotiation by taking that deal on trust while refusing to verify it would actually work to the benefit of Hong Kong’s people.
One of the principal reasons the CCP wants the extradition bill is because Beijing fears Hong Kong’s freedoms and their ardent advocates could inspire mainland opposition. Similar fears fed the brutal repression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement, plus other atrocities. What Beijing’s masters cannot afford is a public which is emboldened to question official narratives and oppose the ‘social credit’ system built upon the tools of a surveillance state. This is why the island’s autonomy, and its symbolic victory should the extradition law fail, is such a dire threat to Beijing.
A recent article in Global Times, the CCP’s mouthpiece, not only acknowledged the Tiananmen Square massacre but brazenly defended it — a point not lost on Hong Kong’s democracy advocates. Using Orwellian newspeak, one of recent history’s most appalling mass murders was diminished to a mere ‘incident’ — and a worthwhile incident at that — rather than the unconscionable massacre it was. In politics they say the definition of a gaffe is actually telling the truth, which no doubt explains why an article which confirmed and loudly endorsed Beijing’s arrogant authoritarianism was quickly taken down, but not before it was copied and distributed samizdat-style. For the record, translated and lightly edited, it is reproduced below. You could not ask for a better explanation why Hong Kong is both fearful and defiant:
‘June 4 marks the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident’
‘The Communist Party of China and the Chinese Government have determined the nature of the incident … aimed at helping the country (China) leave the shadow behind, avoid disputes, and help all Chinese people face the future’.
We (CCP) consider such practices [ed: the Tiananmen massacre] a political success, although some people (most) have criticized it from the perspective of news governance. Merely afflicting China once, the incident has not become a long-term nightmare for the country … It has become a faded historical event … The policy of avoiding arguing has served as a contributor to the country’s economic take-off’.
Today’s China obviously has no political conditions to suddenly reproduce the riot of 30 years ago. Chinese society, including its intellectual elite, is more mature than in 1989. In those years, reforms were carried out prior to those of the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. China had completely no experience of intellectual circle filled with idealism; Chinese society today has seen enough of the political tragedies that occurred in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and some Arab countries.
Having become politically mature, China now understand the significance of the country’s continuous development through evolution instead of revolutions … the Tiananmen incident will greatly increase China’s immunity against any major political turmoil in the future’.
We (CCP) have noticed that every year around June 4, certain forces outside the Chinese mainland stir up public opinion and attack China. Such forces consist of student leaders and dissidents who fled abroad after 1989, and Western politicians and media outlets.’
The first group’s understanding of the incident remains fixed in 1989. They refuse to correct their understanding of China’s development and changes … their interests have been decoupled from the Chinese people and have merged with anti-China forces outside China. Their attitude … cannot represent those of today’s Chinese public.
Western politicians’ discussions of the incident are mainly influenced by their countries’ relations with China … US officials have launched fierce attacks against China focused on the incident since last year … (They) are making use of the incident as a diplomatic tool to challenge China.
However, all these noises will have no real impact on Chinese society. The actions of external forces are completely in vain.
China’s growing global influence, coupled with its track record of encroaching upon both the freedoms and rights of its own citizens, as well as the territory of Asia-Pacific neighbours, make it a threat to not just Hong Kong but to all of us. At the moment, the people of Hong Kong are on the front line of that fight. The rest of the world awaits its turn.
Jacob Watts is a Research Associate with the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance