The militant youth who trashed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building on the 22nd anniversary of the July 1st, 1997 handover, had earlier draped an external pillar with a large-character poster for Chief Executive Carrie Lam: “It is you who taught me that peaceful protests are useless.”
In Lam’s dismissive arrogance, she declared it did not matter how many people turned out to protest. The Extradition Bill she hustled could potentially finger anyone incurring Chinese Communist Party’s bad vibes to be sent to face mainland justice. She had the votes. She was bent on writing it into law. She told everyone not to worry.
The third protest wave estimated by organizers at 2 million residents left no doubt about the depth of public distrust. The widest cross-section of Hong Kong society, with no other effective way to stop Lam’s folly, slow-marched for five hours, bringing the city to a halt again. The madam is famous over her 40-year civil service career for switching-off when her mind is made up on any issue.
However, Beijing reeled Lam in, sobered by three massive June public protests in succession, with live global TV feeds butting the G20 meetings in Tokyo, where President Xi Jinping would engage world leaders. The police were ordered to cool it. Embarrassment on the international stage was inconvenient for the new world power.
Not naive anymore
Five years older and a lot less naive, the pioneers of Occupy 2014 have taken over the resistance from the elder pan-democrats who failed to tame the system from within. The torch has passed. This generation leads the fight for Hong Kong’s core values and identity, against mainlandization. One sprayed message on Legco unkindly reads “Hong Kong is not China.”
Radical elements chose potent symbols of the regime to confront. The riot policemen, “dog officers” who pepper-sprayed and baton-charged students without provocation in 2014, are prime targets. The Legislative Council building is another totem of dysfunctional disgrace, where rubber-stampers were ready to pass the parlous Extradition Bill.
The stormtroopers blacked-out the China wording on the SAR emblem and wrecked photos of past council presidents Andrew Leung and Rita Fan, but spared portraits of John Swaine, Andrew Wong (both pre-1997) and Jasper Tsang (2008-16). Tsang displayed steely integrity in office, upsetting comrades of the deeply pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of HK (DAB).
There was method to the mayhem within the Legco chamber. To ensure repeat global TV clips and madden the CCP even more, a British flag was draped over the president’s chair. Lam and the CCP have bayed for fulsome punishment of the rash militants. Many of these youngsters will be charged for rioting, liable for 8-10 years of prison.
Lessons of 2014
Students, not born yet, or mere toddlers in 1997, with no direct experience of British rule, staged an unprecedented 79-day peaceful ‘Occupy Central’ in 2014 after Beijing reneged on its Basic Law promise of universal suffrage for the Chief Executive in 2017. Occupy ended with no concessions to restore what the Basic Law pledged.
Chief executive C Y Leung vanished during the entire 2014 crisis. The hidden leader pushed his chief secretary Carrie Lam to meet with the students. She did on live TV, stone-faced and glum. There was no real dialogue. Lam arrived, sat and left. The naive students were stumped. They had no Plan B. Occupy dissolved.
That encounter gave them the measure of Carrie Lam. They dismiss her recent public contrition, TV tears and promises to listen as false, insincere and only a frantic scramble from political disaster. The DAB and the underground-front rabble who line up with Carrie Lam are more reasons the youth reject this administration and its Beijing handlers.
The DAB groupies staged a counter-protest to declare their support for the police and the government, shouting “Love Hong Kong, Love China.” A rabid underclass among them screamed abuse and spat on journalists, photographers, and TV crews. Anyone who doesn’t share their ideological ardor for Beijing is considered unpatriotic, disloyal and an enemy.
What enrages the comrades is that two decades after China took control of Hong Kong, they still don’t enjoy special privileges and social status as loyal members of the party. Remaining marginalized, ignored and derided, they are angry and confused. They stew, watching “class enemies” prosper in the world city which the CCP now rules.
The current DAB chairperson is Starry Lee, an accountant by training and a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). She is generally regarded as politically vacuous. Lee objected to an independent inquiry into excessive force by the police on peaceful protestors because “its findings would be biased!”
That twisted logic is very much part of the classic Leninist mindset. Citizen participation will be allowed only if outcomes can be pre-determined by the party. The law is to be used as a tool of suppression. The party decides the victim and verdict. And the party remains above the law. Citizens have no recourse to legal protection from the party.
Hong Kong understands this all too well. There is visceral distrust of any scheme advanced by the authorities, to compromise the shield of legal protections residents have, from arbitrary abuse of political power. Mainlanders who have never been accorded the freedoms Hong Kong people take for granted cannot understand this. They are puzzled why Hongkongers are ‘ungrateful.’
China’s resumption of sovereignty plays on the mainland as the “liberation of compatriots from 150 years of shame.” The gloom that attended the handover in 1997 has clouded every anniversary since. There is no joy in Hong Kong, only anxiety about the creeping erosion of rights and freedoms. As the Basic Law gets chiseled, residents dread a malignant re-colonization.
China’s ‘Big Mistake’
In November 2018 at the ‘National Famous Teachers’ annual workshop for 2,000 educators in Chengdu, General Xu Yan, a professor at the Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) gave a wide-ranging 90-minute address on national security. The feisty general’s entire speech is on YouTube and is worth viewing for insights into the mainland elite goldfish bowl.
The general analyzed the Umbrella Revolution as an independence initiative of international anti-China forces, turning Hong Kong into a bridgehead against the CCP. He studied the demographics of HK society with his counterparts at the PLA garrisons there, concluding that “Hong Kong’s social foundation is the worst in China, even worse than Taiwan.”
Gen Xu neatly analyzed the territory's polity into three distinct groups – those who were “purged, driven out and deprived of everything” in 1949; those who suffered starvation during the Great Famines of 1959-61 but waited to “smuggle themselves to HK as asylum seekers” during the Cultural Revolution; and those born in the territory, growing up in the British system.
The first group, he said curses the CCP. The second has nothing good to say either. The native-born types are arrogant but not anti-China. Xu believes China made a big mistake by promising not to change the system. “The young people are bad because their parents are bad. The parents did not even allow the school textbooks to be changed!”
Now we have it on good authority. Enough of the two systems. Boot the one country.