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The Voice of Hong Kong Protests Speaks

  • The KIPS
  • Sep, 2019
  • 320
  • China Radical Hong Kong Protests

SUPPORT FOR INDEPENDENCE WORRIES THE GOVERNMENT, AS WELL AS SOME PROTESTORS

How long can Hong Kong’s protests continue? From marches to rallies and sit-ins to strikes, calendars are filling up. Some democrats insist they must continue until the autumn, when Hong Kongers will have a turn at the ballot box, in elections for district councils, the lowest level of government. Another poll, for the Legislative Council, known as Legco, is due in September next year. But, given their history with elections, the movement’s youthful front-line activists might not care. When protesters stormed the Legco building in July they denounced the institution as illegitimate. Only half of its seats are directly elected by the public. And young protesters complain that they are not represented there. In 2016 record numbers of them elected legislators with “localist” views, such as self-determination or even independence for Hong Kong from China. Months later, two of those legislators were disqualified for amending their oaths of office in a way that Beijing disapproved of. The following year four more democrats were disqualified for the same thing.

As well as disqualifying elected legislators, other candidates have been barred from running. Before the 2016 Legco elections, Andy Chan of the Hong Kong National Party was told that pro-independence views made him ineligible; in 2018 his party was banned entirely. Last year, Agnes Chow of Demosisto, a party which had advocated self-determination, was prevented from running in a by-election to fill a seat left empty after the disqualification of Nathan Law, also of Demosisto. Two of the disqualified candidates in 2016 had overtly pro-independence views. Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” and held a banner which read “Hong Kong is not China”. Front-line supporters of the current movement are angry that they were disqualified. But losing an election can still earn plenty of attention. In 2016 Edward Leung of Hong Kong Indigenous, a party that supported independence, won 15% of the votes in a Legco by-election. That was not enough to win (he came third) but plenty to alarm the government in Beijing, because it suggested some public approval for the idea of Hong Kong’s independence. Later that year his political views were used to bar him from standing again.

In 2018 Mr. Leung was sentenced to six years in prison for taking part in a riot in 2016, during which he hit a policeman. Before he went to jail Mr. Leung made a speech which said that those Hong Kongers who just want peaceful protests would also come to understand those who are more aggressive. His statement now rings truer than many would have expected. Although most moderates do not support violence, they have been so far unexpectedly tolerant of actions such as the Legco break-in. On July 28th Mr. Leung published a letter describing his pain in following the protests from his cell. He commended the protesters for their bravery and entreated them to focus on converting those who did not support the movement and to stay composed in the face of chaos.

Mr. Leung’s long sentence was meant to be a deterrent. Yet to young protesters on the front line of these protests, he is an inspiration. His face features on posters and placards. His election slogan, “Reclaim Hong Kong! Revolution of our time”, is chanted at protests and sprayed on walls. Taking a break from the tear-gas on July 28th one young civil servant credited him with teaching her to resist violence. “I like him a lot. He is a symbol of a new generation,” she gushed. “When he comes out of prison, I hope he will see a new Hong Kong,” says another. Before then, some of his supporters may be joining their hero inside. On July 30th the government announced that 44 of the 49 people arrested during clashes with police on July 28th would be charged with rioting. If found guilty they face up to ten years behind bars.

Mr. Leung’s popularity will worry the authorities. On July 29th the Chinese government reiterated that it cannot tolerate anything that undermines the sovereignty of China, which includes talk of independence in Hong Kong. It worries some protesters too, since they see huge risks in the wider movement being classified as a call for independence. According to one legislator close to the movement, even the most radical understand this and take care to call for universal suffrage instead. And it is hard to portray Mr. Leung in his confinement as the movement’s godfather. But Hong Kong’s government does not have to look far for the evidence it needs to justify accusations of support for Mr. Leung. On July 1st his slogan meaning “Reclaim Hong Kong! Revolution of our time” appeared as graffiti on the walls inside Legco.

Courtesy of The Economist

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