Hong Kong defies China
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - June 23, 2019 - 12:00am

It is hard to decide where to begin in describing Hong Kong’s non-violent fight for freedom, its defiance of the Chinese Communist Party rule and the protest against the proposed extradition law which would make it legal for any HK resident to be extradited to mainland China. 

The most visible impression created was the size of the rallies reaching an estimated participation of two million people, in a city of around seven million. The other noticeable phenomenon is that the rallies were participated in by most of the different sectors of Hong Kong society – businessmen and employees, parents and children, students and teachers, activists and ordinary citizens. 

As I write, it appears that the rallyists have won a temporary victory. The much maligned extradition bill has been temporarily withdrawn. During the initial rallies, the police tried to disperse the rallyists using tear gas and rubber bullets. Today, hundreds of thousands of protesters have surrounded the police headquarters and there has been no violent response so far. 

While HK’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam accepted the blame for the fiasco and publicly apologized, there is no doubt that the instructions for the extradition law came from Beijing. The huge numbers in the rallies is a clear message that Hongkongers refuse to become part of mainland China and prefer to be ruled under a separate system where the rule of law is still upheld. 

This is a serious embarrassment to the CCP, undisputed rulers of China, and President Xi Jinping. Several analysts have concluded that the massive rallies to demand the resignation of Beijing appointed Lam was a blatant rebuke of CCP rule. Worse, according to the Financial Times “...the protest – broadcast globally – was being widely viewed as a celebration of the biggest climbdown in the political career of their boss, Xi Jinping. “

The story of the Hongkongers’ march for freedom has been told best by quotations, on media, by those who participated. Derek Yuen, lecturer at the University of Hongkong said: “Since the umbrella movement, a lot of people have felt a sense of desperation, helplessness and powerlessness.  But suddenly they see some light at the end of the tunnel because Beijing has backed down...The protesters have realized they can stand up to the Communists. This will give them a lot of confidence  that they are going to change the situation...There is new hope, new spirit and strong confidence.”

The business sector did not support the Umbrella Movement; but, now they have participated actively in the protest rallies. There was a report that last May a group of business tycoons met with Carrie Lam to convince her to abandon the plans for the extradition treaty. They not only failed; but, there are reports that around 200 business leaders were called to a meeting in early June and told to support the extradition treaty once announced. There are now legitimate fears of capital flight if Beijing tightens its grip on HK. 

There was a time when HK was responsible for 15 percent of the total GDP of China; but, in 2018 it provided less than 3 percent of GDP. However, it remains a vital financial and investment center for China. Consider the following figures: HK’s share of offshore RMB denominated payments is 75 percent; its share of direct investment into China (2013-17) is 63 percent; its share of direct investment from China (2013-17) is 59 percent; and its share of offshore RMB denominated currency dealing is 39 percent.

As China’s most important international financial center, any capital flight, leaving of major businesses or concerns about HK’s stability should be of major concern to mainland China. However, I tend to agree with David Webb, a HK observer, who said that if Beijing has to choose between economic and political prerogatives, it will always choose the political. He writes: “Beijing cares less than ever before about Hong Kong’s international recognition as a separate customs, tax, immigration, and legal jurisdiction from the mainland. The Chinese leadership are far more obsessed with national unity, sovereignty and party control.” Already, mainland Chinese media are talking about the “foreign forces” intent on undermining HK.

There are also hawkish voices in China that remain suspicious about Hongkongers and want to impose more control. An example is Major General Xu Yan, a lecturer at China’s leading war studies college, who recently told an audience of teachers in Chengdu: “ Hong Kong’s social foundation to tell the truth based on facts, is the worst in China. One third of them are the worst... They ran to Hong kong in 1949 and 1950 and have been purged, stricken, driven out and deprived of everything by the Communist Party. Many of these people hate THE Communist Party with every fibre of their beings...Now is the time for us to act...A big problem for us in the past is that we emphasized two systems too much. We didn’t emphasize one country.”

It is hard to predict how long the present stand will last. The people of HK will definitely resist any attempt that erodes HK’s “independence” and any moves towards making HK an integral part of China. Beijing will resist any calls for greater autonomy and its intervention is unlikely to ease and may even increase. 

The CCP have always thought that people would be willing to give up human rights and the rule of law in exchange for economic prosperity. HK’s defiance has proven that this is not true. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

For the Adult Series, Writing with Humor and Satire with Jack Wigley on 29 June at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email writethingsph@gmail.com.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com.

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