Learning from Hong Kong’s resistance
THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2019 - 12:00am

We could learn important lessons from the citizens of Hong Kong.

For five months now, as much as half a million pro-democracy Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets to protest an extradition bill proposed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Lam, along with the majority of the 70-member Legislative Council of Hong Kong, were selected not by a democratic vote but by a small committee with the approval of Beijing. For all intents and purposes, the Legislative Council is a pro-China legislature. Analysts say that the extradition bill would be passed into law if a vote were to be called today.

If enacted, the extradition law will allow suspected criminals from Hong Kong to be extradited to China where they will be tried according to Beijing’s justice system. Pro-democracy protestors assert that this is an affront to the democratic principles of Hong Kong on many levels. Not only will Hong Kong citizens be tried in a court that decides according to the agenda of the communist party and where punishment is inhumane, it also allows China to effectively gag those who speak against it. The specter of being extradited to the mainland and chastised into silenced is enough to send a chilling effect to anyone who speaks publicly against China machinations.

The bill goes against the very principles of Hong Kong’s constitution that allows its citizens political autonomy and the freedoms of speech, press and assembly. According to the turnover agreement signed between Great Britain and China, these freedoms are to remain in effect until 2047. Until then, China will have to operate as one country with two systems.

Hong Kong still has twenty eight years left to enjoy its democratic way of life but China is not willing to wait for the treaty to expire. It wants to control Hong Kong now. China is grabbing what it wants regardless of treaties signed.

Sounds familiar?

In 1994, the United Nation’s Convention of the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) came into force. UNCLOS is a treaty that binds 120 signatory nations to honor territorial boundaries. The treaty specifies that waters within 200 nautical miles from the shores of a particular nation forms part of its domain or exclusive economic zone. The Philippines is a signatory to this accord, as is China.  Scarborough shoal is a mere 120 nautical miles from Zambales while it is more than 500 nautical miles from China. International maritime laws recognize the disputed waters to be part of Philippine territory.

Despite being a signatory to the UNCLOS treaty, China refuses to recognize Philippine sovereignty over its exclusive economic zone. Neither did it recognize the decision of the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration when it ruled that the disputed area is indeed part of Philippine territory. China continues to illegally occupy our waters.

President Duterte says he is aware that both Philippine sovereignty and national pride is at stake in the territorial row. Still, he refuses to assert Philippine claims for fear that it will escalate to war, or so he says. He maintains that “conference room politics” is the right approach and that the issue must be revisited before his term ends in 2022.

The failure to show resistance in any shape, way or form has given China a virtual green light to expand its territorial grab, militarize the area and bar our fishermen from trawling the waters, even if their fishing rights have been recognized for centuries.

In contrast, Hong Kong has displayed its resistance in the most assertive of ways. Even its corporate elite, financial elite and legal sector joined the protest despite the threat of retaliation from Chinese operatives. The fact that 143 pro-democracy activists were arrested and several pro-democracy book sellers were mysteriously abducted have not scared the Hong Kong people into submission.

As a result, the Beijing controlled Legislative Council bucked down and said they would suspend deliberations on the extradition bill.  While this is not enough for the Hong Kong people who want the bill totally withdrawn, it is still considered a victory on the protester’s part.

The experience of Hong Kong shows that resistance to China does not necessarily result to war or missiles fired. It could, in fact, result to a compromise.

As I have written in this space before, there are many ways to resist China’s illegal encroachment of the West Philippine Sea without being confrontational. I recently spoke to the former director of the Institute of Government of the University of the Philippines and we both agree that to control the narrative on how the world perceives China’s tactics could be our best offense.

See, as an aspiring world superpower, China’s needs to present itself as a benevolent, fair and law abiding nation. Being perceived as a good citizen of the world is crucial to the success of its many global initiatives. Among them are its Belt and Road initiative, its pending trade pact with the United States as well as its multiple free trade agreements with weaker nations.

The Philippines can speak from its own experience. By letting the world know that China had ignored an international treaty, that it defied the decision of a UN court and that it employs bullying tactics, we can potentially mar, if not foil, China’s plans for world domination. It is a way to push back by simply telling the truth. The truth is our bargaining advantage – all we need to do is say it loudly.

I reckon that that worse thing we can do is to do nothing. As we have seen before, China will continue to take more and more until we resist. Inaction, for whatever reason, will only result to more territories lost and more of our sovereignty infringed. It is not true that we are out of options outside an all out war. Hong Kong resisted and had its victory. Hong Kong’s fight continues. Ours should too.

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