Hong Kong protests: The Prague Spring of our era
Beijing does not need Tiananmen to crush the resistance in Hong Kong. It has the media, the internet and the triads. A disaster for the democracy movement
Franka Lu is a Chinese journalist and entrepreneur. She works in China and Germany. In this TIME ONLINE series she reports critically on life, culture and everyday life in China. To protect her professional and private environment, she writes under a pseudonym.
Hong Kong is seething like a small volcano on the edge of a huge empire. None of us foresaw what is happening here. We are both mainland and Hong Kong Chinese alike, regardless of the social class. Even the powerful government did not see it coming. What we are experiencing right now is a fierce conflict between different memories, emotions, forces and intentions, and the peaceful side is losing. As it stands now, the already threatened forces of democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong will be drastically weakened. And the world will pay dearly for the loss of Hong Kong, much as in the case of the war in Syria. Dying would be the last hope for democracy in China for the next few decades.
In order to better understand the vehemence and significance of the protests in Hong Kong, it is worth taking a look at the many perfidious little steps taken by the rulers who first provoked the democracy movement. The smoldering rage broke in March with public opposition to the extradition law proposed by the Hong Kong government. It concerns a procedure for the hitherto not legally regulated transfer of refugees to Taiwan, mainland China and Macau. If the law were to pass, Hong Kong citizens and aliens residing in the city could be transferred to mainland China for legal proceedings, ie, a legal system under political control. This would officially end Hong Kong's nineteenth-century history as a safe haven for Chinese exiles fleeing war, famine and political persecution.
Up to two million protesters have been on the streets since March. Peaceful, orderly, polite citizens who cleared away the garbage on the way home. Like the Red Sea, the crowd opened to let the ambulance through, and closed behind her again.
Hong Kong's government was initially decidedly stubborn, then hesitant gestures of compromise in the face of the protest. The frustration grew, people committed suicide as the ultimate protest, despite many attempts by protesters to prevent it. On June 12, the police injured 81 protesters - and the government refused to investigate the incidents. The confrontation of protesters and police generated hostility and hatred. It became violent, and things took a vicious, sinister turn.
On July 21, Yuen Long Subway Station attacked protesters, subway passengers, and journalists in an armed group of white-shirt thugs. The police arrived half an hour late. Nobody was arrested. Local media later showed a video showing policemen on the station talking to the white shirts. The protesters were angry, the demonstrations escalated. Employees, students and shopkeepers started a strike, calling for a "movement of non-cooperation" and blocking public transport. The protesters made five demands: the withdrawal of the planned extradition law; the withdrawal of the charges against the protesters arrested by the police; the end of the name of the democracy movement as "insurgents"; Investigation of the incidents of police violence; Introduction of a truly democratic suffrage.
Since the transfer of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, the citizens and the democracy movement of the Special Administrative Region have repeatedly fought the erosion of their autonomous status. Much of what has happened since then resulted in large-scale demonstrations. In the storm that is happening, these struggles continue.
What happened in the past 15 years
In 2003, the Hong Kong government introduced a law banning subversive acts against the Chinese government - and easily misused to prosecute political dissidents. There were violent protests.
In 2007, China decided that the general election of the head of government or head of government could not be introduced before 2017 and that not all deputies should be elected. Some would be determined by business and commerce. However, these are much easier influenced by China. In 2010, there were violent protests.
In 2014, Beijing decided that Hong Kong residents may vote for their prime minister in 2017, but only from a Beijing-endorsed candidate group. Then there was the so-called umbrella revolution. Beijing did not move a centimeter. In 2017, a committee of 1,200 people, dominated by the pro-Beijing elites, appointed Carrie Lam head of government. The demonstrations continued.
Due to the strengthening of Beijing's control, disturbing things were happening outside the legislature. In 2012, the government tried to change the history textbooks of schools, in the sense of "moral and national education", but gave up this project after fierce protests; In 2014, two men attacked the former editor-in-chief of Hong Kong's main daily Ming Pao with cleavers and wounded him severely; In 2014/15, the University of Hong Kong rejected a pro-democracy pro-vice president and elected a highly controversial candidate in his place; In 2015/16, five employees and the owner of an independent bookstore were arrested or kidnapped and forced to make a public "confession" of their "crimes" on Chinese television. The bookstore had books on offer that are banned in mainland China, with the best selling over the corruption and privacy of the Chinese leadership. Investment in Hong Kong media alone has greatly increased the influence of mainland China over the years.