LAST Monday, I watched the live telecast of protests in Hong Kong in horror as hundreds of protesters forced their way into the Legislative Council building, ransacking the chamber and defacing the emblem of the Hong Kong Government.
July 1 marked the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, when British colonial rule and humiliation ended, but it turned out to be one of the city’s darkest days.Protesters were seen waving large Union Jack flags in the middle of the chamber, searching for documents and destroying computers. Watching the TV footage was worrying and mind-boggling. Western media, including CNN, reported that there was no leader – but to me, the chaos seemed organised.
Hong Kong, which had been under British colonial rule for 155 years before 1997, is now under the jurisdiction of China. Hence, the display of the British flag lent credence to Beijing’s accusation that Britain was one of the Western forces behind the series of protests in Hong Kong.
In vandalising the building and its interior, protestors showed a complete disregard for the rule of law – the core value of keeping public order in this international financial centre.I continued to monitor the news on various international news channels until past midnight, when the armed police finally moved in in heavy trucks to clear the rioters. A key reason the police stayed away from confronting the rioters was due to a directive from China’s President Xi Jinping to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam that “there must not be blood”, according to local newspaper Apple Daily.
Before marching to the Legislature on Monday, protestors had already taken to the streets previously in an attempt to disrupt a flag raising ceremony carried out by officials of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (as Hong Kong is formally known under China’s rule), but they left after a scuffle with the police that left many hurt.Peaceful pro-democracy street marches on July 1 have been an acceptable annual routine ever since the 1997 handover. This year, however, the situation was tense due to massive demonstrations in earlier weeks against the tabling of an amendment Bill to Hong Kong’s extradition law.
The Bill was first proposed by the Hong Kong government in February 2019 in response to a 2018 murder of a woman by her boyfriend while the Hong Kong couple was visiting Taiwan. Since Hong Kong has no extradition treaty with Taiwan, which is part of China, the Hong Kong boyfriend could not be sent to Taiwan to face the law.
The Bill, based on United Nations model used in the West, is meant to target fugitives suspected of one or more serious crimes. But it rules out targetting people based on political and religious grounds. In essence, the Bill is meant to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a sanctuary for fugitives and criminals.
However, anti-China activists have argued that this Bill will facilitate the sending of suspects to Beijing, whose law is harsher. They say it will destroy the Western rule of law and freedom now enjoyed by people in Hong Kong.
This wider interpretation has spread fear among ordinary residents, who are grappling with the high cost of living and housing in Hong Kong. The main objective of the Bill seems to have been overlooked completely.
Among the vocal protestors are pro-democracy activists, advocates of Hong Kong independence, China critics and dissidents, opposition politicians, and people who conduct shady commercial deals and crimes on the mainland. Also unhappy with this Bill, according to several YouTube narratives, are Taiwan and foreign governments with regional intelligence headquarters in Hong Kong who fear being rooted out from this centrally located “paradise” which gives them much needed “immunity”. Perhaps this is the reason why Western forces have been supportive of the protests.The upheaval has forced Lam to suspend tabling of the Bill.
On June 10, as protests were fast gathering momentum, the state-owned Global Times said in an editorial that, “Some international forces have increasingly collaborated with the opposition in Hong Kong.... Washington has been particularly active in meddling in Hong Kong affairs, and some radical opposition members in Hong Kong are (working) hand-in-glove with the US,” it said.Global Times reported that two opposition groups visited the US in March and May to notify the Americans about the amendment to the extradition law.
After these visits, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Bill threatens the rule of law in Hong Kong. The British and Canadian governments also issued a joint statement disapproving of the Bill.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has, on several occasions, publicly warned foreign forces not to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs.
The violence of the July 1 protests may have embarrassed Westerners who support Hong Kong demonstrators. But some attributed the violence to a lack of response from the government to opposition demands.
Despite widespread condemnation of the July 1 crimes, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claimed that the Hong Kong protesters “have inspired the world” and their courage should not be ignored.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted on Monday: “... want to stress UK support for Hong Kong and its freedoms is unwavering on this anniversary day. No violence is acceptable, but HK people must preserve their right to peaceful protest.”
The next day Hunt warned Beijing that the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984 and setting out the terms for Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty, was “to be honoured ... and if it isn’t there will be serious consequences”.
As stated in the Joint Declaration and under the “one country, two systems” principle, socialism practised in mainland China would not be extended to Hong Kong. Instead, Hong Kong would continue its capitalist system and way of life for 50 years after 1997.
In anger, China responded by lodging protests with Britain over Hunt’s warning.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had made “stern representations” over the comments, and accused Hunt of still harbouring “colonial illusions”.
“We called on the British, especially Hunt, to stop being overconfident and grossly interfering in Hong Kong affairs. This is doomed to fail,” Geng said.
Hong Kong became a British colony at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. Although it was returned to China in 1997, British and Western influence is still strong.
China’s state media reminded Hong Kong’s citizens of the disastrous consequences of past “revolutions” promoted in many countries by the West. When these countries were in turmoil and needed economic assistance, the Western countries shied away, various media said in their commentaries and editorials.
There were also reminders that the semi-autonomous territory’s destiny is tied to the mainland, and that Beijing has looked after the interest of Hong Kong well.
It is not known whether the arrest of people responsible for the July 1 riots will spark further major protests, but if Lam resigns and the situation gets out of control, Article 18 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law could be invoked to allow China’s military forces to take control, according to an analysis from the mainland.
Article 18 of the Basic Law reads: “In the event that the National People’s Congress decides to declare a state of war or, by reason of turmoil within Hong Kong that endangers national unity or security and is beyond the control of the government of the region, decides that Hong Kong is in a state of emergency, the Central Government may issue an order applying the relevant national laws in Hong Kong.”
“For those people demanding the resignation of Carrie Lam, you had better not allow her to quit, as her stepping down can be construed as Hong Kong being out of control,” says one YouTube commentator, Tey Kok Seng.
Another, Mei Han, says in a video: “Stop the ‘one country two systems’ principle immediately, take back Hong Kong now,” adding that she is organising an online petition that has collected more than 10,000 “support” clicks.
China has been patient with Hong Kong’s demands and protests, but it is also time for Hong Kong’s residents to respect the principle of “one country, two systems” that has brought prosperity and stability to the territory.