From the September-October 2020 issue of News & Letters
by Bob McGuire
The same day that Beijing imposed a National Security Law on Hong Kong, July 1, police blocked a pro-democracy march of thousands of youth and arrested 370 students, many for actions that were legal the day before. The 66 articles of the new law criminalize acts of opposition beyond what had gotten protesters arrested and brutalized in marches as large as two million over the past year, when they successfully blocked a proposed law permitting extradition to Chinese courts.
But the law’s wording is so ambiguous that none could be sure what act, slogan, tweet, or connection abroad would be treated as an act of secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign powers deserving a life sentence. Those still daring to take to the streets, instead of carrying signs with the now-forbidden phrase “Liberate Hong Kong—Revolution of Our Times,” have displayed blank pieces of paper to make their point.
ELECTIONS DELAYED A YEAR
China has effectively dismantled the self-governing that the people of Hong Kong had been guaranteed under the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement supposedly in force until 2047. Hong Kong authorities had feared elections scheduled for September after last year’s unexpectedly overwhelming success by the opposition in district elections. Even though voters choose only half the Legislative Council, which would have no authority over Beijing security forces in any case under the national security law, those elections have now been postponed for a year,
In recent weeks the arrests of Agnes Chow, representing the history of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, and Jimmy Lai, publisher of Apple Daily, have illustrated how security forces concoct charges of financial corruption and subversion to threaten life sentences on opposition figures and anonymous protesters.
Some activists have publicly looked to the U.S. government for backing, cheering gestures like Secretary of State Pompeo criticizing Xi Jinping or Trump imposing tariffs on selected exports from China. The people of Hong Kong can hope for solidarity from freedom movements in the U.S., but Donald Trump begged Chairman Xi to give him illegal aid in his re-election campaign this year. That is the real Trump; the one calling COVID-19 the “China virus” or canceling joint training with Hong Kong police forces is the façade.
TOOTHLESS U.S. SANCTIONS
Similar desperation has led some defenders of Uyghurs—who have received scant support from governments of Muslim countries despite suffering suppression of their language and religious rights in Xinjiang even when not confined to work camps—to hail sanctions Trump imposed on exporting cotton and other goods in Xinjiang. That, again, is likely mostly symbolic, since goods for exports made in camps under company control, even MAGA hats, can be labeled with an origin elsewhere in China.
The end to Hong Kong’s autonomy poses a looming threat to Taiwan. For decades threats against Taiwan from Beijing were bluster, as Taiwan and Hong Kong were prime conduits for the capital that permitted exploitation of Chinese labor power under conditions of what Karl Marx referred to as “the so-called primitive accumulation of capital.” But now, willingness to risk scuttling the cash cow that is Hong Kong likely would apply to Taiwan as well.
Taiwan activists have supported the Hong Kong opposition the way that Hong Kong activists had commemorated the June 4, 1989 military massacre of students and workers in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. Yet under this renewed threat the first election in Taiwan was an act of defiance: replacing by an overwhelming vote the pro-unification Kuomintang mayor of Kaohsiung with a mayor from President Tsai Ing-wen’s ruling party.