Imagine witnessing the downfall of a civil society within the shortest duration possible: mass arrests and arbitrary detains; show trails manipulated by political authorities; reluctant shutting down of almost every single media outlet…living in a world as such might seem desperate, however the hope is yet to vanish….
2019 June 4th commemoration, while “anti-extradition bill” protests were at its peak; 180 thousand civilians attended the vigil gathering, raising their candles to express respect and mourning. (Photo credit: The Storm Media, June 4th 2019)
Recently for three days in a row, as a part of my morning routines, when I wake up and check social medias, there is always a breaking news of the closure and termination of operations of a major media, which comes alone with the news of staff being arbitrarily arrested due to their engagement in reporting.
All of these scenes would not be imaginable at all, if time goes back to the golden days of Hong Kong as one of the world’s most free and civilized economic centers, also known as the “ pre anti-extradition bill days”. It refers to before the 2019 mass protest against the Hong Kong government’s ultimate pro-Beijing actions broke out, which aimed for peacefully demanding the authorities to withdraw the new established law of unconditional extradition towards China. According to its opposition, this action violates the legislative independence of the Special Administrative Region (referred as “SAR” in the following content) of Hong Kong, a territory that has been politically semi-independent from the People's Republic of China since the handover of Hong Kong from the British Empire to China in 1997.
Known to many as the city of the world’s greatest number of skyscrapers and highest ranked economic freedom, the most rapidly growing economic body in Asia and the commercial intersection; Hong Kong has been constantly attracting all types of global investments, and remaining welcoming for all international organizations. While just miles away, China remains almost as a forbidden zone for external non-government organizations such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. Two places divided between one inland border; Hong Kong has been the harbor of hope for not only its domestic residents but also many who hope for a freer society in China.
Nevertheless, everything has drastically changed since 2019, after a Hong Kong citizen murdered his partner in Taiwan and pro-Beijing political power in Hong Kong suggested to extradite the suspect to Taiwan to be trialed and sentenced according to China’s criminal laws. With the external support of China, the Hong Kong SAR government rapidly proposed a bill that permits the extradition of any guilty pleaded Hong Kong citizen to China. This act has triggered massive controversy among locals, concerns of the extradition bill might violate the juridical independence under the “One Country, Two Systems” tactic of the Chinese Communist Party, which fundamentally ensures the legislative independence of Hong Kong and free of social-political interference from the Chinese government; at the same time, many Hong Kong locals started foreseen the risk of being exported to China once arrested for any reason.
As a result, mass civil protests broke out against the proposed amendment bill, and quickly the situation was elevated to several radical conflicts between the civilians and the public enforcements, especially after the day when over 2 million civilians took to the streets of Hong Kong to express their demands of freedom, democracy and justice. Soon after the violent arrests of protesters performed in front of thousands and the unjustified death of few youngsters who engaged in public demonstrations, claimed to be either fallen from a building or drown near the waterfront; rage has been triggered among almost every Hong Kong citizen who either involved in or paid close attention to the ongoing political reformation, followed with broader demands requesting more democratic elections, investigations about police violence, as well as the resignation of the current Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam.
As the Chinese government became involved in the radical conflicts in Hong Kong, the situation changed again, and from there began the mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, and in person police-protesters confrontation which usually ended up with the protesters getting seriously injured and later detained. Ultimately, The National Security Law was introduced (Passed on June 30th, 2020 by the Chinese legislatives) to reclaim Hong Kong’s subordination to People’s Republic of China and entitle Beijing to intervene whenever “Hong Kong’s social security is under threats”. At the same time, the Chinese Communist Party has obtained total control over the situation, in virtue of their brutal repression against civilians with armed forces.
Unable to combat Beijing’s iron grip, the atmosphere in Hong Kong has changed overnight and is gradually becoming more and more like China. Fearing potential retroactive condemnations, massive waves of emigration began as soon, followed by numerous sentences of previously arrested suspects, which includes protesters, reputable activists, and anti-Beijing politicians. Educationally, Mandarin and simplified Chinese were to replace Cantonese and traditional Chinese; Chinese socio-communistic ideology has replaced the yet-to-extinct British cultural influence, under which this former colony had never fully abolished despite the 1997 handover to China.
Most recently, a wave of independent media not only “voluntarily” quitting from the public contemplation, but also forced to shut down has rapidly begun. Independent media in Hong Kong, such as Apple Daily, The Stand News, Citizen News, etc. They used to be the voice of the silent, responsible for offering Hong Kong residents first-hand access to both the most objective global insights and true events inside neighboring China where news is frequently censored or erased. One morning the police would crack down on the news offices unexpectedly, confiscating materials and paper publications, freezing the companies’ property and bank assets, as well as requesting these media’s organizational operations to be paused immediately.
However, it was not the most frightening before learning that in fact all journalists, editors, and executives of Hong Kong media firms could be arrested one of the sudden under subversion and illegal publishing charges; as this phenomenon demonstrated that news reporting has become criminalized in a state that previously possessed almost the highest ranking of freedom of press and trading in Asia and the worlds, gradually China’s message has become more clear, that is to eliminate the unique collective identity of Hong Kong and its people, which has been visibly different from China under the current communist regime. On the other hand, the overall strategic aspiration of Beijing reminds the same as when National Security Law was introduced, it is to intentionally assimilate Hong Kong to a region under China’s regime, just as anywhere else in People’s Republic of China.
Even if China’s ambition of acquiring complete domination of Hong Kong seems highly achievable, what are their tactics to make it possible? Only through brutally persecuting peaceful protesters and civilians, or fabricating accusations and detaining prominent activists and the pro-Beijing’s political opponents? Furthermore, what might be the far more destructive long-term influence over the political and legislative aspect of Hong Kong’s long existed civil society?
Here are a few assumptions based on reasonable geo-political observations and analysis that I have cautiously researched, as well as critically evaluated and reflected on myself. The first impact of utilizing brutal repressive control over those in Hong Kong who expressed their demands to the SAR government and refused to comply with their administrative proposals, as well as to terminate independent medias’ operations as soon as possible; is primarily intimidating. Yes, the police’s abuse of public enforcement power during the conflicts was real, hundreds were beaten up and violently arrested with unjust sentencing. Nevertheless, it seems substantially less possible for Chinese authority to immediately initiate complete autocratic control over mass civilians in Hong Kong, not even when the millions of citizens marched the streets to protest, because the Beijing is always aware that once the military is mobilized, the international controversy would be too mighty to handle, and the Chinese Communist Party will be facing serious accusations for its abusive tactics when confronting a protest in a region where China is not entirely entitled to.
To request the media to shut down ought to be viewed as the beginning of Beijing exercising its political power to intervene with all aspects of life in Hong Kong, which very likely will be followed by more restrictions reminding all Hong Kongers that they are living under the governance of the Chinese Communist Party. After learning the first lesson that the domestic executive authority is as powerful as they could pause any business operations considered “threatful”, Hong Kong companies are now well educated about the expectations of “the Party’s central administrative” regarding how to behave harmlessly towards the Chinese authority; as well as have witnessed the outcome of remaining resistant to Beijing, which was never considered as a challenging issue previously. As Hong Kong’s society is constantly living under the political intimidation, from the SAR had Beijing gained the obedience it has long desired, and now they may turn Hong Kong into a city that does not differ from elsewhere in China, as they have willed.
Meanwhile, to many of those who either support or participated in Hong Kong’s resistance movement against Beijing’s autocracy, the termination of an epoch that everyone could freely access independent medias remarks the ending of freedom of expression in Hong Kong. When the media are shut down, the flowing of information is also divested. If to say that reporting is the intellectual torch within a society, which enlightens those who were unable to see when darkness surrounds, extinguishing the flame of the torch ensures that those who cannot see will be abandoned in the dark. Similarly, when unable to access news regarding what is happening both internal and external to the locals, it feels like the people have been blindfolded.
When there is only one voice left, many might eventually be convinced and believe in what it says; while as for others who refuse to sink and choose to resist, it also becomes more difficult to take effective actions. Links between civil organizations were severed, information of ongoing situations were concealed, and even the possibility of formulating another crowd assembly was exterminated. Through such action of limiting press freedom, the repression goes towards all participants of the resistance movements, its active supporters, and those in the society who do not possess a political stand but nevertheless are interested in navigating what has happened.
However, what are some insights beyond these depressive incidences lately happening in Hong Kong? In my view, an implication from Beijing’s sudden actions is that the Chinese Communist regime is truly concerned about the rapid-growing resistance among Hong Kongers who express their dissatisfaction regarding Beijing’s political pressuring and long-arm tactics that violate the freedom and legislative-administrative independent nature of Hong Kong SAR. At the same time, the determination and persistence of Hong Kong’s resistance movements against Beijing’s repression was deeply frightening to the core members of the Chinese Communist Party. Once imitated by the people of China, the Communist Party’s hegemonic regime may soon become fragile and unconvincing to its subjects.
* June 4th 2021, the day of annual 1989 Tiananmen Massacre commemoration, a milestone of Chinese people’s fighting for democracy. Now officially banned by the Hong Kong SAR government. Police were assigned to prevent the crowd from entering outside Victoria Park , where the vigils were held on this day every year.
(Photo credited from The Stand News, reporting on June 4th, 2021 *note: The Stand News was shut down by the Hong Kong government on December 29th, 2021, all operations has terminated ever since)
Traditionally Hong Kong has been considered as the frontier of Chinese people’ strive for freedom and democracy, this city also carries the hope from those who share the same wishes but could not overcome the “great wall” built by China to prevent people from leaving, both physically and mentally. From annual commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre to the most recent serial protests in 2019 that demanded the SAR government to revoke a pro-Beijing administrative proposal, people in Hong Kong have taken the most advantage of freedom that “mainlanders” across the border could only dream of, and now so many have stood up to defend freedom and justice with their lives and futures. Regardless how Beijing’s censorship and propaganda mouthpieces calumniates Hong Kong’s mass protests and political non-cooperation movements as “riots” or “terrorism”, and slandering its participants as “thugs”; it is never possible to completely erase neither the courage nor the hope of the people of Hong Kong, who had impressed the world with their unspeakable bravery to defend their values when violated by a intimidating hegemony; as well as their generous and unconditional love to each other and a city that they call home, sacrificing almost everything to protect it from falling under a regime that takes away every type of freedom.
Sadly, it may be accurate to depict the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition protests as a failed attempt of color revolution. The outcome was frustrating, since all essential demands of the movement were denied, meanwhile the uprisings were suppressed soon and violently, prestigious activists were sentenced harshly, and rallies and commemorations intending to demand democracy and justice were entirely prohibited now. However, the resistance is yet to end. When thousands after thousands of Hong Kongers fled to elsewhere to seek a life enhanced with the freedom Hong Kong has just lost, they did not leave their homeland behind. Non-profit organizations were established within global Hong Kong communities, and publication institutes resumed their operations outside Hong Kong; attracting international attention to the challenges that Hong Kong is encountering nowadays under Beijing’s totalitarian surveillance.
When the rain cloud covers up the sky, the sun is concealed; nevertheless, so long as there is one spray of sunshine piercing through the gray clouds, the warmth scatters all over the earth. Likewise, they might cut down all the trees in the forest, but they cannot prevent all weeds from growing. Hong Kong’s resistance to China’s autocracy has never gone extinct, although it has changed drastically, reluctantly and no longer prestigious as how it was in 2019. As for the rest of the world, especially to western democratic countries, it is absolutely a responsibility to demonstrate these movements’ participants and supporters not only empathy, diplomatic and economic actions ought to be taken to ensure their voices are heard; as well as not to stand along with autocratic human right abusers such as China, Iran, or Belarus. Hong Kong has vitally demonstrated to the world that freedom never comes for free; a lesson taught with blood and tears meant to be an alert and triggering collective reflective thoughts on if this world is compromising too much morally in exchange of wealth.
When those who carry the memory survive, not only the history lives on, but also the sparkles of hope. As it was once said after the sudden shut down of Hong Kong pro-democratic newspaper Apple Daily: “They buried us, but they didn’t know we were seeds”. There are all kinds of injustices the perpetrators may do; nevertheless, they can never silence every single voice. As one mild flame remains, those who rely on blindfolding others and use the darkness to pressure will never prevail, because the fire is always contagious.
DCI’s main goal is to decode encrypted news for an enlightened citizen
Yihan Wei, Journalist at Décryptage Citoyen International
June 14th 2022
References and further reading:
“In The Firing Line: The Crackdown on Media Freedom in Hong Kong” Report by Hong Kong Watch, author Benedict Rogers, released May 10th 2022
“ ‘Worst Time’: Hong Kong Media Defiant and Police Crackdown” Report by The Guardian published on June 17th 2021
“The Hong Kong Protests Explained in 100 and 500 Words” A BBC news report, published on November 28th 2019
“From An Extradition Bill To a Political Crisis: A Guide To Hong Kong’s Protests” a CNN news report, author Jessie Yeung, published on December 20th 2019
“Hong Kong Protest” serial publications by Human Rights Watch
“Topics: Politics & Protests” Hong Kong Free Press