Yesterday a Hong Kong court heard the case of Next Media Group founder Jimmy Lai, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China Lee Cheuk-yan, and former Democratic Party chairman Yeung Sum, who have been charged with organizing and participating in an unauthorized demonstration on August 31, 2019. The trio pled guilty to participation in an unauthorized assembly. Prior to this, seven individuals from the pro-democracy camp, including Jimmy Lai, Lee Cheuk-yan, and Martin Lee, had been convicted last week of participating in an unauthorized Anti-extradition demonstration on August 18, 2019. They will receive their sentences later this month.
These two cases - and other similar cases that have not been heard yet – manifest the different understandings and expectations, between the general public and democrats on one side and the HKSAR government and the Chinese Communist government behind it on the other side, about Hong Kong’s prospects for democracy, the rule of law, and the development of Hong Kong after the handover. These differences are particularly on display in the popular political will as demonstrated in the Umbrella Movement, the Anti-extradition Movement and other large-scale protests, and the authorities’ refusal to accept such will and their suppression of it.
Beijing’s tightening of its control over Hong Kong can be demonstrated in a string of trials and rulings. Earlier, the Chinese government adopted the “Hong Kong National Security Law”. Last month the National People’s Congress revised the Hong Kong election system. These barbarous acts are tantamount to tearing up the “Sino-British Joint Declaration” signed in 1984, stifling the spirit of “One Country, Two Systems”, and trampling on the international promise of a free society, economic system and lifestyle that should “remain unchanged for fifty years”.
The “spiritual genocide” of freedom and democracy
The trend is crystal clear. Determined that “the CCP must preside over everything”, the Beijing authorities have not hesitated to antagonize Western countries and destroy Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous society, where despite the Chinese rule exist the last vestiges of the spirit of democracy and freedom, simply to put it under the full control of the CCP. Conceivably, the suppression and strangulation of Hong Kong’s democracy, autonomy and political freedom will be another issue of serious concern of the international community after the “ethnic genocide” in Xinjiang. The suppression of democracy and freedom in Hong Kong will be a kind of “spiritual genocide”.
After its development of just more than a century, which is hardly a long period of time, Hong Kong has evolved from a small fishing village into one of the world’s most dynamic free ports and one of the world’s financial centers. No doubt there are many contributing factors, but “freedom and openness” is a very important one. Before and after the return in 1997, many people, owing to their nationalist sentiments as Hongkongers, the strategic view of the creation of peace and prosperity through engagement in the 1970s or the reality of China’s “reform and opening up”, were hopeful that a Hong Kong that had “returned” to China could play an active role in the process of China’s reform and opening up, ultimately bringing about a freer and more democratic China and playing a stable and positive role in the world.
But things have developed against this wish. With the 1997 handover and the rise of China’s economic power, China has not become freer, more open or more democratic. It flies the flags of “globalization” and “liberalization” only when they play to its advantage. In many political and social aspects, it controls everything increasingly stringently. With the help of digital and other technologies, it has built a new type of totalitarian society where “the party leads everything” and “the party controls everything”. The so-called “re-education camps” in Xinjiang are only one example.
Freedom of expression under the rule of law
When Hong Kong society, which used to be one of the most open and dynamic in the world, has become a “surveillance society”, the high tension in Hong Kong society is imaginable.
If this tension remains uneased, it will be absolutely detrimental to the stability of Hong Kong society. Hong Kong’s political development today has been given these labels: “one country, two systems is dead”, “freedom is dead”, “democracy is dead” and others. The experience of history tells us that the people will not give up hope, freedom and democracy will not be suppressed, and citizens’ expression of their political will not possibly end.
Therefore, freedom of speech, assembly, demonstration and other freedoms of expression under the principle of the rule of law are, in a passive sense, a pressure relief vent for society. In an active sense, it is a catalyst for innovation. Beijing should calmly think about this.
If the Chinese government remains stubbornly determined to go its own way and continues to undermine Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom, it will make Taiwan, for which the so-called “One Country, Two Systems” was originally tailor-made, see clearly what it truly means. That will also lend credence to what US President Biden said in his first press conference not long ago: US-China relations are “a contest between democracy and autocracy in the 21st century”.
However, if Beijing thinks that the current “mode of governance”, in which totalitarian management presides over everything, is a “superior system”, then lying between democracy and autocracy will not only be a contest, but a struggle. What has happened in history makes us confident that people are unwilling to be slaves. The value of democracy and freedom will not be destroyed.
Click here for Chinese version
We invite you to join the conversation by submitting columns to our opinion section: Opinion@appledaily.com
Apple Daily reserves the right to refuse, abridge, alter or edit guest opinion columns for accuracy, length, clarity, and style, and the right to withdraw and withhold columns based on the discretion of our editorial page editors.
The opinions of the writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial board.
Apple Daily’s all-new English Edition is now available on the mobile app: bit.ly/2yMMfQE
To download the latest version,
Or search Appledaily in App Store or Google Play