Hong Kong, China, and the dangers of Civic Inaction

July 2, 2019

 Protesters in the Hong Kong parliament (source: Volkskrant/AFP, https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/demonstranten-laten-vernielingen-en-graffiti-achter-in-parlement-van-hongkong~b86ce71c/#&gid=1&pid=1)

 

"Previously I was not that involved in politics - but the movement made me realise how important it is." [1]

 

For those who haven’t noticed, Hong Kong’s streets have been fit to burst with protesters in recent weeks, following the announcement of the now infamous ‘Extradition Bill’ by the city’s government. In the words of the BBC: “The rallies against the extradition bill are the biggest since the territory was handed back to China by the British in 1997.” [2]

            The Bill comes after a citizen of Hong Kong “…allegedly murdered his 20-year-old pregnant girlfriend while they were holidaying in Taiwan together in February last year [2018],” [2] and returned home, forcing Taiwanese authorities into a brick wall; despite having extradition agreements with 20 foreign nations, Hong Kong has never agreed upon one with Taiwan. [3]

            On the surface the Bill and its origins are perfectly reasonable, and should elicit no concern: “It [the Bill] allows for extradition requests from authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau for suspects accused of serious criminal wrongdoing such as murder and rape. The requests would then be decided on a case-by-case basis.” [2] Despite the government considering the Bill as a mere ‘filling of judicial blanks,’ [4] the Extradition Bill is responsible for two of the 7.2 Million inhabitants of Hong Kong taking to the streets in a display of disapproval, anger, and fear – one in every five people. [5]

            As a result of their massive protests – some sources estimate as high as 28% of the population being involved – the Bill is currently suspended indefinitely and, although not officially cancelled by the government (yet), it has little hope of being ratified. [5] Were it not for their ongoing protests, the citizens of Hong Kong might yet find themselves ‘closer to a Chinese judicial system that is opaque and void of any guarantees.’ [7]

            The Chinese judicial system is controlled by the Communist Party in power, and has “a conviction rate as high as 99%,” [8] but more importantly has been “…marred by allegations of torture, forced confessions and arbitrary detentions.” [9] After all, it was only last month when a UK-based tribunal concluded China was harvesting organs from detainees. [10]

The Extradition Bill would have resulted in a dangerous “erosion of the city's judicial independence” from China, with “…anyone in Hong Kong doing work related to the mainland at risk.” In the words of a Human Rights Watch activist, “No one will be safe, including activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, and social workers.” [3] Hence the activism, the protests, and the “…young people wearing masks, setting up barricades, and throwing gas canisters back at police” are under fire. [1]

The following remarks from a Hong Kong protester illustrate perfectly the importance of civic involvement in politics and the dangers of inaction:

‘Being an obedient population, a placid population, is not a good strategy. Do you believe the Government will take care of you if it knows you are weak? Society must be strong if it wants a future. The State will not be good to you if you believe it is right in every case. If you believe that, you are being stupid.’ [7]

            Although Hong Kong’s case is rather unique, given its status as a Chinese territory with “…its own judicial independence, legislature and economic system” until 2047, [5] there are profound lessons to be drawn for others such as us – regarding politics and civic involvement.

            Firstly, that civic inaction can lead to one’s rights being eroded under one’s nose. Had the citizens of Hong Kong not acted as they have and remained mute, they would have found themselves “…exposed to China's deeply flawed justice system,” [3] without any means to appeal or reverse the decision. Civic inaction would have robbed the citizens of Hong Kong of rights that they evidently hold dear.

            Secondly, that civic involvement and participation in politics is a must. One protester claims he has no choice but to get involved because of “the era I'm growing up in,” while yet others see the protests as their “political awakening”. [1] Hopefully those of us in other countries are not being so rudely awakened from our slumber of political inaction, instead beginning to involve ourselves so as to ensure matters never get so drastic as in Hong Kong.

            Finally, adhering to one’s beliefs is key to ensuring the government hears and acts on the people’s voice: “Ms Lam announced on Saturday that the bill would be paused, but even more people took to the streets on Sunday, demanding it be withdrawn entirely.” [1] When the government attempted to placate the citizens in the streets, they saw through the attempt, and continue protesting to this day. Their beliefs and opinions remain firm, and they staunchly adhere to their ideals. To form one’s own beliefs, opinions, and ideals is the first step to making anything change – and, where politics is concerned, requires one’s involvement.

 

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-48655474?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/topics/cp7r8vglne2t/hong-kong&link_location=live-reporting-story

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-48591001

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-47810723

[4] https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2019/04/29/les-hongkongais-manifestent-en-masse-contre-le-risque-d-extradition-vers-la-chine_5456295_3210.html

[5] https://elpais.com/elpais/2019/06/19/opinion/1560957478_857373.html

[6] https://elpais.com/internacional/2019/06/16/actualidad/1560692921_683769.html

[7] https://elpais.com/internacional/2019/06/15/actualidad/1560620214_856619.html

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/25/we-have-no-other-choice-as-china-erodes-democracy-hong-kong-citizens-prepare-to-leave

[9] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-48715221

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/17/china-is-harvesting-organs-from-detainees-uk-tribunal-concludes

 

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