Why Hong Kong’s malaise runs far deeper than an extradition bill

‘The bill is dead. The bill is dead.’

So began Tuesday’s press conference, called by Hong Kong’s top leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam. The trouble for Lam and her government, and for Beijing, is that not only does this come too late, but that the roots of the protests go much deeper with a society that is fundamentally different – but not diametrically opposed – to what China has come to represent.

It was not always this way. In 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty after 150 years of British colonial rule, there were positive signs that China was progressing towards joining the international community as an open, liberal and internationalist state. Those who bet on Hong Kong’s future, including my family, stayed not because we believed Beijing — very few people honestly did — but because our desire to stay outweighed our fears of the Party.

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Hong Kong is still a colony: Why embattled leader Carrie Lam will not be allowed to resign

What happened in Hong Kong, and what might we expect?

For two weekends running there has been mass protests in Hong Kong. The first saw up to a million people take to the streets, and brought the situation in Hong Kong into the global spotlight. The protest last Sunday drew close to two million people.

In between there has been continual protesting on a smaller scale. There has been a strike. On Wednesday tens of thousands of protestors surrounded the city’s Central Government Offices. When some protestors attempted to storm the Legislative Council leading the government to declare a riot which was put down by the Hong Kong police with extreme force. More protests followed, including by journalists shocked by the crackdown and the city’s mothers. On Saturday a protestor fell to his death after attempting to hang a protest banner across the facade of one of the city’s landmark shopping malls. Whilst it remains unsure whether he fell or choose to take his own life, the incident was videoed and shared on phones across the city.

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Thank you, Carrie Lam

Thank you Carrie
For listening to your people,
The Executive Council
That you appoint,
And the DAB.

Thank you for your sensitivity
To anger in Beijing
And the Liaison office.
To whom you must listen
And obey.

Thank you for your humility
In telling us, the Hong Kong people,
We still don’t understand —
That it was all just a case
Of miscommunication.

Thank you for your sacrifice
To carry on regardless
Of what the people demand,
In an untenable position
For the good of Hong Kong.

Thank you for your trust
In Hong Kong people,
Peaceful and ordered, we obey
The law, mostly.
You called a riot.

Thank you for your courage
To stand with those with batons,
Licking their wounds and reputations
As Asia’s Finest
They once could claim.

Thank you mother
For not listening to our fears,
And beating us, your children
With the best intentions
For our own good.

Thank you, Carrie.
Now that He has abandoned you
Where will you go?
To join your family, perhaps
In another place?

(A Poem written after Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s announcement in suspending the controversial extradition law on 15 June)

China’s attempt to control the narrative in Hong Kong

It has been a difficult week in Hong Kong. Opposition to the government’s proposed amendments to the city’s extradition laws spilled onto the streets in two large scale protests. More are expected this weekend.

The extradition bill was initiated by the Hong Kong government to allow for the extradition to Taiwan of a Hong Kong national wanted there for murder, and to supposedly close a legal loop-hole that currently prevents Hong Kong residents from being extradited to China. Taiwan, however, opposes the amendments, with Taipei stating it would not seek extradition under the new laws. And Lord Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, and former UK foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind have individually stated the decision to exclude extradition to China was both deliberate and a necessary safeguard for the continuation of the rule of law.

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We Hong Kongers know that China crushed our freedom long ago

On Sunday, over a million people in Hong Kong marched in protest against the Hong Kong government’s proposed extradition bill, the largest one-day protest in the territory’s history. Thousands have taken to the streets in subsequent days, and now the authorities have delayed the second reading of the bill. There is, however, little reason for optimism that it can be stopped.

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New report: Hong Kong: The Steady Erosion of Freedom

Thanks to the Henry Jackson Society and the many wonderful contributors and friends who contributed to this report — Joe Lian, Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Alex Chow, Jeffrey Ngo, Ben Rogers, Kerry Brown and Milia Hau.

Thanks also to Fiona Bruce and Catherine West, Richard Ottaway, Malcolm Rifkind and the late Paddy Ashdown, who have all done so much in the UK to keep Hong Kong relevant; and the many others who have all played their part but who must remain anonymous.

In particular I wish to thank John Hemmings, director of the Asia Centre at the HJS, who has been such a positive support and friend during difficult times.

It pains me to have compiled this report, and I wish the view were not so bleak. But one can not really love a people or a place by willingly turning a blind eye.

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