The writer is an activist and founder of Hong Kong Liberty
On August 11, the press reported that the Hong Kong government had issued a warrant for my arrest under the new national security law. I learnt of this in exile, where I’ve lived since January 2020.
Hong Kong, where I was born 27 years ago, is far more than a capitalist enclave in a communist country. It has been a haven for refugees from China, Vietnam and other lands of oppression. It is a city-state that adhered faithfully to the rule of law and is home to 7m multi-cultured, multi-ethnic, hard working and creative people.
Since the 1997 handover to the People’s Republic of China, Hongkongers have watched the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which obligated China to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy for 50 years, being repeatedly contravened by the Chinese Communist party. The breach was complete with the enactment of the national security law last June 30.
Today’s CCP is not yesterday’s CCP. President Xi Jinping’s party does not believe it needs Hong Kong, because mainland China has become capitalistic, albeit in a state-run form. When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, the world’s markets were closed to the PRC. When Communist party leader Deng Xiaoping signed the Joint Declaration with Margaret Thatcher in 1984, only limited markets were open to China, so Hong Kong was still needed. But in 1999, the world’s most important market, the US, began trading with China with few restrictions. The rest of the world followed in 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organization.
Leaders of western democracies should note that their policy of “engagement” has enabled China to gain strength rapidly — it now has the world’s second-largest economy and one of the strongest militaries. International pressure hasn’t stopped the Communist party from increasing its repression of people in Xinjiang, Tibet and the rest of China. Power has enabled China to corrupt, coerce and menace individuals and institutions around the world.
This is what we have been confronting in Hong Kong. Frustrated by the failure of the 2014 Umbrella Movement to resist these encroachments, many Hongkongers born between the late 1980s and early 2000s adopted a political identity we called “localist”. Our slogans and strategies defined the pro-democracy protests of 2019 and 2020, culminating in almost 2m people marching peacefully in June 2019.
Localists were keen to experiment with different approaches to resistance, including leaderless “fluid-as-water” protests, and to try to leverage Hong Kong’s special trade status granted by the US to put pressure on the Chinese government to ease repression. As “Laam Chau” — an online persona I created at the start of the 2019 protest movement — my social media posts routinely reached hundreds of thousands of followers.
But localists have been targeted for harsh persecution. In Hong Kong, some of us are followed and beaten by both thugs and the police. More than 10,000 protesters have been arrested and some have been given stiff jail terms: six years for Edward Leung, four for Sin Ka-ho and seven for Lo Kin-man.
Contrary to misrepresentations by Communist party propaganda, localism is not racially based, nor exclusionary. We seek to protect Hong Kong’s local culture and identity, but we also seek to open Hong Kong to the world. Localists seek genuine autonomy within the rules-based international order.
The recently announced investment treaty between the EU and China is more than regrettable, because EU leaders have chosen, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, to continue to “feed the crocodile”.
Be aware that the situation has changed — the CCP crocodiles have grown. In Hong Kong, the life of a free international city is being snuffed out. That is what awaits any place that goes soft on the Communist party. Tyranny wins when resistance ceases.