On May 21, China moved to enact the hugely controversial national security legislature in Hong Kong, effectively ringing the death knell on the city’s semi-autonomous status and confirming China’s intentions of implementing the ‘One Country, One System’ regime.
The law criminalises dissent and has been used in mainland China to arrest activists, journalists, economists, Nobel laureates and human rights lawyers. The move doesn’t come as a shock, especially given the unprecedented success of last year’s civilian-led pro-democracy protests.
Hong Kong held district council elections in November 2019, an election that was largely seen as a referendum on the protests. Pro-democracy parties won by a landslide, gaining control of 17 of the 18 district councils and tripling seat count from 124 to 388, out of the 452 contested seats. All pro-Beijing parties suffered major setbacks and losses.
Hong Kong is set to hold its legislative council elections in September 2020. It was only a matter of time till the Communist Party played its hand. The national security law will be passed through the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee, instead of the Hong Kong Legislative Council (which, as it currently stands, is pro-Beijing), making the law incontestable and omnipotent much like the CCP.
My relationship with Hong Kong began in 2013 when I moved to the city to begin my undergraduate education. I knew nothing about the city as I settled into the dorms besides the obvious – this was a fast, cosmopolitan city of money with matchbox apartments in sky-piercing buildings.
Hong Kong took me in. It housed, fed and watered me and equipped me with a world class education. It didn’t question my passport or race or gender. It didn’t ask me to prove my right to exist in the city. It gave me the freedom to make mistakes. The city didn’t question my ambition. Instead, it gave me the opportunity to build a financial safety net empowering me to dream and break free of the practicalities of being a child of the Indian middle class.
Hong Kong’s inherent compassion likely emerges from its status as the arbiter for China and the West. Having been politically denied to build its own identity, Hong Kong became the voice of collaboration for capitalism while lending its paradoxes to the migrants, idealists and dissidents of the region. It comes as no surprise that Hong Kong’s existential threat neatly aligns with the systemic collapse of diplomacy which has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The past seven years have arguably been the most turbulent in Hong Kong’s modern history. In 2014, the 79-day peaceful student-led protest for transparent elections came to an abrupt end as the authorities cleared protests sites by force without making any concessions. Key leaders were jailed, bookshop owners “disappeared“. So, when the Hong Kong government proposed the extradition bill in February 2019, the entire city mobilised to resist. Many weekend protests touched two million civilians. Hong Kong is a city of just seven and half million people. That’s one person per household showing up and registering their voice.
Growing up in Hong Kong in these times taught me things todays schools don’t: strength of character, resilience and perseverance. But above all, it taught me to believe in hope. The naïve, romanticised idea of hope against all odds. Hope of a new, fairer world.
In the past year, I have witnessed Hongkongers of all colour, faith and gender volunteer to clean the city’s largest mosque after it was sprayed with blue dye by the police. I have seen children camping out on streets protesting and studying. Senior citizens handing out food packs and protecting young protestors by facing off with the police. The city’s youngsters turned up to remove tear gas marks from train stations. Chungking Mansions, an ethnic minority centre, saw a number of cultural tours bringing the ethnic Chinese and minority populations a little closer. Strangers left cash at train stations so other fellow protestors could avoid police detection. Donations poured in to the Hong Kong Free Press.
Instead of plunging into a ‘Lord of the Flies’ situation, protestors stuck inside a university campus under siege for almost a fortnight ran an efficient, fully functioning mini city. Hong Kong came together in a way that constitute the nightmares of our 21st century overlords. Instead of othering in a time of crisis, Hong Kong became one.
China’s latest move has pushed Hong Kong to the point of no return. The fight is no longer with a proxy of Bejing, but with Beijing itself. And David will have to fight Goliath all alone, especially if the rest of the world becomes dependent on China for a COVID-19 vaccine.
This is no longer about just the five demands. This is much bigger. Holding onto hope for Hong Kong is holding onto hope for all of us. Because a liberated Hong Kong would mark not only the first major defeat for the CCP since 1949, but also catalyse a new world – a world finally overcoming its colonial, imperialist and nationalist history and moving forward.
Amrita Roy grew up (feeling like she never quite fit in) across a bunch of different places in India and abroad, and is a media/entertainment professional aspiring to improve representation both in front and behind the camera.
Featured image credit: Reuters