After thirteen weeks of mobilizations, general strikes, airport blockades and violent clashes with the police, the people of Hong Kong defeated the bill that would have allowed the extradition of the habitants of this autonomous community to mainland China. The local government, a puppet of the bureaucracy of Xi Jinping, is in its worst moment, cornered by the mobilization. The Chinese bureaucracy itself had to give in after it had threatened to intervene and repress the struggle with its army.
On September 4, Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, announced the formal withdrawal of the bill that unleashed a revolution on the island of southern China. She also announced other complementary measures that attempt to give a misleading response to several of the people´s claims. These include announcements about the initiation of a dialogue between senior officials and citizens, and the invitation to foreign experts to join a body that oversees the police, the Independent Council of Police Complaints (IIPC), which would respond to complaints on police abuse in the repression of demonstrations.
Lam also clarified that she does not think of resigning or granting amnesty to those detained and prosecuted for the protests, about 1200 people during these weeks. She also pointed out that her decisions are fully supported by the central government of Xi. Her denial of the possibility of resignation responds to one of the main demands of the mobilization and also responds to a recent audio published by Reuters in which the Hong Kong president is heard admitting to a group of businessmen that she would resign if it was up to her. (1)
The extradition bill that sparked the fire
The questioned project would have allowed the extradition of people prosecuted by the island’s courts to mainland China. Therefore, it opened the possibility that the Xi regime could move political dissidents (who take advantage of the political status and relative autonomy of the island) to different points of the country to be judged by its allied courts. (2)
The regime of the Xi bureaucracy that had been gradually advancing over the autonomy of the island, controlling it through Lam and the Executive Council appointed by her, and now had the intention of taking a qualitative jump with this judicial reform, gaining greater control and further degrading the people´s democratic freedoms.
In the opposite sense the democratic movement of the island, which had its first rehearsal in the “Umbrella Revolution” of 2014, which unsuccessfully demanded the democratization of the Hong Kong regime and the direct election of its rulers (3), and now it has resurfaced with full force after the attempt of approving this project, that has now been withdrawn.
The project was presented on February 2019 by the Security Office and from March 31 until now there have been mobilizations, strikes and clashes with the police that mobilized around one to two million people (in a region of 7,5 million habitants) on the days of June 9 and 16. The mobilization of the Hong Kong people that, led by the youth, organized increasingly daring actions, like the first blockade and then the occupation of the legislative power on July 1, facing an increasingly violent police repression. The actions are led by a great youth vanguard, mainly from high schools and universities, which according to some, has about 10,000 activists willing to fight on the front line against the police. (4)
The force of the uprising had already achieved the indefinite suspension of the treatment of the extradition bill on June 15. But the mobilization could not allow just the “suspension” of it, since that opened the possibility of its debate when the Chinese government and its Hong Kong puppet found the right opportunity. That is why the next day, June 16, two million people took to the streets of Hong Kong demanding the final withdrawal of the bill. But the demand now includes the resignation of Lam and the end of the qualification of the mobilizations as “riots”, a legal figure that criminalizes protest and charges those arrested with serious penalties.
The government’s refusal to take a definitive step backwards with the project radicalized the struggle. Until then, the protests were fundamentally peaceful, but since Lam’s refusal, the actions became increasingly bold, as the occupation of the Legislature and the response to the growing police repression with rubber bullets, tear gas and batons used against protesters. In the end of July there was also a mafia attack which, in agreement with the government, attacked protesters that were returning home and left dozens injured.
Far from being intimidated, the protesters got radicalized and clashes escalated. There were attempts of banning demonstrations, but the people of Hong Kong took over the streets massively. There were successful general strikes and airport occupations with increasingly strong confrontations with the police.
In this process during August, the island’s working class got organised, particularly in the general strike on August 5: “Hong Kong, at the ‘limit’ in the face of a historic strike,” as the title of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo said, paraphrasing Carrie Lam, and then pointed out: “the protesters managed to paralyse multiple parts of the city in its first strike since 1967, by blocking tunnels and occupying streets in areas as emblematic as the Admiralty district … the strike had great impact in the transport sector, paralysing subway lines and buses, as well as delays and cancellations of flights in the financial center … chaos took over at times in the Asian metropolis”. This was reflected by the Deustche Welle: “Closed roads, blocked subways and many umbrellas: this Monday, tens of thousands of people did not go to work in Hong Kong, which experienced its first general strike in decades on August 5.”
The strike was called by the HKCTU (Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions) and student organizations. The HKCTU, an organization with great influence among oil workers, teachers, domestic service and social services workers, has 160,000 members and is internationally linked to the CIOLS. According to writer and activist Au Loong Yu: “The leadership of the HKCTU has been supporting the position of the pan-democratics to uncritically defend democracy within the limitations of the Basic Law for two decades” (5) (in an interview published in Viento Sur in 05/08/2019)
There are three more union centrals. The largest one, the HKFTU (Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions) has 400,000 members and is linked to the Chinese union bureaucracy, so it opposes protests, and two smaller ones, the HKTUC, linked to Taiwan, and the FLU to the Chinese CP.
The September triumph
In early September, there was a call for a new 48 hour general strike (6) on the 2nd and 3rd of this month. These days were marked by protesters who “once again tried to disturb the circulation of the metros of the former British colony during Monday morning (02.09.2019), when they called for a general strike, after a weekend marked by serious acts of violence” and “the students, the backbone of the anti-government demonstrations, called for the boycott of classes for two weeks, and a concentration in the afternoon”, when “Hong Kong lived one of the most violent days of protest since the beginning of the movement on Saturday”. “On Sunday, thousands of pro-democracy protesters tried to block the access to the airport by setting up barricades”. (7) Carrie Lam, supported by Xi Jinping, backed down and cancelled the bill.
But for many it was too late, because new demands had been put on the table, and the list had five basic points: the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill, the resignation of Lam, the withdrawal of “disturbances” charges for the detainees and prosecuted, the liberation of all political prisoners and an independent and public investigation into police violence against protesters.
A revolt that began as a rejection of the attempt of the Chinese government to gain greater control, generated a process of permanent mobilization, a revolutionary explosion of millions demanding a democratic change and to elect their own government. The Xi government could not allow these demands, since they could possibly spread to the universe of 1,400 million people in mainland China, endangering its power. That is why the first policy was destined to wear the people out. Afterwards, a first concession, the “suspension” of the project, triggered the process.
The mobilization understood that the “suspension” was an obvious manoeuvre designed to win some time and continued with more force, strengthened by the first victory. The regime hardened again and tightened the rope. It responded with growing repression and clashes became more radical. But the mobilization did not stop and then there were only two roads: to repress by deploying 10,000 Chinese soldiers plus the troops shown on the Hong Kong border traning anti-riot practices, with the ghost of Tiananmen haunteing the region, or to yield. The regime chose to yield, withdrawing the bill. But the image of Lam is worn out, the people want her head, they wants her to release the prisoners and end the prosecutions, to punish the police, they want to choose their government.
An anti-capitalist dynamic
Everything points to the fall of the current Hong Kong government, completely discredited and with very little support of the people of the island, only backed by the Xi bureaucracy. That is the next challenge of the struggle. What it has achieved so far is heroic. The Hong Kong masses have inflicted a significant defeat on the Chinese bureaucracy, on the monster that seemed unbeatable. But a definitive triumph, consolidated in time, seems to be far away.
The Hong Kong revolution combines several elements. On one hand, the necessity of not losing democratic conquests of the masses to the advance of the Bonapartist Chinese regime; on the other, the growing loss of purchasing power of important parts of the population. For example, access to decent housing is increasingly difficult, so a lot of working families live in very small and overcrowded places. The middle class, the social base of the regime that has traditionally ruled the island, clashes with it and demands democratic changes that cannot be granted by the Bonapartist bureaucracy that rules mainland China.
Therefore, everything indicates that after this important partial victory, the clash of the revolution that demands deep changes and the counter-revolution that must freeze and/or defeat this process will become more severe. The Chinese bureaucracy does not have international conditions to repress with blood and fire as it did in ‘89 with Tiananmen. It is in the middle of a commercial dispute with the US and the decline of its growth and the recession of the world economy forces it to manoeuvre and try to prevent a premature repression, not agreed with the multinationals, that could complicate things for. Some analysts even point out that the Hong Kong uprising process is influencing the political situation in Taiwan, favouring the electoral candidate that opposes the Chinese regime the most.
On the other hand, the mobilization of the people of Hong Kong cannot stop, because that would allow the Xi regime to strike hard. Several editorialists have pointed out that the mood among young people, the heart of the struggle, is that this fight is their last chance to stop the advance of the Chinese bureaucracy. That is a decisive struggle that, if lost, will make it very difficult to go back. They have the force of the mobilization of the people of Hong Kong. Its greatest weakness is its semi-spontaneous character, without a clear political leadership in the process of struggle.
The mobilizations were initially called by the so-called Civic Front, although it was not the every-day leadership of the process, whose more radical and active vanguard is the young students. Although there are very prestigious referents like Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, well-known leaders of the “umbrella revolution” of 2014, they maintain a low profile, appearing as a more horizontal leadership, very close to the daily struggle. On the other hand, according to the analysts of the process, the movement has overwhelmed traditional political and union structures. The union centrals that have supported the movement, like the HKCTU, are strongly influenced by political currents that are against the development of the process of permanent revolution and the questioning of the island´s capitalist system.
So, it is an urgent task of the Hong Kong revolution to build a revolutionary political leadership, of a party that, combining the most combative elements of the process, develops a program and a plan of action that promotes the mobilization and independent organization of workers, students and the people of Hong Kong to take the revolution to the end. For this, anti-capitalist demands that confront the exploitation of the island´s working class by multinationals, must be added to the current democratic program, to present a class solution to the old liberal democrats who have ended up allying with the Xi regime. The movement must also extend its struggle to the Chinese working class, an essential ally to conquer in the dispute against the greatest enemy, the bureaucracy of Xi Jinping.
1. The Independent (04/09/2019): “On the recording, Mrs. Lam can be heard saying that she would have liked to “resign” as a chief executive if she could. At a press conference on Tuesday, she said she had never submitted her resignation to Beijing. “Not giving up was my own choice… I have not given myself the option of taking an easier path, which is leaving” she said.
2. The island of Hong Kong was an imperialist enclave that was taken from the Chinese nation as a British protectorate. In 1997, through an agreement between the imperialist government and the Chinese bureaucracy, the island returned to Chinese sovereignty, maintaining a status of special autonomy that, on the basis of protecting the business of multinationals, allowed it to maintain a local government and preserve a series of democratic liberties for the following 50 years, under the motto of “one country, two systems.”
3. The local government of Hong Kong is headed by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was elected through the suffrage of 1,200 electors, out of a population of 7.5 million people. Lam designates the members of the Executive Council that govern the island with Lam. Lam governs Hong Kong with the legitimacy of 777 votes.
4. Sin Permiso: article “A new generation is rising”, written by Au Loong-Yu (24/08/2019)
5. The Basic Law establishes the relationship between Hong Kong and the Chinese People’s Republic
6. This new strike was not called by the HKCTU, which called the one on August 5.
7. “Protests in the Hong Kong metro with a call to the general strike”. Deustsche Welle (02/09/2019)
Chronology of the uprising in Hong Kong
September 2014: with the name of “Umbrella Revolution”, begun the uprising led by the students of Hong Kong that demanded the fulfilling of the promises of the Chinese government of installing a democratic regime in the island, as agreed in the transfer from the UK to the Chinese under a special regime. This uprising was defeated, since it ended after 79 days of occupation of the political and financial centre of the city without any concessions from the Chinese government. But is origin and goals have strongly emerged in the current uprising. In that sense, it was a general rehearsal.
February 2019: the Security Office of Hong Kong proposes an extradition bill that allows the turning over of suspects of criminal acts to mainland China.
March 31st: 12,000 take the streets against the extradition plan, summoned by the Civil Front for Human Rights.
April 28th: A second march against the bill attracts 130,000 protesters.
April 29th: Chan Tong-kai, a man from Hong Kong who admitted killing his pregnant girlfriend while on vacation in Taiwan, is sentenced to 29 months in prison on money laundering charges. The Hong Kong government uses the case as an example of why the extradition bill is needed: police could not accuse Chan of murder for a crime committed in Taiwan.
May 11th: A fight breaks out in the Hong Kong legislature when pro-Beijing and pro-democracy lawmakers clash over the proposed bill. Several are injured and one is taken to the hospital.
June 9th: More than one million Hong Kong people march protesting the extradition bill in the largest demonstration in the city since the turn over in 1997. Despite the huge demonstration, Lam decides to continue with the project.
June 12th: Police use tear gas and rubber bullets to push back thousands of protesters who surrounded the government headquarters in central Hong Kong. The vast majority are young, and many carried umbrellas, helmets and masks. As a result, the second reading of the extradition bill is postponed.
June 15th: Lam announces that she has decided to suspend the extradition bill indefinitely.
June 16th: Two million people return to the streets demanding the permanent withdrawal of the project. Protesters also demand Lam’s resignation and ask the government to stop characterizing the protest as a “riot.” Lam issues an apology in a written statement.
June 21st: Thousands of protesters converge at the Hong Kong police headquarters, demanding that police apologize for the handling of the June 12th demonstration.
July 1st: Hong Kong celebrates the 22nd anniversary of its turn over to China. Protesters arrive on the streets in the early hours and clash with police while trying to prevent the annual flag raising ceremony. That afternoon, hundreds of thousands of protesters march peacefully through central Hong Kong. But this time, the protesters split. Hundreds of masked protesters, mainly young people, tried to enter the Legislative Council building. At night, more radical protesters storm the building and occupy it for hours.
July 13th: Thousands of protesters clash with police in the border city of Sheung Shui, in the New Territories. They protest against “parallel merchants” who buy duty-free products in Hong Kong and sell them in mainland China.
July 14th: Thousands march against the extradition bill in the Sha Tin area of the New Territories. After the march, protesters and riot police clash in a mall, with 22 taken to the hospital and more than 40 arrested.
July 21st: Hundreds of thousands march towards government buildings. Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the protesters that have surrounded the Beijing liaison office. While the protesters return home, a group of masked men dressed in white clothes and armed with sticks attack the protesters and other travellers inside the Yuen Long MTR station.
July 24th: A spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army of China states that forces in Hong Kong could be deployed to maintain the public order.
July 26th: Protesters organize a demonstration in the arrivals hall of the Hong Kong airport.
July 28th: Police fire tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in front of the Beijing liaison office.
August 1st: The Chinese army publishes a dramatic video on Weibo that shows armed troops conducting drills and taking strong action against protesters.
August 5th: A general strike. Protests throughout the city disrupt public transport and cause the cancellation of more than 150 flights. Police fire multiple rounds of tear gas. Lam warns that the city is “on the verge of a very dangerous situation.”
August 12th: Thousands of protesters in the Hong Kong airport cause the cancellation of hundreds of flights. Beijing compares protesters’ actions with “terrorism.”
August 13th: the Hong Kong airport cancels flights for the second day while demonstrations continue there. Riot police use pepper spray and batons to clear out protesters. A continental Chinese journalist is tied and beaten by protesters.
August 16th: Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong airline, announces that its chief executive, Rupert Hogg, resigned. The airline received pressure from Beijing after some of its employees participated in the protests.
August 18th: Up to 1.7 million people return to the streets of Hong Kong in a renewed show of solidarity with the movement. For the first time in weeks, the protest remains peaceful.
August 31st: There are violent clashes between police and protesters in central Hong Kong. The police repress with water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas. Protesters respond with stones and Molotov cocktails.
September 1st: Thousands of protesters build barricades around the airport.
September 2nd: A new general strike. 8 public universities and 5 higher education centres begin a two week strike.
September 4th: Carrie Lam announces the total withdrawal of the extradition bill and other measures. Different leaders of the mobilization describe the announcement as totally insufficient and demand the fulfilment of the five-point program that the democratic movement raises.
Data extracted from Asia Media Center, CNN, DW and Clarín.