Hong Kong: Brutal Attack on Liberties

By Gustavo Giménez

On June 30, the People’s National Assembly of China passed the so-called National Security Law for Hong Kong with the excuse of stopping foreign interference in this city, which was returned to China by the British Empire in 1997, after 150 years of colonial domination. The region enjoyed a status, agreed by the Chinese bureaucracy with the British, according to which – for 50 years (until 2047) – it would enjoy a special regime. “One country, two systems” was the slogan that described a new political organization supported by a mini constitution called “Basic Law,” by which the freedom of the imperialist multinationals established there would be guaranteed and the democratic liberties enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong during the occupation would be maintained.

The agreement with the British provided for a significant level of autonomy for Hong Kong to legislate on internal affairs, maintaining the tutelage of Beijing only for foreign relations and national security.

The Xi Jinping bureaucracy had progressively been advancing against these last democratic freedoms with the complicity of the local government, which responds directly to the Chinese regime and had caused the “umbrella revolution” in 2014 and the current massive uprising of the people of Hong Kong since June 9, 2019.

In mass mobilizations that brought together nearly two million people, the population of this former British colony defeated an extradition bill, which allowed citizens to be extradited for trial in mainland China. The movement is estimated to have held at least 700 protests with a cumulative number of 13 million people (out of a population of seven and a half million) over six months. The revolt advanced to demand the democratization of the island’s political regime, demanding the direct election of the executive power (1) and the demand for independence from the Chinese bureaucracy began to spread.

The inability of the Hong Kong puppet government, which despite a growing repression that led to the arrest of nearly 9,000 protesters in these months, could not stop a massive movement, which was becoming increasingly radicalized in its confrontation with the Beijing leadership, motivated the Chinese bureaucracy to take advantage of the pandemic and launch this “unconstitutional” security bill that violates the Basic Law.

Among the provisions of the new law, it is determined that “crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and conspiracy with foreign forces” are punishable with penalties ranging from three years to life imprisonment and constitute serious crimes inciting hatred of the Chinese or regional Hong Kong government. Damaging public transportation facilities is considered an act of terrorism. Legal figures specially designed to crack down on protests. Those convicted are then bared from holding public office, the Hong Kong Head of Government may appoint judges and the Secretary of Justice may remove the jury from trials that are carried out for violating this law. National Security decisions cannot be legally reversed and China will be able to judge the cases that it considers “very serious,” lawsuits may even be held in secret if the authorities consider it necessary for “national security.”

As can be seen, this law liquidates most of the democratic liberties enjoyed by the inhabitants of a city accustomed to living in a regime with certain liberties, impossible to maintain by the totalitarian dictatorship of Xi Jinping. In Hong Kong, for 30 years, massive tributes have been paid to the victims of the Tienanmen massacre, and dissidents who manage to escape from the Chinese regime take refuge there. Now, under this legislation, any manifestation, no matter how small, can be considered a violation of this Security Law, and those who inflict it be tried with penalties that can go up to life imprisonment, by a cort that, manipulated by the PCCH (2), has 100% of approved convictions on its accused.

To complete this offensive, the National Security Protection Office, which will be the Chinese intelligence operations center, led by Zheng Yanxiong, a PCCH-designated official, will be inaugurated on Wednesday, July 8, in Hong Kong. He will be charged with the task of imposing the draconian National Security Law. Zheng is known for being a hard-line bureaucrat who does not skimp on his repressive actions to crack down on the peoples who oppose the dictates of the central government, in which he climbed positions after the brutal repression that he unleashed to stop in 2011 protests by the inhabitants of Wukan.

Carrie Lam, head of state in Hong Kong, unvails the inaugurational plaque of the Office of National Security.

The Reaction

As Ben Hillier relates in his article published in Redflag (3), Hong Kong socialist activist Au Loong Yu (4), commenting on the mobilization of July 1 to reject the Security Law, in which more than 350 protesters were detained, part of whom were prosecuted by the sinister new law, noted: “There is anger here. Despair, demoralization, but also anger and hatred. The good news is that there is still a will to fight and resist. At least 10,000 took to the streets, which was more than I expected.

Although the number of protesters in the face of the brutal change in the political conditions of Hong Kong was lower, compared to the enormous mobilizations that the people have carried out before, it expresses that there is a vanguard ready to resist this brutal attack. It also raises a question as to whether the Beijing bureaucracy will be able to consolidate this sort of “coup d’état” by definitively defeating the Hong Kong uprising, or whether after the first impact, resistance to this measure will be resumed with force, at a juncture marked by the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Contradictions Generated by the Dispute with the United States

While its “good” relations with the Chinese government lasted, the US government was indifferent to the democratic protests of the Hong Kong people. The port city of Hong Kong has played a very important role in the business of the Chinese pro-capitalist bureaucracy with the transnational companies. Now, in the midst of the “trade war,” the Trump Administration has threatened to liquidate the special status that Hong Kong has enjoyed and has made it the most important financial center of this region of the world.

Although the Hong Kong economy, which played a very important role in the rise of Chinese capitalist power, has decreased in its relative clout compared to the mainland economy (in 1997 it represented 18% against 3% in 2018), it still plays an important role for the bureaucracy´s businesses, transnational corporations and the commercial flow with the United States.

According to Au Loong Yu (5), referring to a report by the British Hong Kong Watch: “almost two thirds of China’s direct investment flows are mediated by Hong Kong… since 1997, Chinese companies have raised $ 335 billion in Hong Kong… $ 95 billion was entered into the mainland capital markets through Hong Kong between 2016 and September 2019… and also, according to the island’s government, Hong Kong is the place where the United States enjoys the largest amount of trade surplus: $ 297 billion between 2009 and 2018. Trade with the United States provided more than 210,000 jobs for American workers.

To this data, which give an idea of ​​the interests at stake, we can add the declarations of the British government of Boris Johnson pointing out the possibility that three million inhabitants of the city, who hold British overseas passports, could emigrate to Great Britain and the threat of canceling the agreement with the Chinese company Huawei for the installation of 5G technology, which could seriously affect the European country’s cellular and electricity network.

These disputes between Western powers and capitalist China, which existed prior to the Beijing political move, appear to have been exacerbated. Also, within the multinationals and bourgeois sectors with roots in the island, there is a division between those that have fluid business with the Beijing leadership and others that see their interests at risk, as is the case of the technological networks led by “Tic, Toc,” they are withdrawing from Hong Kong at the risk of being penalized for spreading content punished by the new National Security Law.

Yankee imperialism, which had been using the Hong Kong crisis in its negotiations and disputes with the Chinese bureaucracy, under Trump’s hand, has no interest in the victory of the uprising, but uses it at the service of its fights. For example, the resolution of the US Congress on the crisis of these months, conditions its support to the acceptance by the Hong Kong people of a large part of the imperialist policy for the region.

Political Polarization

When the elements of the world situation that were expressed in the moments before the pandemic began to unfreeze, the Xi Jinping government advance shows a face of the existing polarization. The need for capitalist governments to resort to repressive measures to advance their austerity plans and their dispute for world surplus value.

It is enough to remember Netanyahu’s intention to annex the Palestinian territory of the occupied West Bank, to have a point of comparison of the brutality with which they are ready to advance.

On the other side, that of the reaction of the workers and the peoples, there are in the fight of the people of Hong Kong great points of contact with the main movements generated in recent times. One is the enormous courage and predisposition of a new young vanguard in the processes of struggle. A youth that we see at the head of the enormous struggle against Piñera in Chile, in the mobilizations in the United States and other European countries for Black Lives Matter, in the Palestinian youth and the Arab revolutions against the capitalist regimes in the Middle East.

Another aspect is that their demands and democratic struggles quickly clash with capitalist structures and interests, which in these times of crisis need more and more repression to confront the demands of the mass movement that collide with their plans for super-exploitation, which imprints a marked anti-capitalist content to these struggles.

In fact, the Chinese bureaucracy´s move is also preventive. The Hong Kong democratic movement is very dangerous for a power that, with 1.4 billion inhabitants, can suffer a virus that could be deadly to the interests of its bureaucratic caste, if the Hong Kong revolt penetrates the huge Chinese  working class.

Finally, these struggles in Hong Kong pose the same pressing need that the new wave of struggles in the world requires, the need to equip themselves with a revolutionary leadership capable of developing and carrying the struggle to the end.

One of the weaknesses pointed out by the analysts of the Hong Kong process has been the reluctance of the student leaders, at the front of the process, to overcome the natural spontaneous characteristics of the struggle, which also explains its ups and downs and weariness. A recent process of union members seems to be an encouraging element, since this organization of workers in new unions can give more solidity to the organization of the protest. It is necessary to see how its development responds, around the recent blow given by the Chinese bureaucracy with this Security Law, but in a strategic sense, if it continues to advance, it will greatly help both the development of the struggle and the task of building a revolutionary political alternative.

A task that the ISL encourages with all our strength, as we call for greater solidarity against the aggression of the Xi Jinping bureaucracy, in defense of the rights of the Hong Kong people.

  1. The Hong Kong government headed by Carrie Lam is elected by an undemocratic Electoral Committee made up of different sectors of the population, greatly influenced by multinationals, sectors linked to the Beijing bureaucracy and a small representation of the unions and popular organizations. It needs the authorization of the Chinese State Council, which can veto candidates. The parliament consists of 70 members, half elected by the population and the other appointed by “meritocracy” and the judiciary by different bodies inherited from the old British colonial administration.
  2. PCCH: Chinese Communist Party.
  3. Article titled “The End of Hong Kong?” Posted on Redflag (Red Flag), Australia’s Socialist Alternative website on 07/03/2020.
  4. Au Loong Yu is a Hong Kong activist who authored “The Hong Kong Revolt: The Protest Movement and the Future of China” and many other works on the Hong Kong people’s protest.
  5. Statements extracted from Ashley Smith’s interview with Au Loong Yu, published by Specter on 06/06/2020.