• Zhuo Ling

2019: The Year Hong Kong Made Itself Heard

800,000, this is the turnout reported by the Civil Human Rights Front the protest happened on December 8th. It’s one of the largest marches in weeks to pressure the government to meet demands for a true democratic society.

The way in which Hongkongers have been using propaganda to demonstrate their anger and their fearlessness, is indelible. Take the march on December 8th for example, protesters were wearing various types of whimsical masks – pigs, frogs, V for Vendetta… with piles of “Life Bread” rest on head, to show their support for people stuck in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University: being besieged by the police, they were deprived of food and water resources, and could only rely on this humble bread. During this protracted stalemate, the police continued to persuade the protestors staying inside PolyU to leave as soon as possible, by satirizing them, saying that the stayers could only eat the “cold Life Bread", but the police could go to Shenzhen for Haidilao (a famous mainland hotpot food chain) and enjoy frozen beer after their colleagues took over from work. The police also shouted to them that the bread of life is usually eaten by grassroots, scavengers, and the elderly. But actually, Life Bread is a health sign of the famous food company of Hong Kong, it has been a collective memory of many Hong Kong generations and it’s actually not bad, it is, in fact, one of the must-have foods for HongKongers during a picnic or a BBQ. Ever since the PolyU round-up, a demonstration called “lunch with you” began to circulate, even among the financial street, where almost all the participants are bankers or lawyers who are earning a very decent salary. They’d eat Life Bread together, to indicate they’re connected with the stayers inside PolyU.

This is a tip of the iceberg HongKongers built during their propaganda. They practiced the concept of “be water” of Bruce Lee, used all the methods one can image – even Cantonese opera, and launched a wonderful publicity war on the Internet. Such wildness, such whimsicality, caprice and gallows humor are rooted in a civil society and therefore are irreproducible. This cannot be imitated by totalitarian propaganda agencies under the influence of party culture. It’s made by people, and there are relatively few restrictions. On the contrary, the cultural propaganda in China are obviously produced by people from certain government departments or specific groups, who must consider whether it will cause counter-effects or backlash from public opinion, internal supervision, etc. They are delicately tailored to look righteous, solemn, and pitifully, lifeless.

The Victory of their International Front

From summer to winter, a remarkable breakthrough made by the protesters is that, the international society began to respond, and not limited to the Hong Kong issue. On November 27, Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that requires the U.S. government to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong, and requires the United States Department of State and other agencies to conduct an annual review to determine whether changes in Hong Kong's political status justify changing the unique, favorable trade relations between the U.S. and Hong Kong. On December 9th, EU Foreign Ministers approved the EU Magnitsky Act after Hungary drops its objections. This is a gigantic development focusing on the concentration camps in western China.

In response, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has criticized fiercely, commenting those acts of foreign countries as “intervention into internal affairs”. According to the Financial Times on December 9th, China has ordered that all foreign computer equipment and software be removed from government offices and public institutions within three years. The government directive is likely to be a blow to US multinational companies like HP, Dell and Microsoft and mirrors attempts by Washington to limit the use of Chinese technology, as the trade war between the countries turns into a tech cold war.

Let alone that in international law, the definition of “intervention of internal affairs” is very blurry, (in the famous case Nicaragua v. the U.S., the International Court of Justice focused only on the military force) Hong Kong’s political system itself requires the government to invite other countries to express their views on Hong Kong’s affairs. Article 39 of the Basic Law stipulates that relevant provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, and the International Labour Conventions applicable to Hong Kong shall continue to be valid. Since the establishment of the Special Administrative Region, the government has submitted reports to the United Nations on the human rights situation in Hong Kong many times, and sent members to attend the meetings of the Human Rights Committee to answer members' questions. Past inquiries include the realization of universal suffrage as soon as possible, the abuse of domestic foreign workers, and the education of ethnic minorities. To put it simply, foreign governments' opinions on the issue of Hong Kong are actually the manifestation of the implementation of the Basic Law. Although the Chinese government often claims that Hong Kong’s affairs are China's internal affairs, from the standpoint of foreign governments, how they deal with Hong Kong is also a part of their internal affairs. Because they must make an independent assessment of the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong before setting their Hong Kong policy, they are concerned about the specific situation of Hong Kong, and it is normal government behavior – that’s how Marco Rubio, one of the main promoters of the Human Rights and Democracy Act responded to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Right, the motives of the politicians are never pure, and part of protesters certainly do not put hope or rely only on foreign countries -- An executive order from Trump can also snatch hundreds of innocent young children from their parents and put them in iron cages to eat leftovers and sleep on the concrete floor. But as long as they can use it as ammunition, the protesters do not really care what’s behind the curtain. They strive for international support because all international support is pressure on Beijing. However, this has always been interpreted as a collusion between the protesters and "foreign anti-China forces", thereby transforming the main contradiction into geopolitical games between China and the West, distorting the essence of the problem. But this hat has been buttoned up early, from the beginning, mainland public opinion has described the movement as a campaign funded by foreigners. It seems to be useless at all for the protesters to draw a line from the U.S. right now.

After all, in the age of globalization, there is no place that would never deal with other places. The so-called refusal to "intervene in the internal affairs" is actually a double-edged sword. All parts of the world can respond to China with the same axe.

The Collapse of the Shelter of Blindness

Beijing cannot deny the will of the people anymore, Beijing cannot stigmatize the will of the people anymore. On November 24th, with a record-breaking turnout of more than 71% in the election of the District Councils, the political landscape of Hong Kong has changed dramatically. The Pan-democrats won an overwhelming victory, while the Pro-Beijing camp lost. By the end of the night, the Pro-Beijing camp was defeated by 388 v. 59 with Democrats gaining an increase of 263 over the past. Democrats have obtained seats in 17 of the 18 districts, and many have appeared in multiple districts.

James Palmer, a senior editor and journalist of the U.S. magazine Foreign Policy, wrote on November 25 that he had asked the English editors and reporters of the Chinese version of the Chinese Communist Party ’s official media, China Daily, the People ’s Daily, and its nationalist tabloid Global Times, these interviewees all stated that the articles to be printed by the media one day before were all assuming that the Pro-Beijing Camp could achieve a huge victory and had been submitted to the editor. But the People of Hong Kong broke such delusion, and the election results plunged Beijing's newsroom into a panic, as they struggled to find reports supporting the CCP.

A persuasive evidence of the will of Hongkongers is that many young political amateurs were elected, even in the population-aging districts. Tommy Cheung, president of the CUHK student union during the Umbrella Movement in 2014, won votes in a population-aging district and was elected as a district councilor. Another evidence of people’s will is represented by Jimmy Sham. He is the convener of the "Hong Kong Civil Rights Front”, one of Hong Kong's largest democratic movement groups. He has organized several major rallies this year and he has been an active LGBT human rights activist for many years. Over the past few months, his gay identity has also become one of the focal points of attacks by mainland official social media. In the months since the Hong Kong demonstrations began, Jimmy Sham was wounded twice by a group of unknown people with suspected hammers and sticks.

In this election, Jimmy Sham defeated Michael Wong in the Liyuan constituency with nearly 1,000 votes, who comes from a pro-Beijing political party "Citizen Power". On the other hand, according to Palmer, the news draft prepared by mainland official media includes increased seats occupied by formed members such as Junius Ho (leave blank to fill in the numbers). While Democrats say this may be the most unexpected victory in the election: Democrat Cary Lo defeated the well-known pro-Beijing politician Junius Ho, by a gap of about 1,200 votes in the Tuen Mun Le Tsui constituency. Ho has won a great many of supporters in mainland social media. After the results of the election were announced, Hong Kong social media were spreading crowd images of how Ho was defeated, and people gathered outside cheered. But Ho later responded on Facebook that he was, "very moved and able to turn their violence into peace, which is not a bad thing."

Election Results 2015: Blue indicates Pro-Beijing Candidates and Yellow indicates Pan-Democratic Candidates. Courtesy: Vote4.hk.

Election Results 2019: Blue indicates Pro-Beijing Candidates and Yellow indicates Pan-Democratic Candidates. Courtesy: Vote4.hk.

However, if judging from the distribution of the total votes, we would find that the gap is not that huge. It is about 57% of the Pan-Democrats faction and 41% of the Pro-Beijing camp. Still, it’s a victory for the Pan-Democrats: in the past district board elections, the Pan-Democrats were only able to get 40% of the votes. The turnout played an important role. It is not clear whether the basic set of the Pro-Beijing camp has been reversed or the majority of the extra mobilized voters are supporters of the movement. But what is certain is that if the turnout rate was not so high, the win rate would’ve been greatly reduced. If the turnout rate drops to 60%, the result may be evenly divided, and if it were lower, it may even have been that the Pro-Beijing camp would’ve won. It should be noticed that, under the current social situation, the will of participation of the constituency has been mobilized to a culminating point in the history, if the society returns to daily life, separating from the political issues, would the situation of the Pan-Democrats still be optimistic?

As for the Legislative Council, the election system is completely different. Of the 70 seats, 35 are directly elected by the districts and elected proportionately, therefore the Pan-Democrats could be confident about this part. While the other 35 seats are called functional constituencies, with high thresholds and low number of voter registrations. Many are selected by company votes and group votes, favoring the interests of the business community and consortia. All candidates are automatically elected. For example, Although Junius Ho was defeated in the district council this time, at the age of 57, he was elected to the Legislative Council in 2016, so he remains a legislator. In fact, the financial, insurance, and labor sectors are all dominated by Pro-Beijing camp, they won 24 seats in the last functional constituency, which is an overwhelming advantage. This election system is designed to reduce the influence of universal suffrage, which is a main point that protestors are fighting for. Despite the support of 60% of Hong Kong voters, can Pan-Democrats still obtain a majority in the Legislative Council?

After all, the election results let the Beijing and Hong Kong governments understand that social support for the movement is still quite high and has not slowly subsided. The Central and Special Administrative Region Governments have not been able to respond effectively to public opinion. They have only emphasized "stopping violence and suppressing chaos", causing citizens to rebel. Maybe this social movement could be depicted as a political experiment, trying out the creativity and imagination of every Hong Kong citizen, rooted in people, organized by autonomy without a specific leader, under the great pressure of a centralized government, how are they going to realize their motions, how are they going to game with the huge governmental machine, all is unknown. But there’s one thing to be sure, the slogan “Je revolte, donc je suis” would never fade away– it’s adapted from René Descartes’s proverb “I think, therefore I am”, for the Hongkongers, they resist, therefore they are.

Je Revolte, Donc Je Suis!

Views expressed are solely those of the author.

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About the Author

Zhuo holds a bachelor’s degree from Wuhan University in China. She is currently pursuing her L.L.M. at the School of Law, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Enchanted by the complexity of our world, she is mindful of illustrating the cause of significant events with expertise. She is interested in issues of human rights, entertainment, and feminism. She aspires to contribute her passion to the process of writing and publishing, and to contribute towards the well-being of the general populace.

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