On Thursday 4 October, the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to introduce a ban on wearing face masks.
The ban came just before a long weekend. Monday 7 October was Chung Yeung Festival, a public holiday. From Thursday evening, protesters staged incessant and widespread attacks on MTR stations, Chinese banks, and pro-China businesses, and conducted violent clashes with the police in many parts of the city.
One more protester, this time a 14 year old, was shot — in the leg, by a policeman who was cornered by a large crowd and was nearly set alight by a Molotov cocktail.
The scale of these protests far exceeded the already violent clashes between protesters and police last weekend, during and after 1 October, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Then, an 18 year old protester was shot in the chest by police but escaped death because the bullet missed his heart by 3 cm.
For the first time, most of the MTR rail network was shut down, and many shopping malls and high street shops closed early. Damage to MTR stations was so extensive that many stations will not be able to re-open for an indefinite period of time – the MTR Corporation stated that all spare parts for ticket vending machines have been used up with no replacements until November. Many mainland Chinese banks and pro-China business premises have been extensively vandalised.
Many suspect that a significant amount of this damage could be the work of undercover HK or even mainland military police officers, but there is no doubt that the militant youth had really stepped up their actions as a direct result of the banning of face masks.
The protest movement has reached a serious crossroads – the crippling of public transport infrastructure and the disruption to everyday life is gravely affecting the very residents who have mostly been on the side of the protest against the government. People are stocking up on food and drawing out cash from banks.
There is now discussions on social media calling on the militants to avoid further escalation for fear of live police rounds being used to cause fatalities or giving the Hong Kong Government the pretext to introduce even more draconian measures.
The Ordinance was last used in 1967 when the British colonial administration acted against a Cultural Revolution-inspired insurrection by local Maoist forces. During that period, the colonial administration dealt with over 8,000 homemade bombs made by the insurgents, who used pro-China banks, trade unions and community centres as their bases. Most of the local population were not involved in the conflict.
There were over 50 casualties on both sides, including from live rounds fired by HK police and British troops, as well as from PLA militia briefly crossing the border in the New Territories. The British consulate in Beijing was sacked.
Eventually by December 1967 the conflict was called off by Zhou En-lai. This time, nearly everyone in the community has become involved in the conflict, with the 20% or so Beijing loyalists heavily outnumbered.
The protest movement needs to seriously debate the way forward. Declaring the need for a new government for Hong Kong does pinpoint the complete failure of the present Government, but any declaration without a political movement behind it is just an empty set of words.
The “one country two systems” framework has only been agreed for 50 years i.e. until 2047. It is inherently unstable and subject to Beijing’s salami tactic of slicing away the city’s autonomous status.
Isn’t the way forward to campaign for making this framework permanent, or should the movement really be striving for an independent city state? Making the framework permanent, and winning real autonomy and civil liberties, would resonate with the majority of the population. Beijing itself is singing the praises of the One Country Two Systems framework and has not stated what it would do to replace it after 2047. Pressing for the framework to continue would be hard for Beijing to deflect.
The person on the street now would recognise that any campaign for independence would simply be crushed by the military might of the present regime; only if the regime breaks up or is overthrown would Hong Kong be safe from the threat of military intervention and political oppression. If so, would there still be the desire for independence from a post-CCP Chinese Republic? Wouldn’t a federal solution which would include Taiwan be more attractive to Hong Kong people compared to the prospect of a city state?
These questions remain to be debated now.
Hong Kong solidarity
Over 1,000 people rallied at London’s City Hall on 5 October to show solidarity with the movement in Hong Kong, and marched from there to Trafalgar Square.
The crowd was overwhelmingly Hong Kong people, and mostly younger. Workers’ Liberty was the only left organisation present. We gave out leaflets to advertise a Uyghur-solidarity demonstration the same day.
Self-determination for Hong Kong!
Overseas Hong Kong students, and as far as we can tell the movement in Hong Kong itself, have hesitated to raise calls for self-determination for Hong Kong and for a Constituent Assembly there (an elected assembly with power to make a new constitution).
The calculation is probably similar to that which has deterred Taiwan from formally declaring independence from China even after 70 years of de facto independence: that the explicit break could trigger invasion.
From early on in the movement, though, in Solidarity we have called for self-determination for Hong Kong. As the “Third Camp Trotskyists” of former years called for self-determination for Taiwan (Formosa), for example in the crisis of 1954-45, when Beijing seized small islands which had been controlled by Taiwan, and all-out war looked probable.
Whatever the tactics of the movement, we should be clear about principles, and so should be the international movement of solidarity for Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has been a distinct political unit for over 170 years. It became a distinct political unit through crimes of British imperialism, but the fact remains.
Its people have the right to decide their own future through their own democratic movement.