As I write on 30 September, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Here in Hong Kong, tonight is deadly quiet, the calm before the storm.
30 September was an international day of protests involving many cities around the world, and Saturday 28 September was the fifth anniversary of the 2014 Umbrella movement, when HK police launched 79 tear gas canisters five years ago that day.
The level of police weaponry and brutality five years on have far exceeded most people’s expectations. On Sunday alone over 100 more protesters were arrested.
In the old days, protest organisers would negotiate with the police over the route of a march and almost always manage to agree and thus receive permission to march. Nowadays, the police refuse all marches point blank.
On Sunday, an illegal march started to gather at 2.30 p.m. The police started launching tear gas, very early in the day by their usual standards. A combination of snatch squads as well as undercover police seemed to be aiming for as many arrests as they could achieve.
Ever since the infamous leaked tape passed on to Reuters in late September, it is now common knowledge that:
• Beijing does not want to dirty their hands by sending in the People’s Liberation Army
• The Hong Kong Chief Executive has to seek President Xi’s permission over any single concession she may wish to make
• A battle of attrition will now go on for a long time – Beijing’s intentions seem to be to wear out the demonstrators, paying any temporary economic price for this period.
• Hong Kong is just one of many pieces on the Monopoly gameboard in China’s struggle to fend off the USA.
Hong Kong has enjoyed de facto city-state status after 1997, with its own currency, stock market, mini-constitution (the Basic Law), its own judiciary, civil service, police force, tax, health service, education system, Olympic team and membership of many international and UN-sponsored bodies — and many civil liberties not enjoyed in China.
It is supposed to be protected by the One Country Two Systems framework agreed between the UK and China in 1984, which leaves the People’s Republic of China in charge only of Defence, Foreign Policy and National Security.
22 years later, Hong Kong’s autonomy has been whittled away, with active collusion between its three previous Chief Executives and Beijing. Over one million people from China have migrated to Hong Kong since 1997 (there is a daily quota of 150 migrants).
Many Hong Kong businesses have been bought out by Chinese state enterprises.
The economic integration into the Pearl River Delta gathers momentum whilst civil rights are being sliced away salami fashion. With 28 years remaining before Deng’s promise of no change to Hong Kong’s status for 50 years, some businesses are already factoring this into their business and land deals, as Hong Kong was doing so in the two decades before 1997.
Most recently, one of the big four property developers offered a portion of their held land in the New Territories at a nominal rent of $1 per sq feet to social enterprises to develop into community projects and low-cost housing, up to 2047.
The current generation of Hong Kong protestors are already looking at 2047 in the face and vowing that the struggle must continue now or there is not going to be a better chance in future.
Hong Kong’s GDP, 2% of China’s compared to 25% back in 1997, is not the key issue. Its special status, relative freedom from corruption and the security of its laws to protect commercial interests, continues to benefits many state and private enterprises.
Even though China would lose out right now if HK loses its special status as a safe place and an international finance centre, the complex state of political intrigue inside the Communist Party, and the pressure it is under to continue to deliver economic growth as the “trade war” with the US gets tougher, means that miscalculations are getting made and rigid defensive stances become increasingly adopted.
The protest movement is determined not to be dissipated and defeated, learning the lessons of 2014. It will seek to escalate its action in order to force the Hong Kong government into further concessions. After the complete withdrawal of the extradition Bill last month, the movement will continue to press for its four other demands.
None of the other demands — for an independent committee of inquiry, for reversing the Government’s declaration of 12 June protest as a riot, for the release of all arrested protestors, for genuine universal suffrage to elect the Chief Executive – taken on their own, really taking Hong Kong beyond its early post 1997 days of relatively high autonomy.
However, in the current climate, these concessions are perceived by Beijing as likely to cause instability within Chinese society, and are therefore strongly resisted.
1 October will be a big day, a day to remember.
A group of Chinese/Hong Kong activists has launched a new website, translating left-wing and anti-capitalist perspectives from the protest movement.
Ralph Peters adds
Organising solidarity for Hong Kong
The day we go to press (1 October) is the 70th anniversary of the foundation of Mao’s “Communist” China.
To challenge the lavishly staged celebration protests taking place across China, protests are taking place across Hong Kong. The protests have been deemed illegal and repression is likely to be brutal.
This follows wide-ranging attacks made on 29 September where police and thugs acting under their direction attacked not only street protestors but also leading trade unionists and politicians – in total there were 100 arrests and many serious injuries to protestors.
One of those attacked Stanley Ho Wai-hong, was attacked by four thugs with iron bars. His hands were smashed.
Stanley Ho took a lead role in the historic dock strike in Hong Kong in 2017. He is now a key activist of the pro-democracy HK Labour Party. There is no doubt about on whose behalf the thugs were acting.
Other prominent democracy activist, Eddie Chu, who is a member of the HK Legislative Council, was pepper-sprayed in the face by police. Social Workers’ General Union director Hui Lai-ming was arrested.
The repression is intensifying. Reuters report a doubling of size of the PLA garrison in Hong Kong, amongst which they report are many of the People’s Armed Police, a million-strong force across China trained in street repression and used to put down strikes and civil unrest.
Hong Kong big business mostly defers to the Beijing government. Workers for companies as Cathay Pacific, HSBC and probably many others face being sacked for calling for democracy.
Trade unions in Hong Kong must be encouraged to take on that repression. Democracy has to be fought for and established in HK workplaces, out of the reach of the police’s teargas, rubber bullets and guns.
Here in the UK, socialists and workers should campaign on the street with HK students and migrants. Protests have already been organised in many cities. We should uphold HK’s right to self-determination, independence if the HK people want it.