Mon, Jun 17, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Hong Kong is not China yet, but that feared day is coming ever nearer

An extradition bill was put on hold after 1 million Hong Kongers took to the streets, but the fight for the territory’s values is far from over

By Louisa Lim  /  The Observer

Illustration: Yusha

Hong Kong has become a place whose present is unresolved and whose future is unimaginable. After the unexpected violence of the past week, no one can predict how the events of this afternoon, tomorrow, this week will play out. The only certainty is that Hong Kong’s way of life is under immediate threat and its people are coming out in force to defend it.

However, the curse of living in the eternal immediate present is that the stakes for this “last fight” could not be higher, especially since young Hong Kongers fear that if they are defeated in this battle, there will be nothing left to lose.

The failure of the “Umbrella movement” five years ago, when Hong Kongers occupied important thoroughfares for 79 days, seeking greater democratic participation, to win any concrete gains has raised the stakes further still this time round.

“HK is not China! Not yet!” These few words hastily scrawled on to a piece of A4 paper and tacked on to the concrete strut of a walkway aptly encapsulate the political crisis roiling Hong Kong.

The territory has been plunged into instability after police fired rubber bullets and 150 rounds of tear gas to break up a huge rally on Wednesday, just days after 1 million people peacefully took to the streets to protest against extradition legislation.

“Not yet” is a reference to the terms of the joint declaration governing Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, which promised that the territory’s way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years, until 2047.

When it was signed, in 1984, the year 2047 seemed impossibly far off, but the proposed extradition law brings 2047 much, much closer.

By permitting the rendition of anyone on Hong Kong soil to face trial in China, it would effectively remove the firewall between Hong Kong’s common law system and China’ party-dominated legal system.

Though the Hong Kong government has suspended the bill, the process has unleashed a firestorm of fear and anger.

Since the “Umbrella movement,” Hong Kongers have already seen irrevocable changes to their way of life: popularly elected lawmakers have been disqualified by the courts for saying their oaths too slowly or with the wrong intonation; politicians have been forbidden to stand for election; a political party has been banned; advocates have been sent to prison on public order offenses; now the police have used violence against their own people.

The unseemly rush to pass the unpopular extradition law has also weakened each of the territory’s institutions.

The legislature descended into unseemly brawls, with fist fights breaking out as committees dueled.

The civil service and judiciary are no longer seen as politically neutral.

The police force, once seen as Asia’s finest, is an object of popular hatred and its relationship with the public is irretrievably damaged.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) is so unpopular that protesters carried pictures of her face stamped with the word “Liar” and 6,000 mothers turned out to accuse her of not being fit for office.

Even though the bill has been put on hold, the process has already permanently devalued the institutions that Hong Kong people hold dear.

Hong Kong’s status as a territory of protest is also under threat. The ability to demonstrate has become an important expression of local identity that distinguishes Hong Kong from China, and over the years Hong Kongers have enthusiastically marched with performative flair, mounting shopping actions, carol singing rallies and artistic protests against censorship with blank placards.

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