Sun, Jun 23, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Hong Kong’s struggle is a wake-up call to defend all

The aspirations of the young people who have led protests to protect the rights to peaceful assembly and free speech are universal ideals

By Natalie Nougayrede  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Kevin Sheu

Why do the Hong Kong activists matter to us? Because their cause is universal. Aerial images of vast crowds flooding the streets of the skyscraper-studded territory are, of course, riveting. Equally fascinating is that, with China fast emerging as a global behemoth and surveillance state, this crisis serves as a barometer of what we might next expect of it and its president-cum-new-emperor, Xi Jinping (習近平).

There is also an astounding element of David versus Goliath in Hong Kong, something that awakens a deep instinct in us, a yearning to see bravery and determination in the face of great odds: Young people defying a giant and leveraging surprising tactics in their struggle.

As coincidence has it, this is all happening shortly after we have marked the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and rewatched the footage of that man singlehandedly stopping a column of tanks in June 1989 — an act of courage that remains a blockbuster. In Britain, there is of course particular interest in Hong Kong because of its colonial past, the 1997 handover and responsibilities attached to it. The question of whether China will renege on its commitment to “two systems” looms large.

However, something else is at work, something arguably more important than geopolitics, impressive TV pictures, heroic metaphors or what is left of one European country’s diplomatic clout.

It is this: Hong Kong offers up to us basic human aspirations that anyone, anywhere, can recognize and relate to.

When the activist Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) was released this week, his first words were about “fundamental rights and freedom.” He did not mention sovereignty, nor ethnicity, nor religious or cultural identity. As such, Hong Kong’s activists serve as a reminder of universal principles that we have become almost numb to in the age of suspicion, conspiracy theories, fake news, moral relativism and identity politics.

We have become accustomed to thinking about rights from the perspective of a specific group, whatever its characteristics; but here are rights being fought for in universal terms: “Fundamental” was the key word.

This points to what was enshrined in the international charters drawn up in the aftermath of World War II, when a global liberal order was tentatively put in place.

As the 1948 UN-adopted Universal Declaration of Human Rights puts it: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and all are entitled to those rights and freedoms “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

We are stunned by the images of Hong Kong not just because of the scale of these events or their historical dimension, but also because they somehow shake us out of a lethargy. Had we not become blase or cynical or fatalistic about the chances of defending human rights? Had we not started flirting with the notion that some principles might work fine for our Western world, but can hardly be considered as imperatives for others? Would that be because of our own imperfect record, our past empires, our “wars of choice,” our Western desolation in times of US President Donald Trump, Brexit, the far-right in Europe, arms sales to Saudi Arabia, you name it?

Or might it be because some of the nihilism on social media has blunted us?

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