The gulf between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership and a majority of Hong Kongers has grown even wider over the past few months, as the effort by the territory’s government to push through an extradition bill repeatedly drew hundreds of thousands of people to protests last month and led to the storming of the Legislative Council building on Monday evening.
Slamming British criticism of Beijing’s rule, Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming (劉曉明) on Wednesday told reporters that under British rule there was “no freedom, democracy, whatever” in Hong Kong and the “people had no right to elect officials [and] no right to demonstrate.”
It is a pity that Liu did not take advantage of his time at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where he earned a master’s degree in international studies, to learn more about Hong Kong.
As shocking as the demonstrations have been — or the “Umbrella movement” of 2014 — for people outside Hong Kong, they pale in comparison to the 1967 riots in the territory.
During that unrest, which began in May with protests over the sackings of some employees at an artificial flower factory and lasted through December, hundreds of bombs went off, 51 people were killed, hundreds were injured, about 5,000 were arrested and property damage ran into the millions of US dollars.
Influenced by the Cultural Revolution under way in China and widespread poverty in Hong Kong, huge demonstrations were held against British rule and widespread strikes were called, with Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) Little Red Book brandished by protesters while loudspeakers on the roof of the Bank of China building aired Chinese propaganda.
However, as the unrest turned more deadly, public support for the protests began to fade.
Many of the territory’s academics, journalists and politicians have said that a sense of Hong Kong identity was forged during the 1967 unrest, an identity that was reinforced in 1989 by the protests against the Tiananmen Square Massacre and then again by the “Umbrella movement.”
Academic and Alliance for True Democracy convener Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩) last year told the South China Morning Post that “the riots had a great effect on the relationship between the people and the government,” as the colonial administration realized the importance of listening to people, and initiated social reforms and the opening of district council offices.
Unfortunately, that is a lesson that Beijing’s leadership has ignored since the handover.
As former Hong Kong chief secretary Anson Chan (陳方安生) told the Washington Post last month: “Beijing has misinterpreted Hong Kong’s culture, psyche and feelings. If only Beijing would understand what makes Hong Kong tick, what are the values we hold dear, then they can use that energy to benefit both China and Hong Kong.”
Liu’s comments show just how ill-informed he and Beijing are: While the first direct elections for the Hong Kong Legislative Council were not until 1991, documents released by the UK National Archives in 2014 showed that colonial governors in the 1950s repeatedly tried to introduce elections, but Britain backed down in the face of threats by Beijing to invade the territory if London changed the “status quo.”
The 1967 protests show that Hong Kongers were able to demonstrate, while Liu’s remark about the lack of “independent judicial power” is ludicrous, given that it is China’s kangaroo court system and lack of legal rights that have inspired such resistance to the plan to change Hong Kong’s laws to allow extradition to China.
The “patriotic education” that the CCP and pro-Beijing politicians in the territory have called for is unlikely to change Hong Kongers’ view of China. It is Beijing’s leaders who need to be better educated.
China took advantage of the vacuum left behind when US carriers stayed out of the western Pacific Ocean due to COVID-19 outbreaks on several US Navy warships. The Chinese government is solidifying its hold on artificial islands in the South China Sea by moving in missiles and surveillance equipment, and formalizing its occupation by creating two municipal districts in the region under Hainan Island’s Sansha — Xisha District on Woody Island (Yongxing Island, 永興島) to administer the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) and Nansha District on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑島) to administer the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) —
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