The detention, on national security charges, of 53 activists in Hong Kong marks the purge of an entire generation of politicians. Police also requested papers from three news organisations and arrested a foreign national on national security charges for the first time – U.S. human rights lawyer John Clancey. These steps represent an attack on civil society whose goal appears to be the dissolution of the structure that facilitated the kind of political participation that brought almost two million people to the streets in 2019 – almost a quarter of the population. China “deceived the world” about Hong Kong security law, says Dominic RaabContinue ReadingThose arrested are accused of subversion, which carries the world
Hong Kong officials have essentially shut down the opposition by withdrawing them from the political level.
“In a press conference, Hong Kong’s security chief, John Lee, said that these arrests were necessary because their “vicious” plots for “mutual destruction” had crippled the government and driven the city into a “bottomless pit.” But the subtext behind the official reasons for the arrests is even more chilling.
And what were the nefarious activities here? In fact, all those involved in the informal primaries held last July were arrested by the police in order to pick pan-democratic candidates for a general election which was later postponed because of Covid-19. This epistemological attack, or even an effort to reshape public memory of the recent past, represents major gas lighting. After crushing the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations, China’s Communist Party employed this tried-and-true tactic, which it reinterpreted as counterrevolutionary agitation aimed at overthrowing the government.
The strategy succeeded at the time in intimidating Chinese who were cowed by their memories of the Cultural Revolution and the prospect of economic development, but the 600,000 Hong Kongers who cast ballots in the primary election last July are unlikely to be convinced. The arrests are, for them, an assault on the prospect of political engagement, an attack on hope itself. “They reflect the government’s tendency to play with flames, stealing the Hunger Games-inspired slogan of the protest movement, “When we burn, you burn with us,” or laam-chau. Regardless of the chaos it wreaks as it works its way through Hong Kong’s most beloved institutions, the government seems eager to play off the protest movement. In terms of timing, China has opportunistically taken advantage of the distractions provided by a global pandemic, the Brexit trade pact, the US. Georgia’s Senate elections, and Washington’s lame-duck administration.
Cynics point out that it is no accident that last week the Beijing-EU trade agreement, which had been on the negotiating table for seven years, was sealed.
But the fact that the agreement may still be rejected by the European Parliament raises the question of whether Beijing’s mind can still be changed by external pressure; the Biden administration, which promises to side with the citizens of Hong Kong, may soon find out. In any event, Hong Kong is already too late to return to the known world. Those moderates who tried to function inside the structure have been criminalized, while Beijing has already agreed that the latest National Security Law would replace the Basic Law that established the post-recession foundation for Hong Kong. National security has always meant regime security for the Communist Party of China. The risks raised by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement have therefore proved too great for the domestic audience, the only one that is relevant to Beijing.
Beijing has strengthened its power over data since the 2019 protests in order to suppress online dialogue and flood social media with comments depicting Hong Kongers as spoiled and unworthy.
This technique has succeeded in destroying most feelings of brotherhood between the mainland and Hong Kong, despite its crudeness. Recent Chinese political thought considers sovereignty to have no gray areas; citizens can be either rivals or allies, with little in between. However, there are still risks to this strategy.
It criminalizes the progressives, instead of marginalizing the more extreme fringe groups, and that could alienate sections of the population that they have been able to attract in direct polls with