By C.G. Fewston
After five long months of unrest in Hong Kong, what are the protesters still fighting for? Many have proudly said the non-violent and violent protests are for democracy. To “Free Hong Kong.” To “Liberate Hong Kong.” But what does that really mean?
What Hongkongers cannot say, what they are forbidden to say, is that the protests are for independence, to become a city-state free to govern themselves along the lines of Singapore or Monaco. To be free to govern themselves like Taiwan. No one can legally say this because to do so is an illegal act in Hong Kong.
The reason Hongkongers cannot publicly admit they are fighting for independence or self-determination is because doing so is illegal. Advocating, promoting, or marching for independence is illegal in Hong Kong. So much for “freedom of speech” in Asia’s financial hub.
Last year, the Hong Kong government backed by Beijing banned a separatist party and further silenced talk of independence by any politician or organization. Hong Kong’s government and the Chinese Communists have stated many times in the last two years that “free speech isn’t absolute.”
In 2017, China considered any speech or act which seriously urges for independence or self-determination in Hong Kong a violation of China’s national sovereignty. Hong Kong’s Criminal Ordinance explains that anyone with a “seditious intention” will be guilty of an offence and could be punished by two years in jail and a fine of HK$5,000 ($638 USD). These crimes also fall under Article 23, related to subversion and sedition. This is the primary reason why citizens in Hong Kong deny that the protests are for independence. They do not wish to go to jail.
Pro-democracy politicians and citizens, instead, advocate instead for true democracy through Universal Suffrage, a right in the mini-constitution which has not yet been granted to the people. Many political parties in Hong Kong agree that Basic Law Article 45 supports and indicates universal suffrage as an aim for the city.
Over the last two years, anyone seeking election has had to undergo a vetting process by Beijing. Anyone wanting to be elected to public office in Hong Kong must denounce self-determination and prove they do not support independence.
Joshua Wong recently underwent a vetting process and was banned from running in November’s elections. In an interesting twist, election officials for several weeks refused to make a decision. Dorothy Ma Chau Pui-fun, manager of the Southern District candidacies, unexpectedly took sick leave without making a decision. Three more unidentified electoral officers refused to even accept the role to vet Joshua Wong on his political stance.
As the deadline approached on October 31, the replacement electoral officer, Laura Liang Aron, who is originally from mainland China, finally ruled to ban Joshua Wong from the elections. The government cited the democracy activist’s former advocacy for self-determination as the primary reason for his disqualification.
What Hongkongers have been calling for consistently over the last five years is to be granted Universal Suffrage. Hong Kong citizens and protesters are now fighting for the ability to be able to democratically elect public officials, like the Chief Executive Officer, without any kind of political screening from China.
Once publicly elected officials were in place under its own form of government disconnected to the mainland, Hong Kong could begin peaceful maneuvers to democratically obtain its independence. Think of it this way: Step 1 is Universal Suffrage; Step 10 is Independence. You cannot peacefully reach Step 10 without first achieving Step 1. So Hongkongers are fighting for Step 1, for Universal Suffrage, before they can even begin to consider future changes.
The Hong Kong government controlled by Beijing, however, will never allow Universal Suffrage because they know where it would most certainly lead in the future.
Instead of granting the people of Hong Kong economic reforms and Universal Suffrage, the government and police continue to violently crack down on most public gatherings and marches.
On October 27, 2019, on yet another chaotic Sunday night of protests, the Hong Kong police force disgraced journalism by arresting May James, a photojournalist who was covering a protest in Mong Kok. In October, May had recently spoken at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which has since openly condemned her arrest.
An untold number of reporters have also been injured or hospitalized by police while covering the pro-democracy demonstrations which have lasted twenty-one weeks. Police have admitted to using more aggressive tactics towards the press, with police being accused of attacking and arresting peaceful bystanders, tourists and journalists.
Hong Kong Press Photographers Association, Hong Kong Journalists Association, and Hong Kong News Executives’ Association have also issued public statements condemning police violence against reporters. Meanwhile, the city continues to burn with a de facto curfew in effect.
With no one willing to make concessions and with no end in sight to resolve the societal problems, it’s not surprising that after five months of protests Hong Kong has entered into a recession.
C.G. Fewston is an American novelist, a former visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), and visiting fellow at City University in Hong Kong. His novel “A Time to Love in Tehran” was published in 2015. He’s also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London. He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University.