Everything you need to know about the Hong Kong protests


Kevin Lin interviews Au Loong YuChris ChanLam Chi LeungChun-Wing LeeAlexa and Student Labour Action Coalition.

Hong Kong’s government tried to rush through a bill that would limit civil liberties. Instead they triggered a tidal wave of protests — some of the largest in modern history.

On June 9, Hong Kong was convulsed by a million-strong march against a proposed amendment that would allow suspects to be extradited from the former British colony to mainland China, along with other countries. The government — chaired by the Beijing-approved chief executive Carrie Lim — insists that political dissidents and activists would be unaffected by the amendment. But the measure set off a firestorm, igniting public anger even as the government rushed to push it through the Legislative Council by July.

On June 12, following days of protests and clashes with the police, and amid growing calls for political strikes, Lam tabled the amendment. And on Saturday, hours into another massive demonstration — said to number over two million out of a population of seven million, with protesters demanding the amendment’s complete withdrawal and Lam’s resignation — the Hong Kong government issued an apology.

Why has the amendment aroused such indignation? How did the legacy of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong’s last major wave of demonstrations, shape the current protests? What are the politics of the protesters? And what are the prospects for democratic movements in Hong Kong and China going forward?

To shed light on all of these questions and more, Kevin Lin talked to a range of activists and scholars: Chris Chan, a sociologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a student and labor activist; Lam Chi Leung, a socialist in Hong Kong and a member of Left21; Chun-Wing Lee, a socialist, member of Left 21, and editor of The Owl, a left-wing website in Hong Kong; and Au Loong Yu, a writer and activist. Lin also solicited comments from Alexa, a Hong Kong-based activist, and the Student Labour Action Coalition, a distinctly left-wing group in a place with few of them. The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

The protests

KL: What is the significance of the extradition amendment? Why has it garnered so much opposition in Hong Kong?

ALY: Hong Kong has extradition agreements with twenty countries, including the UK and the US, but not with mainland China. The pro-Beijing camp, here in Hong Kong and overseas, argues that since Hong Kong has extradition agreements with the West, why can’t it have an agreement with mainland China?

Under the “one country, two systems” arrangement, Article 8 of the Basic Law stipulates that “the laws previously in force in Hong Kong . . . shall be maintained,” which means that Hong Kong is insulated from China’s legal system. Hong Kong, as a special region of China, does not have the necessary power and strength to resist the Chinese central government’s legal persecution if Hong Kong’s legal system is not insulated. China is not only disdainful of basic due process but also of judicial independence. An extradition agreement between China and Hong Kong necessarily undermines “one country, two systems.”

LCL: The amendment to the Extradition Law touched the nerve of most Hong Kong citizens. Under the rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), citizens often do not have due process, resulting regularly in wrongful convictions.

Those who have criticized the CCP, those who organize the Tiananmen vigil each year in Hong Kong, those who have helped Chinese dissidents, or even those Hong Kong activists who have supported labor and other rights organizations in mainland China could be considered “endangering national security” and extradited to mainland China. Ordinary citizens are concerned that Hong Kong will be like any other mainland Chinese city, where the freedom of citizens could be at risk.

ALY: Hong Kong people have the bitter memory of the Bookshop Five incident. Between October and December 2015, five owners and staff from Causeway Bay Books went missing. They were believed to have been arrested for publishing books about the private life of Chinese president Xi Jinping.

What is alarming is not only that this violates the “one country, two systems” principle, but also that two of the arrests were extrajudicial arrests. Two of the booksellers, Gui Minhai and Lee Bo, were abducted by Chinese agents in Thailand and Hong Kong, respectively. If China’s legal system improved significantly then it would be possible to discuss an extradition agreement with China. But in reality it has gone from bad to worse.

CWL: The turnout has been so large because even those who can be considered allies of the Hong Kong government do not support the amendment bill. Since 1997, when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule, the Chinese government has been ruling Hong Kong by forging an alliance with the big capitalists and the middle class in Hong Kong. This strategy is understandable because they, as the major beneficiaries of Hong Kong’s capitalist development, are inclined to support the status quo.

But throughout these twenty-two years, the younger middle class, especially professionals, has become quite discontented with the government. While the fear that the relatively liberal lifestyle in Hong Kong is under threat is a major reason, it is undeniable that rising living costs, especially housing, is another factor.

Since 2003, the Chinese government has tried to stabilize this alliance by increasing asset values in Hong Kong. Capital from mainland China is one of the causes of the growth of the property market and the stock market. But this governing strategy has clearly backfired, as it has become increasingly difficult for young people to purchase their own homes. The young middle class and students have become the cornerstone of the opposition forces in Hong Kong.

KL: Alexa, you’ve been at the demonstrations. Can you describe what you have seen? Who are the protesters, and how are the protests organized?

A: The protesters are people from all walks of life, high in spirit and hopeful. There are no longer just young students.

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