What a difference a week makes. Sunday, June 9, saw 1 million citizens – one out of seven people here in Hong Kong – turn out in the streets to tell their government not to pass a new extradition amendment that would see Hong Kong sending “fugitives” wanted by Beijing to the mainland for trial and imprisonment. Yet, as the crowd grew, as people realized their numbers, June 9 was a day more marked by hope than defiance.
Defiance would arrive two days later on the night of June 11, a day before our pro-Beijing government planned to ram through the amendment in abbreviated sessions. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, and the primary backer of the hated amendment refused any compromise and set the stage for a nasty confrontation on the streets. As one retired police superintendent said to me, “Fuel poured, match lit.”
Over 50,000 Hong Konger’s took to the streets late on June 11 to surround the Legislative Council. If legislators couldn’t get in, they could not vote. The police disagreed with that logic and for nearly 30 hours tens of thousands of demonstrators engaged the police in running street battles, complete with rubber bullets, tear gas, and in true Hong Kong style, umbrella led barricade charges.
In the United States, in would come the National Guard to assist the police. Over here, things are not quite the same. We and many others had one question, a question we have asked from time to time for over 20 years, “Where was the People’s Liberation Army?”
Since 1997 it’s always been a struggle for Hong Kong to deal with the Chinese Communist Party. Yet until the arrival of President Xi in November of 2012, the leaders of the PRC were more moderate in what they demanded of Hong Kong in terms of national security.
All changed with the arrival of Xi. In America, people think communism dead and discredited, not least because they see all these communist nations embrace markets and trade. But communism has always been more about Lenin than Marx, i.e., more about power than markets. Xi understands that. And his actions in Hong Kong are of a piece with his many other suppressive acts of power, from the mass incarceration of the Uighurs and the tearing down of Christian churches, to the kidnapping of critics in foreign lands to be brought to the mainland for detention, to his muscle-flexing of the Chinese military in the South China Sea.
Hong Kong simply cannot survive the CCP’s justice system. Its level of corruption and use as a means to political ends are incompatible with a modern financial center. The business community knows that if China can have people in Hong Kong extradited, no businessman – or business – is safe from extortion.
Which brings us to the end of the week, Saturday, June 15. After two days of licking their wounds and consulting with Beijing, the Hong Kong government shelved the extradition amendment, effectively removing it from consideration for the next year. In other words, the people of Hong Kong won.
But here’s where Hong Kong is really amazing. To start this week off, Sunday, June 16, the Hong Kong people wanted to let Beijing know, the Hong Kong government had the message by now, that we are just fine here in our one-country two-systems arrangement from 1997.
Eight days past 1 million people went into the streets of Hong Kong to fight a change in the law that would cost them freedom. Six days ago Hong Kong youth engaged the police, risked a PLA intervention, to battle on the streets of Hong Kong for their freedom. Sunday, June 16, nearly two million, almost double the number of June 9, marched again.
Years ago newspaperman Tsang Ki-fan wrote of the genius of Hong Kong this way not long before he died. “This is the only Chinese society that, for a brief span of 100 years, lived through an ideal never realized at any time in the history of Chinese societies – a time when no man had to live in fear of the midnight knock on the door.”
Trust me, they will march every weekend if it keeps the Chinese Communist Party away from their door.