‘Defying social distancing measures, the people of Hong Kong are now back on the streets, railing against Beijing’s underhanded tactics.’
IT came, as they say, like a thief in the night.
In the midst of the global pandemic, Beijing announced its intention to bypass Hong Kong’s legislature in order to enact what is branded as a national security legislation—a law that will cover the crimes of secession, sedition, terrorism, and foreign interference in Hong Kong. The move is largely seen by observers as a tool to crack down on dissent and pro-democracy efforts in Hong Kong, which exists as a special administrative region of China. It lays waste to the concept of “one country, two systems” which has effectively governed Hong Kong’s relationship with China since the handover from the British in 1997, and will allow China’s Ministry of State Security to operate in Hong Kong’s jurisdiction.
It’s not the first time that China has tried to flex its authority over Hong Kong. Recall that the massive protest movement which erupted last July was rooted in the filing of an extradition law, which would enable Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to countries with no existing extradition treaties or agreements with its government, raising fears that Hongkongers could be extradited to China on trumped-up charges in order to silence or punish them. Eventually, the bill was tabled, but the situation had escalated so greatly that the protests continued well after—and in staggering numbers. “Five demands, not one less” became their battle cry.
Hongkongers reacted the same way when the Hong Kong legislature tried to introduce a similar national security law back in July 2003. With more than half a million people turning up on the streets to protest, lawmakers had no choice but to shelve the proposal. Pro-Beijing legislators have made noises about resurrecting the proposal from time to time, but no clear efforts were made to make it a reality. Until now, that is.
Perhaps what is more appalling now is that China has chosen to make its move while the world is steeped in a global pandemic brought by COVID-19. The strategists in Beijing must have assumed that the action would pass unnoticed and uncontested, safe in the assumption that people would not risk their and their family’s health by going out to the streets to protest. In the nascent age of social distancing, such gatherings are deemed unsafe and could potentially accelerate the rate of transmission in the locality.
But boy, was Beijing wrong.
Defying social distancing measures, the people of Hong Kong are now back on the streets, railing against Beijing’s underhanded tactics. The Washington Post reports that tens of thousands of people have come out against China’s proposal, which has been met with opposition not just from Hong Kong but from other countries as well. The US has threatened sanctions against China if it insists on moving against Hong Kong’s autonomy. I can’t help but be on edge when I see images from the current protests on the news, a by-product of living under threat of COVID-19.
I’m sure the protesters know full well the risk they are facing now, not just from tear gas or rubber bullets, but from contracting the virus. Make no mistake about it, they know it too—except that what is at stake is far too important to leave to silence. It’s a true rock and a hard place situation for Hongkongers now: stay at home in order to avoid contracting the virus and find other ways of protest, or go out and risk their health in order to protect their freedom. To do either may have consequences for its people, but it is apparent that they have made their choice.
Hong Kong has chosen to fight.