China and Hong Kong: David and Goliath Struggle
The UK and Commonwealth should guarantee the citizenship, resettlement rights and right of abode of Hong Kong people in Commonwealth countries.
“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will….In a gentle way, you can shake the world” – Mahatma Gandhi
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Pictures seen throughout the free world of Pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong wearing gas masks and goggles and using umbrellas to shield themselves from batons, pepper sprays, rubber bullets, and tear gas have been making global headlines along with reports that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been massing troops close to the border.
It feels like a wholly disproportionate David and Goliath struggle – although everyone knows how that fight ultimately ended.
It reminds me of how, in 1968, the Soviets sent in their tanks to crush the “Prague Spring” of Alexander Dubček. Twenty years later the Czechs were free of the Soviet yolk and freed from Communism.
If Beijing does give the order for the Red Army to use the kind of force which they used in Tiananmen Square to smash dissent this will signal an end to “one country, two systems”.
It will also cause devastating damage to Hong Kong’s status as an Asian financial hub; lead to a mass exodus of people; elicit a tough international response; and have internal consequences elsewhere in mainland China.
Even without the Red Army, Hong Kong’s police force has been criticised by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet: “Officials can be seen firing tear gas canisters into crowded, enclosed areas and directly at individual protesters on multiple occasions, creating a considerable risk of death or serious injury.” She says that the Hong Kong authorities should “act with restraint, to ensure that the rights of those who are expressing their views peacefully are respected and protected, while ensuring that the response by law enforcement officials to any violence that may take place is proportionate.”
Millions of demonstrators who have taken to the streets have been calling for five key things: the full withdrawal of the extradition bill; the dismissal of charges against arrested protesters; a government retraction of the term “riot”; an independent investigation into police brutality; and universal suffrage.
The failure of the Hong Kong authorities to properly address these concerns has led to two months of continuing protests – with the world’s eighth busiest airport paralysed; the roads and transit system incapacitated and strikes in seven districts across Hong Kong.
The way in which triad gangs have been utilised to quell dissent – and to beat up journalists – further erodes confidence that the independence of law enforcement and how the upholding of the rule of law will be sustained.
Where agents provocateur have infiltrated the protests and incited violence it risks undermining the principle of non-violence which characterised the protests at their outset.
It’s not surprising that when you are violently assaulted with batons and tear gas and when you despair of the failure of the civil authorities to engage in constructive dialogue, that some are driven from reason to unfocused anger. But this must be resisted with Mahatma Gandhi-style patience and forbearance. As he rightly said: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will….In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.
The principle of upholding the principles of non-violent protest, the right to free speech and a belief in the rule of law are the issues that precipitated these protests.
The proposed extradition law would make a mockery of Hong Kong’s judicial system – with its independent judiciary, fair trials, the presumption of innocence, a professional police force and basic human rights.
Instead, it would be displaced by a judicial system which disregards judicial independence and fair trials and which relies on widespread torture, forced and televised confessions, and executions. The rule of law is a corner stone of any free society and Hong Kong people fully understand what is at stake if they let it go.
The international community needs to be equally clear in understanding what is at stake.
Britain’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, should make it clear that every Hong Kong citizen will be given citizenship rights – something I first advocated in the 1980s, as an insurance policy for Hong Kong people, if China defaulted on its commitment to “one country, two systems.”
Mr.Johnson should be talking to Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, and putting Hong Kong onto the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) being held in Rwanda in June 2020.
Commonwealth countries should join with Britain in guaranteeing a second country of abode, along with resettlement and citizenship rights for every Hong Kong citizen.
This would be the best signal that the international community’s free countries could send to Beijing.
It needs to be understood that we will not stand idly by and complacently allow the international treaty which guarantees the rights of Hong Kong people to be destroyed by Tiananmen combat tanks and Red Army militias.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s authorities should stop staring into the abyss, show true leadership, and calmly engage with serious and legitimate concerns.
From The Daily Telegraph: August 14th 2019
The anthems of protesters from Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement to James Russell Lowell Once to Every Time and Nation – composed to contest slavery and sung against the then military junta in South Korea – and the Hallelujah chorus of Hong Kong’s brave citizens contesting attempts to subvert their autonomy and the rule of law.
The protesters in Hong Kong have taken to singing Hallelujah as their unofficial anthem:- https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-48715224
This is reminiscent of the protesters in Seoul who, with great courage, ended the rule of the military junta in South Korea .
During their protests they sung the great nineteenth century hymn composed by the Harvard Law School graduate James Russell Lowell published, a New England poet and campaigner against slavery. It first appeared as a poem in the Boston Courier entitled “Verses Suggested by the Present Crisis”.
The poem was quoted by Martin Luther King in his “We Shall Overcome” speech in 1966 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=130J-FdZDtY) (sung here by Joan Baez: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkNsEH1GD7Q) and appears in both Catholic and Protestant hymnals. It includes these stanzas:
Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide
In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight,
Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And ’tis prosperous to be just;
Then it is the brave man chooses
While the coward stands aside,
May this anthem encourage brave protesters from Hong Kong to Khartoum who are risking their lives defying those who seek to tyrannise them and who remind us never to take our own freedoms for granted.
You can listen to the London Philharmonic Choir singing this great anthem here:
Seoul’s protesters who ended the military dictatorship of South Korea.