28 February, 2024


Protecting Freedom In Hong Kong

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Reckless militants and concealed influences threaten HK’s autonomy: Protecting freedom in Hong Kong

Canton (or Guangzhou; I use the names interchangeably as contextually appropriate) is the cradle of the Chinese democratic revolution, the place where the 1898 anti-feudal movement against warlords originated and the centre of the Guangzhou failed 29 March (new style 27 April) 1911 Second-Uprising which sparked off a wave that by December overthrew the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911) to create a republic that struggled and survived till the communist victory in October 1949. Canton Province (Guangdong) was the birthplace of Kang Youwei (1858-1927) a constitutional monarchist who inspired the reform movement, of Dr Sun Yat Sen (1866-1925) called the “Father of the Nation” even in Communist China and other notables. Sun’s three principles; nationalism (no foreign domination), people’s rights (democracy) and livelihood (economic justice) is the high-point of what in the jargon is called the bourgeois-democratic revolution. 

The previous First-Uprising of 1895 was planned in Hong Kong. Yeung Ku-wan (1861-1901), an early Chinese revolutionary, formed the Furen Literary Society to establish a republic in China and plotted with Dr Sun to launch an uprising in Guangzhou. The purpose of these few initial words (my ever faithful Hong Kong team produced reams but I could select only a little) is to press home the point that although Guangzhou, Guangdong Province and Hong Kong at the province’s tip played only a limited role (e.g. Peasants and Workers Soviet of 1927) in the communist revolution, Canton was the intellectual epicentre and all three were organising foci of the forerunner democratic revolution in China. This is not to minimise the importance of other numerous widely distributed revolutionary centres and activities in China.

It is germane to ponder why Canton was the cradle of China’s democratic, anti-feudal and anti-warlord movement and the home of the aspiration to unify new-China on republican foundations. The eastern seaboard was occupied and fortified by colonial occupiers who would have brooked no challenge. The centre and north of the country were in the grip of an intolerant Empire or partitioned between warlords; modernism, political radicalism or republicanism would have meant harsh penalty. The far south was at arm’s length, adjacent Hong Kong was a window into the world and to Tokyo where much coordination was done.  The people of Guangdong (Cantonese) though Han Chinese are a bit different from the rest. Canton via Hong Kong was the avenue to modernism that republican and revolutionary leaders trod. Sun himself was educated at HK University’s medical school. The tree of openness flourished here, green in the midst of a then barren savanna of Chinese deadwood. Its frank and uninhibited pursuit of extreme laissez-faire capitalism watered that tree for a century and a half.  

With Guangzhou’s next generation
(Background: Fang Zhimin organiser of peasants against warlords)
Source: Personal photo 3 July 2019

There is also good reason why I chose ‘freedom’ and not ‘democracy’ for my title. It starts with a little story. At the time I came to HK I had two job offers; one from the National University of Singapore and another from the then HK Polytechnic, now Polytechnic University. But I was declared a prohibited immigrant by the sovereign Government of Singapore and ended up in the Crown Colony. The first thing friends who knew my political proclivities said was: “Kumar you are damn lucky, had you gone to Singapore you would have been in the lockup or deported within a month. In Singapore they have democracy” they added “but no freedom; in Hong Kong we have freedom, but not formal democracy”. Those who know both places will appreciate the point.

The protest rallies in HK in recent weeks, estimated by organisers at over one million (but much smaller) do not seek independence; secession is not their goal, Taiwan not their model. The demand is preservation of HK’s freedoms as promised at the handover in 1997 in the ‘One country two systems’ motto, and formalised in the Basic Law (HK’s mini constitution). People want to stop Beijing’s creeping encroachment. There is unease that Beijing undermined a promise of universal suffrage to elect their own leaders that most assumed had been given. There have been four or five abductions of critics of the PRC. The Hong Kongers among them returned a few weeks later duly chastened and lips sealed. Fifteen years ago the Hong Kong Government (HKG) attempted to ram through “Article 23”, a strong anti-sedition law, but was beaten back by mass protests like the present wave. People discern a systematic attempt at encroachment of freedoms and rights; they are not willing to surrender and are fighting back.

The peril of the proposed extradition bill is that people accused of serious crimes in China can be extradited to stand trial there. But HK people have no confidence in China’s courts and its legal system. There is anxiety of extradition for criticising PRC leaders. Despite three decades of stellar economic performance like nowhere else in the world, the control freaks in Beijing are paranoid about free elections and democracy. Anywhere else in the world with such an economic report-card a government would be cruising to landslide election victory time after time. Why then are these leaders fearful of their own shadow? Because totalitarianism ensures a safe haven for individual leaders while the paraphernalia of democracy protects a system if it is delivering the goods, but individual leaders are dispensable. Totalitarianism’s task in China is not to safeguard the “socialist market economy” but rather to protect the top echelon and ensure its longevity in power. Xi Jinping has gone so far as to lift the two-term limit, as Mahinda Rajapaksa did, and his intentions are all too familiar.

The downside of the protest movement is that mobs, not all students, rioted, broke into the Legco Chamber on the night of 1-2 July, trashed furniture, vandalised computers, defaced the Hong Kong logo above the Speaker’s Podium and unfurled the Union Jack to show their mind-set. Hereafter, I will refer to this two thousand strong mob, almost all in their twenties as ‘militants’. It is no secret that there were triad (gang or mob) affiliates among the rioters. The next day (3 July) I went across the border to Guangzhou to visit museums and sites of the early democratic revolutionary movement. I have been aware of the importance of the city in the democratic revolution but what had happened the night before lent perspective. 

The shame of it was that the huge rallies of previous weeks demanding withdrawal of the extradition bill had worked. Anger was intense and Chief Executive Carrie Lam had been forced to suspend the bill and promise to let it die at the end of the current legislative term. But the militants’ violence drew local and global attention away from the fruitfulness of disciplined mass protest and focussed it on rowdiness. The government delayed using tear-gas to disperse the mob on July 1-2 night quoting previous allegations that police intervention had been too harsh. It allowed all the world’s TV cameras to show what kind of people the militants were.  

The fallout of public opinion has been complex. Everyone voices opposition to violence but there is a strong current of sympathy if not support in some social classes for the militants. HK’s pro-democracy movement is divided. Some say vandalism has damaged their cause; others bend over with defences such as “peaceful protests were getting nowhere” and “only violence will force Carrie Lam out, avert prosecution of militants and get the bill withdrawn”. Good and bad in parts like a curate’s egg! These demands have little to do with real motives. If the militants win these demands they will think up others. Last week Carrie Lam pronounced “the extradition bill dead”, so the protesters are now quibbling about pedantic semantics. We want “withdraw”, it is better than “dead”! Militants have made a strategic decision to confront HKG and Beijing and to precipitate a prolonged stand-off. 

On Friday (5 July) hundreds of “mothers” of militants demonstrated in support of their “sons and daughters”. Nobody is sure who these ladies are; it is suspicious how they came to be organised. Some protests seem to be coordinated in ways that are not readily visible. It is alleged that there is foreign money lubricating some activities. Well-known newspapers in the West carried large adverts in support of the 1 July rally prior to the event – who paid? Foreign money and logistical advice have rolled in; the militants seem well resourced. 

Throughout that fateful night I followed Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN and it was obvious that they and all their HK based anchors were minimising and justifying violence. To imagine that Hong Kong can be wrested away from China is crackpot; so meddlesome foreign influences must be seeking to embarrass Beijing in the new cold-war and international media is egging them on. The truth about foreign incitement and money is murky; the truth may never come out in full. What is sure is that Hong Kong society is divided as I have never seen before. As a perceptive friend put it “HK traditionally has had a high threshold against violence; that barrier has collapsed”.

The organisational skill displayed by the militants in using technology and adapting social media on a mass scale for rapid deployment and redirection of manpower was impressive. This has been analysed at length in the local and international media. Their strategy kept leaders, committees and command structures out of view making it difficult for the police to arrest and prosecute ring-leaders. From my background in left-party political organisations I am certain this is not a leaderless mass spontaneous outburst; on the contrary it was well coordinated, organised and executed. Even the retreat when the police eventually moved in at midnight July 1-2 was precision coordinated by mobile communications. 

I have visited all the continents of the world, lived in four of them, in seven places spread far apart. My affection for the freedoms and openness of Hong Kong has grown. It can boast the best public transport system in the world, its restaurants serve excellent fare, and its duty-free imports glory in access to the finest old-world and new-world wines. The anxiety experienced by Hong Kong people is justified; its freedoms must be protected from intrusion by the control freaks in Beijing; its openness must be defended against concealed influences and reckless militants.  

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Latest comments

  • 2

    I agree with need to support freedom not just in HK but anywhere.
    But to understand events in HK, one should also probe into the history of democracy and its defence in HK.
    Was there democracy in the 1960s or 1970s? I remember mass protests in 1967-68.
    When did Mrs Thatcher wake up to the need to democratise HK?
    Had China chosen to let the British have HK, would HK have had democracy? Would it have prospered without prosperity in China?

    • 2

      Kumar David

      Please remember Stalin, USSR, Mao, China, Pol Pot, Castro, Cuba, Enver Hoxha, Albania, Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania, ……………… are democrats or democratic countries as long as they profess to practice Marxism/Maoism, as championed by SJ.

      China could do no wrong.
      Tibet was democratically acceded its sovereignty to China while Sikkim was forced to relinquish its freedom and sovereignty to India.

      India is illegally occupying Kashmir while China democratically administer part of Arunachala Pradesh… and Aksai Chin, …… .

      • 1

        Sir, please remember that the best model in the whole world for democracy and freedom of expression is the Sinhalese Buddhist island of Sri Lanka, where even Kalaveddahs have the freedom to comment what they like.

        • 2

          edwin rodrigo Necro

          Being a Necrophilia you prefer a dead Civet to live one.

          “Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.”

          – Mark Twain

  • 1

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 0

    If TRUMP read this Kumar David’s article, he would ask to publish it in CNN or in FOX

  • 2

    Kumar David neglects to say that during the 99-year British occupation of Hong Kong, no demonstrations or talk of democracy was permitted. The Brits left very, very reluctantly, with the British government and HK governor Chris Patten shedding crocodile tears. Since then, Britain has done all it can to sabotage HK’s governance. In HK there are diehard British supporters who long for the old days and now cultivate and encourage gullible youth to break into the HK parliament and hoist the British Union Jack. Such actions are highlighted and applauded by the British press and those colonial lackey who still will tell you that the British times were best. The HK government is exhibiting remarkable restraint by not cracking the heads of those young hooligans and throwing them into jail.

    • 1

      Same applies to Sri Lanka.
      British times were best.
      Then came “independence”, DS’s biased state etc., etc.,
      SWRDB ‘improved’ on it and got killed.
      The corrupt power hungry ‘patriots’ are now fighting for pieces of the ‘freedom pie’.

  • 0

    Thank you Kumar David for your mite towards {“Protecting Freedom In Hong Kong”}
    Please take a few more lesson on rendering the anthem.
    Was it Comrade Colvin R de Silva who said famously “… The Sun never sets on the British Empire: “That’s because God does not trust the British in the dark”…..”.

    • 1

      K. P.,
      Empire where sun never set is long gone. However, had not for that empire, Lankans would still be shedding blood fighting against feudal demanding British type democratic Gvt system. Therefore, Colvin was certainly wrong to say that God never trusted UK in the dark. Democracy as well as modern science came not only to most part of the world but also to UK as well from struggles against feudalism in UK itself.
      In any case, whatever the history of Hong Kong democracy, it is now becoming the showcase of Chinese intolerance of democracy we take for granted. Where ever China seeks relationship of any sort with other developing nations, this rotten smell of China’s displeasure for HR & freedom of speech can be detected. SL also experienced the same between 2005 & 2015.
      I call China’s development model “animal farm economy” where everybody & everything is controlled by an elite group of people. Marx’s vision of communist party is now totally inverted into a scheme of retaining power among the hand of few elites. I don’t deny its contribution to the rapid economic development but the progress destroyed many millions of innocent lives probably surpassing the Nazi record in many folds. N Korea is even worse!
      I don’t think we should ever underestimate this threat ever for any reason.

  • 1

    Thanks Prof. Kumar. Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore are living examples of where China would be now if the curse of the communism didn’t spread its dark wing on the mainland. BRI is a master disaster of China’s communist economic planning. As still developing country china has still has lot of cash. But when it reaches saturation, extremely careful state planning is needed. We have seen how Japan fell into deep well, because Japanese Banks were under the control of its Ministry of International Trade and Industry. That kind of fall is nothing new to capitalistic market. But when an economy had climbed on Papaya, it is hard to avoid serious hurt when the fall takes place. 2008-2009 Western Banks recovered in noticeable time frame because Banks’ debit side had reasonable internal property value but were not collectable for to avoid a bank run. The theory behind there is, the loans were valued by private sector. But the debtors were selected by unscrupulous salesmen. That was not the case of Japanese banks when they failed. They lent based on Ministry’s consultation. Borrowing corporation exceeded market saturation on demand for products.

    Chinese problem is it is not creating values in its BRI investments. That was the case of Bangladesh, Lankawe, Myanmar……This is double jeopardy. The country which is buying these contracts is not getting anything other than loss making white elephants. On China’s side the loan money is thrown on fictitious assets. In case either if China or the borrower faces liquidity tight, the loans turns out to be bad credits; Banks debit side is only “Aathilai Karaycha Puli” (The salt thrown in the river water). For the time being China took over Hangbangtota Harbor. We yet to see the breakeven for that to China. If China’s BRI goes like that, it will be a disaster to the whole world. Already UN has warned China to make very fundamental changes to BRI, so the recipients too can reap some benefits, instead of being robbed.

    • 0

      “Aathilai Karaycha Puli”
      Puli can mean tiger, sour, tamarind etc.
      Salt? Can you advise me on the dictionary you use.
      The rest is about as original as this bit.

      • 0

        “Aathilai Karaycha Puli”
        பியுலி(Puli) is a transliteration word, which has no meaning in English or Tamil.
        கறேச transliteration (Karaycha) means Dissolved
        எறிந்த. means Thrown
        புலி – Is Tiger
        புளி – Sour taste
        பழப்புளி – Tamarind
        உப்பு – Salt.

        What is this has to do with any dictionary? Which of my sentence in the comment is saying that I was trying to translate any one of the above words, anyway? Why are you calling for dictionary to hide your inherent inability of that you cannot understand any writing in CT, which is at a level for English educated crowd? What good can a dictionary do for you? The problem is the Kovil Brahmin’s Kairacy (don’t ask again dictionary for this), who started அ, ஆ, இ…… (A, AA, E…. Don’t blame the translation, it is 100% perfect) for you. The very start has gone wrong with you. Find out a nursery to start everything all over again.
        Stupid Comedian!

  • 1

    I refer to the quote “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. Clearly the Hong Kongers also called as Hongkies have taken note of that and acted on it. Do you think that the Chief Executive of Hong Kong has the “freedom” from Beijing to declare a program of action dead without its consent? I don’t think so. Beijing knows how to win a fight. In doing so it knows to take one step backwards to take two steps forward. When Hong Kong was under the British, a warrant of arrest issued by British courts were executable in Hong Kong. Why not warrant of arrest issued by China be executable in Hong Kong? The question is meaningless in the Chinese context as the law enforcement, particularly the criminal law, is mainly pivoted around the provincial government although the entire police of China is one, other than that of Hong Kong and Macau. So it appears that an extradition law is necessary for the extradition from one area in China to another. Hongkies saw an extradition bill applicable in Hong Kong is a means to stop dissent there. China saw it best not to upset the apple cart at this stage and took a step backwards. The several steps forward that it would take in the future is not known. The historical anecdotes as revealed by Prof Kum is read with thanks. From now on Prof. Kum too would be a noted individual there as he has the right of permanent abode.

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