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Chinese people protesting the proposed extradition law in Hong Kong and the repression of protests there by the authorities were outnumbered, out-coloured and out-sung by their Chinese opponents in O’Connell Street on Saturday 31st August. However the counter-protesters gave the impression of having been mobilised through the Chinese Embassy.
Those protesting the proposed Hong Kong legislation outside the GPO seemed somewhat cowed by the counter-protesters facing them in the central pedestrian reservation. The former had some printed placards while their opponents had a massive banner bearing the legend “We Love Hong Hong”. They also had an effective public address system and a cheer-leader with a microphone and every now and again he got the whole crowd to burst into some Chinese song. Their numbers and coordination made one think of the cast of the film version of the Chinese revolutionary opera “The East Is Red.”
I chanced upon the protest by accident, cycling up O’Connell Street, not having heard about it in advance. As I neared to take a photo, I noted that among the Chinese protesting about Hong Kong, there were some placards of the People Before Profit organisation and some familiar faces.
Upon commenting to their leader that they had been outsung (a flippant comment, I’ll admit), he told me that those protesting about events in Hong Kong had felt apprehensive and had asked for solidarity. He commented to me that he would “always support people struggling for democracy, against extradition” etc. Perhaps – but I don’t recall seeing him (or most of his party) on pickets calling for civil rights for Irish Republicans or against their extradition from the Irish state to British administration.
I don’t believe for one minute he and his party prefer Chinese to Irish people but I do think they are much readier to take up cases of injustice where the target is not either the Irish or the British state. Which is curious for an organisation that declares a revolution in Ireland to be necessary.
SOME HONG KONG BACKGROUND
Hong Kong has a population of around 7,300,000, which includes many who are not nationals. It is a port city of 1,104 sq. Kilometres (426 sq. Miles) and one of the most densely-populated areas in the world.
Hong Kong was occupied by the British in 1812 after they beat the Chinese in the First Opium War, fought by the British in support of their right to sell opium through Chinese ports to the Chinese, which the Emperor unreasonably thought was destroying the Chinese aristocracy and administrative classes.
The British extended their territorial base in Hong Kong to Kowloon in 1860 after beating the Chinese again in the Second Opium War (there were still unreasonable Chinese who didn’t want the British selling opium to them). From 1898 the British ran Hong Kong on the ‘legal’ basis of a 99-year lease (which actually, the British forced the Chinese to grant them) which ran out in 1997. In 1941 the British surrendered Hong Kong to Imperial Japanese forces which remained there until 1945, after which the British took it over again.
The Chinese Emperor having long gone by 1997 and the Taiwan western-supported authorities having no legitimate or believable claim, once the lease ran out, Hong Kong reverted to the main Chinese authorities, i.e the Government of China. Unfortunately for the Hong Kong people, that is the People’s Republic of China which, though flaunting communist symbols, has long ago ceased to be any kind of Communist regime but is not a capitalist democracy either.
However, under arrangements made when the British lease expired, Hong Kong maintains separate governing and economic systems from those of mainland China, expressed in the phrase “one country, two systems.”
Headlines in the leaflet being distributed by the Hong Kong protesters in Dublin declared that the fight is about democracy and democratic rights. Many media commentators agree with them. Some even talk about restoring democracy to that region.
In fact, Hong Kong has never had democracy. Before Britain annexed it, the port city was run by officials appointed by the Chinese Emperor. After the British took it over, not only was there no democracy for Chinese working people but the administration was openly racist and some “public” areas there declared that no Chinese were permitted entry. In 1925, British troops and police opened fire to suppress a dock strike and demonstrations in Shanghail resulting in over 60 killed in two separate incidents. The resistance spread to Hong Kong and the port was also boycotted, which cost the British dearly.
Even in modern times, the Hong Kong administration was known to be highly corrupt and the special anti-corruption police squad became known as “the graveyard of corruption complaints”, for that is where the allegations and complaints were buried by those supposedly investigating them.
In 1967 Leftist demonstrations grew out of a strike and became wide-scale riots when Hong Kong Police moved to brutally repress them and many of the demonstrators’ leaders were arrested.
In 2013 a dockers’ strike in Hong Kong fought a hard battle against shipping transport companies for 40 days, out of which they emerged victorious. The working conditions that came to light during the struggle revealed aspects that organised workers would not accept in any capitalist democracy or even in some dictatorships.
The present Hong Kong authorities seem to have come to an arrangement with the mainland Chinese Government, since Carrie Law, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, introduced the bill which has sparked three months of protest. Under the provisions of this bill, an alleged lawbreaker in Hong Kong could be extradited to mainland China. When people protested in Hong Kong, the authorities sent their police to beat up the protesters and to arrest them, just as the British used to do in the old days.
And the laws that are being used to attack and jail demonstrators are exactly the same ones that have been in force for decades in British Hong Kong, as the Financial Times points out, although it suggests they were OK under the British but are “outdated now” (see References)!
The opposition to the bill has seen demonstrations, occupations and strikes. On 5 August, there was a strike, this time successful, with the airport and flight industry employees playing a prominent role. The Communist Party of China is now asking for the list of Cathay Pacific employees who went on strike but the union won’t release the list. Estimates of participation in the strike vary between 300,000 and 400,000 people.
Airport public areas have also been occupied en masse which of course hits tourism and personal contact business, along with some exports and imports. On 12 August, another huge occupation of the airport brought about a threatening response from the PRC State; it sent about 10,000 armed police to the border with Hong Kong.
Carrie Law recently stated that she has withdrawn the bill which satisfies one of the demands of demonstrators but another four have been put forward:
“Retract the classification of the protests as ‘riot’ ” (presumably with legal consequences)
“Appointment of an independent commission to inquire into the excessive violence used by the police in the protests”
“Dropping charges against demonstrators” (but what about those already jailed?)
“Implement a Dual Universal suffrage to elect a truly democratic government”
WHO OR WHAT SHOULD WE SUPPORT?
As in many of these types of struggles there are likely to be a number of elements involved among the demonstrators and strikers, including leftists, basic democrats, anti-communists (even fascists) and pro-western imperialists.
I do not see any reason to defend the current or past administration of Hong Kong – quite the contrary. Nor do I see any reason to defend the Chinese State administration which has lost all content of communism it once had and in which only some of its form survives. As far as democracy goes, the People’s Republic of China has suppressed demonstrations against corruption or by defenders of their environment, as well as hundreds of strikes and sent tanks to suppress a demonstration in Tienamen Square, resulting in an unknown number of dead, injured and jailed. On the other hand, Hong Kong is not even a bourgeois — to say nothing of a workers’ – democracy as is shown at present and in its past.
It is natural that people in Hong Kong would not want to be extradited to the PRC and it seems to me that resistance to that is worthy of support along with in general the other four demands (although what “independent commission” to enquire into “excessive violence by police” can be appointed in this setup?). But the fundamental problem is that working people in Hong Kong do not control the fruits of their labour and the granting of not even all of the five demands can possibly change that. Where workers are in that situation, their rulers will alway keep repressive measures on hand for use whenever they feel the need to employ them.
Clearly the solution is not for the intervention of the USA or any other imperialist state either.
Therefore what I think we should support most is the mobilisation of the working people for socialist revolution and their participation in these current struggles will educate them as well as giving their most class-conscious elements the opportunity to enhance that education and, necessarily, organisation.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER INFORMATION
1925 strike, massacres and boycott: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canton%E2%80%93Hong_Kong_strike
1967 anti-British rule demonstrations (somewhat biased): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong_1967_leftist_riots
Hong Kong repressive legislation is from the British: https://www.ft.com/content/d66d69aa-6ef4-11e8-8863-a9bb262c5f53
Hong Kong Dock Strike 2013: https://www.ft.com/content/80a0d4ea-ae46-11e2-bdfd-00144feabdc0
Hong Kong Police and the demonstrations: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/09/hong-kong-police-lost-trust/597205/
History of corruption in Hong Kong Police: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lui_Lok