Former lawmaker and barrister Martin Lee leaves West Kowloon court in Hong Kong on April 1 after being found guilty of organizing an unauthorized assembly on Aug. 18, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
The conviction of seven pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong last week can only count as a pyrrhic victory for Beijing and its “patriots” who are now demanding loyalty as they assert total control over the territory following the passage of new security laws.
Among those found guilty were Martin Lee, often referred to as the “father of democracy” in Hong Kong, and Catholic media tycoon Jimmy Lai.
They were convicted alongside fellow activists Albert Ho, Leung “Long Hair” Kwok-hung, Lee Cheuk-yan, Cyd Ho and Margaret Ng for their involvement in a protest held on Aug. 18, 2019. Sentencing is yet to be announced.
On that day 1.7 million people marched through Hong Kong protesting a proposed bill that would have enabled criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.
Lee, a soft-spoken and highly respected man, is a prominent activist who led the pro-democracy camp in the lead-up to the 1997 handover of the former British colony to Chinese rule when Beijing agreed to 50 years of Hong Kong self-rule under the Basic Law.
Supporters gathered last week outside West Kowloon court shouting “Five demands, not one less,” in reference to demands by pro-democracy supporters that include amnesties for arrested protesters and universal suffrage.
But Lee's conviction always seemed assured. Just three days after the 2019 protest, Xinhua, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), accused the 82-year-old of colluding with Lai and his media company to publish a mix of distorted propaganda.
The headline — "Martin Lee's hypocrisy and obsession with stirring up chaos in Hong Kong" — was a clear indication of what was to come.
“For a long time, Lee has been in close contact with Sinophobia figures in the United States and the United Kingdom, begging and helping Western countries to meddle in Hong Kong affairs and interfere in China’s internal affairs,” the article said.
Lee and his peers had been singled out from more than 1.7 million people by Xinhua. Prosecutors then secured their convictions for “unlawful assembly” barely a week after new laws were passed to ensure only “patriots” can represent Hong Kong in public office.
As the Democratic Party noted, it is a “very strange” set of circumstances when an administrative branch of government has the power to decide who runs for public office in a legislative election.
However, some who say they are championing the middle, pragmatic ground are hopeful that the latest use of the communist playbook in Beijing should mean the worst is over for Hong Kong.
This was a point made by Michael Tien, one of the few pro-establishment lawmakers willing to criticize the government.
“Why would they need any tighter [control]? They got a national security bill, they have an election system where there is a qualification review committee and a nominating process going on. What else do they want?” Tien told the Hong Kong Free Press.
He said that in the current system people like him are the “voices of reason” but are in a difficult position because the public believe politicians and activists are either on the extreme right or the extreme left.
“I honestly, hand on heart, feel that’s what Beijing wants — they don’t want the extreme left and the extreme right,” Tien said. “They want the very diehard pro-Beijing and the more centrist patriots.”
But such a middle ground is difficult to find.
Xinhua tried to be pithy, ending its op-ed on Lee with: “As an old Chinese saying goes, 'those who are busy with wrongdoings will end with self-destruction.' The same warning, undoubtedly, applies to Martin Lee.”
As the CCP's official news agency, Xinhua is adept at mixing Chinese proverbs with its communist, one-party state agenda. It is the type of jargon often used to justify the bloody crackdowns on its own people while serving as a warning to others.
That includes the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square, Uyghurs held in detention camps and its long-running contempt for Hong Kongers who simply wanted Beijing to live up to the promises it made before assuming control of the territory.
And if such warnings can apply to an elderly, retired lawmaker like Martin Lee, who marched peacefully alongside a third of Hong Kong’s population, then every citizen who simply says “I don’t like this about my government” is a target for prosecution.
In other words, Tien was at least half-right; Beijing has exactly what it wants.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.