In this Aug. 8 file photo, teenager Tony Chung stands in the stairwell where he says police for the new national security unit arrested him. He was charged on Oct. 29 with secession, the first public political figure to be prosecuted under the sweeping new national security law Beijing imposed on the city. (Photo: AFP)
Twelve Hong Kongers are in jail in mainland China, simply because they attempted to escape Hong Kong to find freedom.
A 19-year-old kid, Tony Chung, is now in jail facing serious charges under Hong Kong’s new draconian national security law, simply because he attempted to seek asylum at the United States consulate.
Hong Kong’s youngest-ever elected legislator, Nathan Law, is now its highest-profile exile after he fled the city to pre-empt his own likely arrest as the national security law was imposed.
And now the Hong Kong police have announced a hotline for the public to report national security violations, inviting people to snoop on each other in what many describe as a new Cultural Revolution.
Certainly what was once one of Asia’s most open cities, a hub not just for international finance but for global media and civil society, branded “Asia’s world city”, is morphing day by day into a template from George Orwell’s 1984.
Yet the outcry from the international community at this destruction of Hong Kong’s freedoms has so far been tepid. The United States has imposed targeted sanctions and made regular robust — and welcome — statements, Britain has made a very generous offer of citizenship to Hong Kongers who hold British National Overseas passports, and a few countries have suspended their extradition agreements with Hong Kong since the imposition of the national security law. But given the speed and scale of the dismantling of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy and freedoms under the “one country, two systems” framework, the global response has so far been disappointing.
The same is true of civil society. Apart from the organisation I co-founded three years ago, Hong Kong Watch, a few Hong Kong diaspora groups such as my friends in Stand with Hong Kong and the Washington, DC-based Hong Kong Democratic Council, and occasional statements from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, few other rights groups have shown interest.
True, a social media campaign for the release of the 12 Hong Kongers in a Shenzhen jail has trended on Twitter, with the hashtag #save12hkyouths, gathering support from as diverse a range of figures as climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg, former Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin, Britain’s activist and radio talk show host Maajid Nawaz, former leader of Britain’s Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith, former US presidential candidate Senator Mitt Romney, Italy’s former foreign minister Giulio Terzi and politicians from across Europe to Australia. But it took Hong Kong activist Joey Siu and me to get it going.
Nevertheless, it seems that the harsh truth has not yet sunk in for many — the fact that Hong Kong’s freedoms are gone, Hong Kong is no longer the free, open city it was until recently, and that every single Hong Konger is now in grave danger if they have an opinion that the Chinese Communist Party does not like.
And so what of the movement in Hong Kong? What is the future for the brave, entrepreneurial, ingenious Hong Kongers who, whenever they have the free world’s attention, capture our hearts?
Young and old, they have built one of the most creative, inspiring and courageous movements for freedom and democracy of recent times. Whether it’s the older generation led by Catholics like the father of the democracy movement, barrister Martin Lee, business tycoon Jimmy Lai and his Apple Daily newspaper and Hong Kong’s Emeritus Bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen, the younger generation of the likes of Joshua Wong, or the even younger and more radical protesters who took to the streets last year, they are not going away — and must never be forgotten.
Yet if the movement is to stay alive, it must do three things.
First, it has already had to change tactics.
Although very brave individuals like Jimmy Lai and Joshua Wong continue to be very vocal on social and traditional media, others are lying low. Jimmy and Joshua have calculated that they already face such grave danger that they choose to use their voice while they still can. Both already face numerous charges that could land them with years in prison, and sooner or later the authorities will pounce. With truly extraordinary courage, they are determined to fight.
But those who take a more subtle approach deserve just as much respect. Those who calculate that they are better off staying out of jail, in order to help those who end up in jail, should never be dismissed — theirs is a brave and admirable choice too. They may choose to work with whatever remains of the system, instead of surrendering it entirely to absolute Chinese Communist Party control; they may work behind the scenes so that underground cells of resistance and dissent remain; they may act as channels of information or negotiation for those who are in gravest danger. Or they may choose to go into exile to use their voice to awaken the world. All are needed.
What about the protests, the slogans, the songs we saw until recently?
Under the national security law, so many popular slogans are banned. The movement’s anthem — “Glory to Hong Kong" — is now illegal. But already we see more creative, subtle forms of protest. A student sitting on a subway station platform reading the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily shouldn’t be a remarkable sight — it is an everyday occurrence in a normal, free, open society — but today in Hong Kong it is an act of defiance, provoking the police to cordon off the area. A simple blank piece of paper now in Hong Kong is a dangerous act of dissent.
Second, the movement must unite.
Hong Kong’s democracy movement has long encompassed a spectrum of opinions: pan-democrats who want to try to work within the system, localists who seek anything from the principle of self-determination to outright independence, to those who advocate violence and revolution.
While I have never advocated independence and will never condone violence, if the movement is to have any chance of advancing, it has to unite. That doesn’t mean uniformity. It means unity of spirit. It means accepting that there’s only one enemy — the Chinese Communist Party regime — and all eyes should focus on that one enemy. There’s room in a movement for a diversity of tactics and strategies if people can unite around a common cause.
And the reality is that now, everyone in Hong Kong who cherishes freedom is in danger. There’s no more moderate, traditional, pan-democrat, establishment democrat, localist, self-determinationist, pro-independence. No. If you are for freedom, stick together.
Third, go global.
Hong Kong’s freedom struggle must always be led by Hong Kongers. But as advocacy by Hong Kongers in Hong Kong becomes ever more dangerous under the national security law, and as protests in Hong Kong become impossible, it’s time to take this fight worldwide.
That means the Hong Kong diaspora mobilizing to make its voice heard. And it means every single freedom-loving person in every corner of the world joining the struggle.
For this is no longer just a fight for Hong Kong. It is a fight for freedom itself. And that means it must be fought out not only in Hong Kong but also in every corridor of power in the free world, from Washington, DC to London, from the European Union to the United Nations, from the Vatican to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), from Berlin to Canberra, from Tokyo to Timbuktu, in every parliament, in every newspaper, and on every street corner and every city square in every open society.
As I have often argued, Hong Kong is the frontline in the fight for freedom. If it is allowed to take over Hong Kong with impunity, the Chinese Communist Party regime won’t stop there. Taiwan is in its sights, and the rest of the free world will be next.
So it is in all our interests to mobilize — before it’s too late.
Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, senior analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC). He is the author of six books, including “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church”. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.