We must not forget the Hong Kong 47: Xi Jinping’s tyranny is on display
March 4, 2023
Once the jewel of Asia, Hong Kong seemed to have it all. From international finance to fine fashion, the city was the hub of the region and the gateway to China. Tourists flocked there in their millions to enjoy the shopping and dining, the ferries to Kowloon, the colourful double-decker trams, the funicular railway to Victoria Peak, the roar of the crowd at Happy Valley racecourse and the bustle of the Stanley markets. Hong Kongers were a happy, outward-looking people, proud of their island and their way of life.
In the past few years, that attitude has changed. The Covid restrictions have cast a pall over the island, but something more significant has infected the psyche of the locals. The formerly optimistic and confident people are now more pessimistic about their future and their prospects.
This formerly open city is being transformed rapidly into a police state. Newspapers have been closed down, trade unions wound up, schools instructed to teach communist dogma and religious leaders warned about their preaching. Tens of thousands of people have sought to emigrate, many to the UK. International firms are moving elsewhere. A campaign has been launched to attract people to visit the island where face masks are still mandatory. Many elected legislators have been jailed and Hong Kong is run by a former security chief who has been sanctioned by the US and is being investigated under Magnitsky legislation in Europe.
The transformation from free society to closed state is highlighted by the trial of 47 pro-democracy campaigners now underway in Hong Kong. Charged under Beijing’s vague and wide-ranging national security laws, the 47 face the prospect of life imprisonment. They include lawyers, journalists, trade union officials and academics. Most are mild-mannered professionals who have neither been near a picket line nor involved in a protest.
Their ‘crime’? Organising a pro-democracy group to contest seats in the 2020 elections. The group organised pre-selections and indicated their stance against government legislation. These actions, common in democracies, were deemed a threat to national security in Hong Kong! In Australia, the process of determining a party’s candidate is a ‘pre-selection’; in the US they are known as ‘primaries’. These processes are a common and important part of the operation of democracy. But in Beijing, they are an assault on the one-party state and a threat to national security.
Of the 55 people arrested in January 2021, 47 remain in jail. A few were released on bail and their passports confiscated.
The trial indicates how much Beijing has abandoned its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the international treaty registered with the United Nations. It also indicates starkly how Hong Kong’s Basic Law, with its protections for basic freedoms, the rule of law and the autonomy of the region has been dispensed with by the CCP.
It is ironical that while these pro-democracy candidates were in jail, the Chinese Communist party’s media outlet the Global Times published an op-ed by Liu Dongchao, a professor at the Party School of the CCP Central Committee, in which he outlined the benefits of China’s so-called ‘whole-process people’s democracy’. It is a model, he claimed, that had been formed at the grassroot of the Chinese nation: ‘It is democracy in its broadest, most genuine, and most effective form.’
‘Whole-process people’s democracy and US-style democracy are different in class attributes. The first is people-centred and devoted to serving the Chinese people at all levels and of all ethnic groups, while the second, by nature, is monopolistic bourgeois democracy – democracy of a few people and groups.’
US-style democracy is costly and wasteful of resources, Liu claimed, and can lead to stalemates. ‘In stark contrast, whole-process people’s democracy is highly efficient. Its operating mechanisms can rapidly and efficiently incorporate the will of the Party, the State and/or the people in policies to improve governance quality and capability.’
‘Also, whole-process people’s democracy reflects the will and opinions of people from all walks of life, all ethnic groups and all parties. But US-style democracy has much content that is anti-democracy or non-democratic because it serves a few. Worse, the export of US-style democracy to other countries has caused many disasters. That’s why many criticise US-style democracy, saying it is discriminatory and hypocritical. People who cannot see the serious drawbacks of US-style democracy are prejudiced. And those who refuse to acknowledge that, compared with US-style democracy, whole-process people’s democracy is a new and more advanced form of democracy have a hidden agenda of smearing China despite facts to the contrary.’
The irony is no doubt lost on the CCP ideologues, but the people of Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet and many of those protesting on the mainland in the past year know that China is not a democracy. A system which denies 90 per cent of the population even a basic vote is authoritarian. As the former Czech president Václav Havel, once a prisoner of a totalitarian regime, observed, the ‘pseudo-authority of a dictator’ is no genuine authority at all. This is why any threat to the existence of the CCP must be eliminated lest it engender growing support in a country facing an increasing number of challenging issues including an ageing population, an unstable property bubble, an uneven economy and a world increasingly resistant to its naked aggression.
The Chinese regime wants the world to forget about its appalling human rights record, its disdain for the rule of law both domestically and internationally, and its blatant disregard for the agreements it has entered.
It has issued a 12-point peace plan for the conflict in Ukraine that is more about insuring against criticism and retaliation should it invade Taiwan than securing peace in eastern Europe.
The trial of the 47 people in Hong Kong should remain the focus of international attention including diplomatic observation to maintain the spotlight on the CCP.