Letters from leaders of Hong Kong's political parties and government departments.
Dear Chi Ho,
It is already mid-October, but the cool breeze that usually ushers in autumn has yet to come. The scorching summer heat lingers on, much like the conflicts and controversies surrounding the anti-extradition. What began as peaceful demonstrations have become increasingly violent as the police continue to ramp up their repressive tactics, and the Hong Kong and Central Governments continue to turn a blind eye to protestors’ demands. Recently, protestors’ demands have increased from five to six–- the latest addition being “disbanding the police force”. People have grown disillusioned by the police’s brutal acts and controversial behaviors over the past few months, and mistrust seems to grow day by day. Many Hongkongers have become helpless and frustrated as they witnessed month after month through live broadcasts and in person the police’s violent crackdown on protestors. This “new normal” has disrupted public transportation, closed down shopping centres, thrown people’s lives into chaos and dashed many Hongkongers’ hopes for their futures in this world-class Asian city.
Under the new status quo, one-third of the 2500 arrested since June are under the age of 18. So far, ten suicides cases were reportedly linked to the anti-extradition movements. And there had been reports of young protestors carrying handwritten letters of their last words for families just in case anything happens to them during confrontations with the police.
We have also seen a worrying trend of vicious attacks targeting leaders of the anti-extradition movement, the latest victim being Jimmy Sham, the convener of the Civil Human Rights Front. He was attacked on the streets by several men with hammers and knives, and suffered severe head injury.
Just two weeks ago, the Hong Kong government banned the use of facemasks, in hopes of deterring people from taking part in protests. This sudden and controversial enactment of the anti-mask legislation has only added fuel to the fire, with protests springing up around Hong Kong in response. Even if we put aside the content of the law for a moment, the way the law was introduced --- through the government invoking emergency powers --- is extremely troubling. Although there is no real democracy in Hong Kong, the rule of law has always been revered. All laws must come under scrutiny of the legislature before they take effect. By invoking the outdated and draconian Emergency Regulations Ordinance, the Chief Executive managed to bypass the legislature, hastily enacting the anti-mask law. Now that the administration has decided to use undemocratic means to pass laws, one can only wonder what will come next: Censoring the internet? Searching and closure of civic organizations? Restrictions on international and domestic travels? With an administration emboldened to abuse their powers, many of us fear that Hong Kong will become a police state with even more fragile civil liberties.
As anti-extradition movement gained attention of foreign media and governments, the controversies have extended to stages beyond our city. In fact, it has pushed Hong Kong to the forefront of the ongoing clashes between China and the United States.
This week, three bills concerning Hong Kong were passed in the US House of Representatives. They are: the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019; Protect Hong Kong Act -- which prohibits export of non-lethal crowd control items such as tear gas to Hong Kong; and finally, a resolution calling on the Hong Kong government to begin negotiations to address demonstrators’ demands -- which include universal suffrage and an independent probe into recent police conduct. The three bills’ passing is only the first step, and these resolutions will soon be debated in the US Senate. If and when enacted, the laws will require the US to scrutinize the state of politics in Hong Kong, with special attention paid to the implementation of the “One Country, Two systems” agreement. Before the three bills were passed to the US Senate, more than one hundred and thirty thousands Hong Kong people gathered in Central to show their support.
In Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered her third policy address on Wednesday. The annual Policy Address has always been an important platform for the Hong Kong Chief Executive to highlight policy directions for coming year. Perhaps in anticipation of potential disruptions to her physically delivering a speech in Legco, Mrs. Lam had her address pre-recorded within closed doors and broadcasted through major electronic media.
This is only one of many indicators of Carrie Lam’s lack of public support. As Carrie Lam faces unprecedented and overwhelming calls for her resignation, she has surpassed her predecessors to become Hong Kong’s most unpopular Chief Executive to date. Latest polls show that seventy percent of respondents want her to step down. And her approval rating, the day before the policy address, hit yet another historic low: 29.7 out of 100.
A leader of a democratic society would typically have listened, when such as large portion of her constituents call for change. But Carrie Lam continues to live in a world of her own. She may regard herself a leader, but people only see her as a puppet of Beijing – having neither the will nor the power to rule. The current deadlock in Hong Kong cannot be resolved by simply building more public housing or improving healthcare and social welfare services. The problems facing Hong Kong today are rooted in the need for universal suffrage, for people to be given the right to political participation through long-awaited constitutional reform.
As you may already know, the anti-extradition movement arose from a controversial bill and Carrie Lam’s attempt to rush it through the powerless Legislative Council. Many Hong Kong people have now realized that only fair and open elections can convey their voices to the legislature and Chief executive. Facing an autocratic central government, an unresponsive local government, and a repressive and violent police force, the powerless people of Hong Kong have shown incredible ingenuity, courage and solidarity. Suppression from the government and police has been met with even stronger opposition. The Chinese Communist Party has lost the trust of many Hong Kong people, especially the younger generation. Until the day those in power acknowledge this crisis and change their unpopular policies, there will be no future for Hong Kong and our young people.
Under such dire circumstances when confidence is waning and hope seems dim, we can look to historians to learn how we can cope under tyranny. As we prepare to brave another day, let’s keep in mind what Yale professor Timothy Snyder writes in his celebrated book, “On tyranny”: defend institutions, believe in truth, establish a private life, contribute to good causes, be calm when the unthinkable arrives, and above all, be as courageous as you can!