Hong Kong

Redefining Hong Kong SAR: The Mainland Security Crackdown Arrives

Written by Daniel Garrett.

Within the last few weeks, the political situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has deteriorated precipitously as China’s central and local regimes began implementing the outlines of a mainland-style security crackdown against the city’s pro-democracy movement and escalated its United Front campaign against Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP). The transition from a Special Administrative Region to an emerging Special Authoritarian Regime occurred abruptly on July 2nd and was most starkly symbolized in the vivid images of the violent early morning removal by Hong Kong police of hundreds of peaceful civil disobedience democracy activists temporarily occupying a street in Hong Kong Central business district. A former chief secretary of the HKSAR government and leading pro-democracy advocate, Anson Chan, subsequently questioned why the police responded the way they did, observing that the: “Police are giving people the impression that they are treating citizens as their enemies” (Lo, Kao, Chan, & Ngo, 2014). Similarly, as a newly circulating YouTube video from Hong Kong’s 2013 New Year Day’s protest against the HKSAR government sought to remind the SAR’s police officers: “You must know this, no matter what post you are. You must remember this, you are the people of Hong Kong!”

The answer to the former chief secretary’s prescient question is found in the June 10th State Council white paper on the implementation of the “One Country, Two Systems” (OCTS) socialist ideology in Hong Kong: OCLP and elements of the broader democracy and Hongkonger identity movements have been declared enemies of the state.  As described by the central authorities, under the guise of democracy and civil nomination demands, “outside forces” are using Hong Kong’s opposition to interfere in China’s affairs; moreover, “a very small number of people” in the Region were acting “in collusion with outside forces to interfere with the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kon.” (Information Office of the State Council of the PRC, 2014). No longer the stuff of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) conspiracy films (Silent Contest (2013) (Eades, 2014; Perlez, 2013)) or ominous Chinese Communist Party (CCP) directives warning of “peaceful evolution” (Party Document No. 9 (Buckley, 2013; ChinaFile, 2013; Ranade, 2013)), the incorporation of counter-democratic insurgency language in the State Council white paper partially answers the question how far up the xenophobic mainland security paranoia extends – and whether it reaches into the HKSAR.  Citing the former director of the Xinhua News Agency, Zhou Nan, a June 19th China Daily commentary explains: “The central issue in Hong Kong is no longer ‘true’ or ‘fake’ democracy or technical details about electoral systems.  Instead, it is a political contest between China and Western Powers, who pose a direct threat to China’s sovereign rule over Hong Kong and its national security” (Yang, 2014). According to the pro-Beijing Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo, Beijing  could decide to impose mainland national security legislation (Article 23) on Hong Kong  to preclude subversion of the socialist system by OCLP (T. Chong, 2014).  Moreover, it has alluded to by Hoo, pro-Beijing lawmakers, and argued by mainland mouthpieces that OCLP was a terrorist threat (Information Services Department, 2014b; Song, 2014). Reportedly, Hong Kong was in a “dangerous situation” because the “radical factions in the Hong Kong opposition are trying to override Hong Kong’s rule of law and make themselves the replacement”  (Global Times, 2014).

Following the same rhetoric of an October 2013 Global Times editorial, HK opposition at risk of becoming enemy of the State, which criticized OCLP’s contact with Taiwan independence elements and warned about the “convergence of the forces of ‘Hong Kong independence’ and ‘Taiwan independence’,” (Global Times, 2013) the June 19th China Daily commentary identified Occupy Central, Hong Kong 2020, and various democracy movement titans as national security threats to China (Yang, 2014). Zhou Nan is also cited in claiming that OCLP was “proof that local and overseas forces, who are anti-China, have joined together to seize power in Hong Kong.” (Yang, 2014) This again parallels the October Global Times editorial: “All these opposition campaigns aim for the 2017 general election, in which the opposition tries to bring in an anti-Beijing leader as the Chief Executive” (Global Times, 2013). In an early June media interview Zhou Nan had also stated that OCLP had “… demonstrated that a portion of the anti-China forces inside and outside Hong Kong are conspiring to usurp the jurisdiction of the city, which should never be allowed” (J. Lam, 2014b).  Shortly before the white paper was published, Zhou reiterated in the context of OCLP that should riots break out in Hong Kong the PLA would intervene.  Notably, following nearly a year of implied and overt threats and suggestions of PLA intervention against OCLP made by mainland and local regime forces, a Hong Kong paper citing a June 2014 PLA Daily article reported on July 9th that the PLA Hong Kong Garrison political commissar had instructed the Hong Kong-based soldiers to “prepare for a battle at any time” (Chen, 2014).

Though the Hong Kong Garrison had, at one time, been one of the best examples of Chinese soft power in the region (Garrett, 2010), it has in recent years increasingly become the target of protests and legislative politics as it begun intervening in more controversial issues in the Region.  In 2010, for instance, it threatened legal or other action against protesters who had projected an image of Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei on the Army’s Central Barracks. More provocatively and recently, however, in January of this year, shortly following a minor trespassing incident in December 2013 where Hong Kong separatists stepped briefly inside the open front gates of the HK Garrison’s Central Barracks while waving colonial British flags and shouting slogans, the Garrison conducted an air-and-sea drill in Victoria Harbor that was widely perceived as a warning to Hongkongers and specifically to the OCLP movement. A South China Morning Post article cited a local China analyst who opined: “The PLA not only wants to reflect the army’s stern stance on the trespassing incident, but also to tell Hongkongers that they would be ready to carry out their duties if they are needed to handle the Occupy Central movement” (Lam & Chan, 2014)  Another analyst quoted indicated that because the drill was held at “a sensitive time” it was clearly a message to potential occupiers.  The Garrison held military exercises attacking an ‘army’ of Hong Kong separatist in 2012 (Badcanto, 2012)  And, since 2013, it has been holding a series of anti-riot exercise throughout its barracks across Hong Kong perceived as intended for possible OCLP responses (Chen, 2014). Alarmingly, the minor PLA trespassing incident has been strongly hyped and sensationalized in Chinese and Hong Kong media and by officials in China and Hong Kong.  Though not delved into here further, there are parallels between Silent Contest and Party Document No. 9 rhetoric, substance, and tone with that of the State Council white paper.

HONGKONGERS’ ‘DAYS OF RAGE’

The dramatic, unparalleled crackdown by the Hong Kong SAR government transpired days after nearly 800,000 people voted in an unofficial referendum organized by OCLP in favor of civil nomination for the selection of Hong Kong’s next chief executive (CE) – a symbolic action that Chinese authorities, the SAR government and local united front forces had called illegal and subversive. It also followed an estimated 500,000 Hongkongers taking to the streets with pointed demands for civil nomination, denouncing Beijing’s increasingly domineering hand in Hong Kong, and reflecting a growing minority of Hongkongers embracing calls for Hong Kong independence – three highly symbolic political gestures which signify strident defiance to the central authorities and contravened the oppressive cultural, economic, and political social order imagined for Hong Kong by China under the OCTS ideology.  Public outrage at Beijing has erupted following the June 10th State Council intervention in Hong Kong affairs with the ill-advised, poorly timed, and badly received white paper which essentially threw gasoline on an already raging bonfire of severely deteriorating Hong Kong-Mainland relations and growing animosity towards Beijing (Garrett, 2013, 2014a, 2014b; Garrett & Ho, 2014).

For example, the top three identified reasons for Hong Kong residents participating in the July 1st procession were: fighting for universal suffrage without political pre-screening of candidates, discontent over the State Council’s white paper, and, dissatisfaction with the SAR government (SCMP Staff, 2014). Polls taken after the release of the white paper reflected that Hongkongers’ mistrust of Beijing has struck new highs with 43.6 per cent of Hongkongers suspicious of the central government (Fung, 2014). Following years of increasingly repressive political policing, the popularity of Hong Kong police had also dropped precariously to its lowest level since Hong Kong’s reversion to China at just 36.3 per cent. Trust of the PLA Hong Kong Garrison, the Army being an often referred to ‘stick’ to be used against OCLP and the wider democracy movements, was also at an all-time low of just 31.5 per cent (“HK people’s satisfaction with police hits record low,” 2014). It is unclear if the massive cyber-attack on Hongkongers’ online portion of the OCLP referendum and a major pro-democracy newspaper’s website supporting Occupy (“Beijing Implicated as Hong Kong Vote Sites Crash Under Massive DDoS,” 2014; O. Lam, 2014; A. Wong, 2014) – widely perceived to have been carried out by China – also contributed to the drop in Hongkongers’ trust towards Beijing.  Either way, the violent crackdown likely severely undermined trust in Beijing, the HKSAR police, and the PLA even further as the early morning mass arrests were the single largest SAR government action against democratic protesters since the Handover. It surpassed the record number of protesters arrested in 2012 by police during several major anti-government demonstrations (S. Cheung, 2012).

Mainland conspiracy theories

Subsequent to the mass arrest and dragging away of over 500 peaceful protesters, the HK Special Authoritarian Regime took other unprecedented authoritarian measures to extinguish popular support for the non-violent OCLP movement and quell swelling public demands for civil nomination of Hong Kong’s next chief executive (CE). This included the never before arrest of Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) organizers of the annual July 1st democracy march – an act which was described by Amnesty International as violating the HKSAR government’s responsibilities to uphold freedom of expression and peaceful assembly rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Police also seized CHRF organizers’ mobile phones to search for “evidence of conspiracy” in defying authorities’ orders related to the July 1st protest. HKSAR security forces were also accused of delaying or denying some of the 511 protesters access to legal advice. (RTHK, 2014b)  Furthermore, police have also been accused of beating youth and radical activists following arrests for rowdy protests at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) in mid-June. (S. Chan, 2014)

Broadening a conspiratorial-fueled OCLP witch-hunt, on the same day as the crackdown, HK’s police chief accused a prominent local religious leader and democracy heavyweights of holding illegal gatherings to drum up support for the recently completed referendum through a series of walks in Hong Kong’s 18 districts. (Lau, 2014)  The religious leader, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, had previously asked the public to vote in the public referendum “to express their views” and had also called upon HKSAR government officers and public servants to “Keep the conscience and not to be a slave.”  (J. Lam, 2014a)  The call for expression is in significant contrast with the call for silence from other religious leaders.  In a likely united front response given his membership in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the archbishop of Hong Kong’s Anglican Church in Hong Kong and Macao, Reverend Paul Kwong, essentially told followers to be silent in the political war over Occupy and political reform. (“Anglican Church head criticizes Occupy Central,” 2014; T. Cheung & Lai, 2014; RTHK, 2014a)  The Secretary-General of the Anglican Church, Reverend Peter Douglas Koon Ho-ming, was also reported by the China Daily as saying that the church was ‘discouraging its members from participating in the ‘Occupy’ rally.” (K. Chan, 2014a)  Kwong and Koon’s comments came as a flurry of companies and tycoons also made high-profile condemnations of OCLP in the media in support of China’s united front media campaign against Occupy Central.

A WIDENING UNITED FRONT

This included four major accounting firms – Ernst & Young, PwC, Deloitte and KPMG – who placed local newspaper ads framing OCLP as a threat to Hong Kong (Milmo, 2014); Barclays Bank (Ng, Yu, & Chan, 2014); the Hong Kong-Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) who quickly partially reversed themselves following widespread public criticism over their stance against Occupy (Ng, 2014a, 2014b); and, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Lee Heng Diamond Group who told employees in an email to “wake up” and join Silent Majority, a Hong Kong-based united front group opposed to OCLP (Wan, 2014). Several foreign chambers of commerce in Hong Kong had also jumped on the united front bandwagon following the white paper’s release and before the OCLP referendum, including: “the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong and Macau, the Hong Kong Bahrain Business Association and the Indian chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong” (G. Cheung, 2014).  Broader, more agents of social control-oriented, united front virulent contestations are also taking place such as evidenced in the disputes between the Law Society who sought to defend the controversial white paper and Hong Kong’s Bar Association over the position and role of the judiciary under OCTS (Chan, 2013a; Lau, Cheung, & Cheung, 2014; Ng, Cheung, & Ng, 2014). Insofar as Beijing is concerned, Hong Kong’s law, legal system, and rule of law are all tools of the government – not constraints on their power, or tools for the opposition to thwart the Party’s agenda and policies in Hong Kong (Chan, 2013b; Hao, 2013).

New united front groups are still being formed despite the spectacular successes of the OCLP referendum and the massive July 1st turnout.  The war for ‘hearts and minds’ in Hong Kong escalates ahead of an imminent OCLP occupation action should the Chinese and SAR governments attempt to impose an undemocratic form of universal suffrage such as the practice in the mainland under the guise of ‘inner-party democracy’ where the CCP picks the candidates for the people to vote for.  Introduction of such a system in Hong Kong would be a de facto abandonment of the “Two Systems” dimension of the OCTS ideology and policy. One of the most recent counter-OCLP groups, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, seeks to collect 800,000 signatures to let “patriotic” voices to be heard and is an umbrella group for 40 pro-Beijing groups, scholars, and chambers of commerce (Siu, 2014). One of the Alliance’s members is a CPPCC standing committee member and the group also has connections Silent Majority, a counter-OCLP group established in August 2013 (Lau, 2014).

Silent Majority, like the accounting and banking firms aiding China’s united front against OCLP, has frequently used newspaper advertisement campaigns to attack pro-democracy groups. Though not (yet) physically aggressive like other pro-government extremist united front organizations in Hong Kong, Silent Majority has indisputably played a growing propaganda role in the information war over OCLP. For example, during the OCLP referendum and shortly before the July 1st demonstration and dry-run for Occupy Central, Silent Majority released a sensational YouTube video claiming the OCLP movement would destroy Hong Kong titled, They Can Kill this City! Beyond the audiovisual features and narrative of the pro-Beijing political communication, the title was a rebuttal of a popular pro-democracy retort to the patriotic forces intimidation of journalists and the OCLP movement, “They Can’t Kill Us All”, which became popular after a brutal February 2014 attack on a liberal former newspaper editor. Though the motivation or tasking of the attack remains unknown months after the assault, several have speculated it may have been retaliation for the paper’s role in an International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) report on Chinese leaders and their families’ hidden wealth (Kaiman, 2014).

POLITICAL COERCION

HKSAR security forces’ political strong-arming of Hongkongers related to the July 1st march and OCLP, ostensibly under the guise of maintaining public order, social stability, and upholding the law, went as far as arresting the driver of the sound truck heading the procession under dubious accusations of idling and vacating a vehicle (Ng, 2014c; Ng & Cheung, 2014) as it cautiously proceeded through throngs of up to 500,000 Hongkongers’ voicing rage at Beijing and demanding civic nomination of candidates in the 2017 CE election. Rather than the police’s claim that the organizers deliberately slowing their progress, however, there seemed to be little doubt among those present at the procession (including this author who was photographing the day’s events) that the sound truck was inevitably slowed in many places by seemingly endless police barricades and the inexplicable sporadic kettling of peaceful protesters by police.

Law enforcement political targeting of low-level supporters in the OCLP and pro-democracy movements such as the CHRF’s sound truck driver is not entirely new, but the trajectory of authorities strategically arresting protesters and radical pro-democracy supporters for alleged infractions (often minor) that occurred years before does appear to be increasing.  Widespread police surveillance of activists and videotaping of political protests have provided SAR security forces ample  tools for political coercion at times and places of their choosing.  This surveillance also serves to increase the costs of activism and political resistance to Beijing on Hongkongers by exerting political coercion over protesters who never know when charges might be levied against them.

For example, Hong Kong’s Police Commissioner, Andy Tsang Wai-hung, has warned students in March 2013 to “think twice” before joining OCLP or participating in Occupy activities, implying there would be criminal and future career and educational implications for their participation. (D. Chong, But, & Lau, 2013)  Other “Think Twice” warnings have come from the SAR’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (Liao, 2014), the Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen (Li, 2014; Luk, 2014), and the pro-Beijing political party the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) (Lee, 2013) all of which have further sought to dissuade participation.  Notably, due to the student and youth-led nature of the Occupy Central movement, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-him has also made veiled threats regarding students and teachers participation in OCLP, going as far as to say those who supported “illegal activities” like Occupy might bear “criminal liability” or be guilty of professional misconduct (Information Services Department, 2014a).

Education Secretary Ng was subsequently criticized by pro-democracy legislators who said: “We think that Ng’s comments were unfounded; meddling in the teaching profession, creating white terror and applying political pressure form top down on teachers”(Ngo, 2014).  Academic freedom in the SAR is enshrined in Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Yet, the implications of the Education Secretary’s warnings are not trivial for activists. For example, the Education Bureau (and more broadly, the CE) exerts supervision and influence over important educational institutions in the City and possess significant opportunities to punish or reward students in educational pursuits or research opportunities (Legislative Council Secretariat, 2012).  A number of situations involving academic freedom have arisen since the Handover but mostly involve professors, not students or potential students who are more vulnerable to coercive exploitation. Moreover, a number of student activists, especially those in the radical pro-democracy wing, have been the target of questionable police actions related to various protests against the Chinese and SAR governments.  This includes the past arrest of an aide of one of the Occupy Central organizers (S. Cheung & Cheung, 2013).  In a broader and more salient context, student activists and youth radicals have become more potent political forces in the Hong Kong contentious politics and often are directly confronting Chinese and SAR government policies (e.g., Scholarism, Hong Kong Federation of Students) so are attractive targets for regime coercion.

Targeting Radical Leaders

As the protester described HKSAR police and Justice Secretary-led white terror campaign of early-July 2014 continued, arrests and threats of arrest of other pro-democracy leaders widened on July 4th.  For instance, besides the leaders of the CHRF, the popular – albeit ever controversial – radical pro-democracy leader Wong Yuk-Man was arrested (Ng & Lo, 2014) following a confrontation during a legislative question-and-answer session with the CE where the lawmaker reportedly threw a  glass of water in the general direction of the CE as scores of pro-democracy lawmakers rushed the executive shouting for civil nomination and waving placards at him. Though the CE was not struck and no one injured, police later arrested the radical lawmaker on common assault charges despite the fact that various items had been thrown at the CE for many years in the legislature without law enforcement intervention or arrests.

The CE, however, took political advantage of the situation and, wagging a shard of glass in front of cameras, said: “From the first banana thrown a few years ago to this morning incident, there has been too much verbal and physical violence in this chamber.  We should ask ourselves: what kind of role the LegCo members have played for our young people?”  (K. Chan, 2014b)  The CE remarks mirrored those in Beijing’s united front camp who have long criticized the SAR government for tolerating belligerent defiance by radical pro-democracy legislators whom they blame for the growing youth activism and radicalism that have afflicted the SAR since at least January 2010 when 10,000 youth activists surrounded the parliament in what was called the “Siege of the LegCo.”

In 2012 after radical pro-democracy forces gain more legislative council seats, China’s local mouthpiece, the China Daily, decried the development and blamed them for polluting Hong Kong’s youth, inspiring the anti-national education movement, rejecting China’s patriotic education and communist-centered national identity, and creating an independence movement: “The seed of discord was planted quite a while back, when Wong [Yuk-man], W. Chan and their fellow radical opposition lawmakers started raising hell in LegCo sessions, with all kinds of disorderly behavior and they got away with it.  Some youths saw their unbecoming antics and believed them to be ‘heroes’, breaking the norm by all means necessary.  The radical faction apparently is trying to copy what the Democratic Progressive Party (DDP) does in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, and in a way has succeeded by adopting the politics of violence in Hong Kong many times already” (Lai, 2012).

The arrest was the latest incident in a series of arrests of pro-democracy and radical anticommunist legislators for dissent-related offenses.  Prior to the July 1st march, for instance, well known radical pro-democracy League of Social Democrats legislator Leung Kwok-hung, aka “Long Hair,” was sentenced to four weeks in jail for a 2011 protest offense.

A CITY OF POLICE BARRIERS

No longer just a “city of protests,” Hong Kong has in the last few weeks also become a “city of barriers” with copious caches of police barricades, orange warning cones, and Panopticon-like protest pedestals littered across the city. Huge plastic police fortifications routinely obstruct Hong Kong streets during large demonstrations and marches. Large numbers of police officers and police paddy wagons also typically monitor, or loiter nearby, during even the most minor of protests – an indicator of a very frightened police state. Policing kettling of static and moving protests have become very pervasive at protests of any significant size and arguments between police and protest organizers over procession routes and lane openings commonplace. As a result, incidences of illegal assemblies in the sense of refusing to inform police of events have proliferated due to police obstinacy and as symbolic acts of civil disobedience against Hong Kong’s often described draconian Public Order Ordinance. Efforts to restrict public space for protests and areas for journalists to observe them have also intensified. Now, instead of ‘flower beds’ in front of China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong (Garrett, Forthcoming 2014), a pedestrian flyover next to the HKSAR headquarters typically used in the past by the public to observe protests below in the courtyard is frequently obfuscated by “police passages” and tall screens designed to obstruct public view of protests.

Hongkongers refuse to “Look Down”

Growing protester anger at such oppressive political monitoring – frequently expressed in the past through online transgressive kusu/egao images positing police as triad thugs – now broaches more-and-more frequently into the material world. For instance, following the violent clearing of Charter Garden road by police, anti-Hong Kong Police Force stickers (“Fuck the Police”) begun appearing on Hong Kong Island along major thoroughfares and protest venues.  And, after police pepper sprayed, arrested, and had allegedly beaten youth and radical protesters during the anti-Northeast New Territories (NENT) demonstrations held just before the July 1st march, one protester brazenly and defiantly marched back-and-forth in front of police officers carrying a placard bearing the Internet-meme: “All Cops are Bastards!”

On July 1st, Hongkongers also refused to “Look Down” in the wake of the June 10th white paper and the escalating threats of PLA intervention over OCLP.  Instead, they ‘red carded’ the Chinese and HKSAR regimes.  During the march, in the spirit of the World Cup, many participants brashly waved ‘red card’ protest props bearing the “689” (signifying CE CY Leung) and words “White paper” to flag hegemonic fouls against the city and its way of life.  Indeed, these popular placards were ubiquitous as were political stickers declaring no white paper.  A huge copy of the front cover of the white paper was also trampled by hundreds of thousands of protesters in the march. A mock effigy of a PLA tank covered with copies of the State Council’s white paper was depicted as “blowing up” the HKSAR Basic Law which protest Hong Kong’s freedoms and civil rights under OCTS.  A roving performance art protest parodying Hong Kong police’s use of warning banners against protesters, Hongkongnese Warning Squad, warned about mainland dangers to Hong Kong from: the “Party-State”; “Fake Commies”; “Love the Party”; “Redden”; and “Corruption.” As explained by the artist Kacey Wong, “Many citizens in Hong Kong felt the police are abusing their power when it comes to handling peaceful demonstrator[s] and this work [will] inspire the viewers to reflect about this issue.” (K. Wong, 2014)

The mood of many protesters might be summed up by the defiant slogan on a widely observed T-shirt and many banners: “Our Home Our Say.” And, in a sign of the mounting failures of ruling Hong Kong “with patriots” under “One Country, Two Systems,” increasing numbers of Hong Kong independence and separatist leaning street stations and growing numbers of supporters were observed during the march as compared to the past two July 1st processions coinciding with the term of the incumbent CE CY Leung.  In the same fashion, large numbers of antimainland and pro-Hongkonger stickers demanding “No Locusts in HK!”, “Stop Chinese Illegal Re-Colonisation!”, “Hong Kong is NOT PART OF CHINA”, “I’m Hongkongese! Not Chinese!”, and “Hong Kong Independence!” could be found subversively situated throughout the urban infrastructure lining the protest route.  Hongkonger’s defiance was also represented in the increasingly ubiquitous slogan, “They Can’t Kill Us All!”, which has become as popular in Hong Kong as the resistance song, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

Daniel Garrett is a PhD. Candidate in the Department of Applied Social Studies at the City University of Hong Kong and CPI blog’s emerging scholar. He tweets @DanGarrett97. Part 2 of this essay will be published on July 23rd.

3 replies »

  1. Hi. Please correct Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation – a British company – in your thesis which I am sure is going to be excellent. I wonder how this fits historically into HK policing and how the Royal Hong Kong Police have dealt with democratic protests in the past. There seems a tendency to attribute the style of policing to some form of capricious allegiance to evil communist powers, but how many senior officials in the Hong Kong Police continue to be British expats who have kept their positions under the Joint Dec. and what is their influence? There seems to be a great assumption that the hand of Beijing pulls the strings but no formal limit or boundaries have been drawn up with regard to who knows who, who controls who and how such power flows, what contests it and whether there is any contest to it in echelons higher up than ground level EC (ethnic Chinese). Who and what are the threats to security and what political ground to they seek to gain and by what means and to what end? I am still confused by this among the heaps of analyst opinions and reanalysis of events and opinions. Why are statesmen (or Lords in the case of Chris Patten) perceived as interfering with internal Chinese affairs? Does China really believe a tiny fishing village-cum-financial-centre-free port offers a threat to a largely unified mainland? It seems like blowing a lot of hot air to me. Paranoia is a useful phrase you have utilised in the article G, but I don’t think a cold and lucid analysis has been made as to the source of the perceived threats and the detail of the consequences if ‘Chinese sovereign rule over Hong Kong’ is somehow impeached. Big deal. It is not like Hong Kong or Queen Victoria made a blind bit of difference to what the Chinese were doing on the mainland prior to 1976 and it only has helped facilitate the economic miracle since. The notion of fallen pride, humiliation and honour needs to be rejected when it comes to Hong Kong. That wasn’t the fault of the ethnic Han Chinese rulers of the day today – it was the blooming Manchus in the first place. The territorial honour business is based on falsehood after falsehood. Unification is to glory as the UK is to Russia in size. It is not about the quantity of landmass unified, but the quality of culture, institutions, life quality and expectancy and other utility gains within that landmass, including for instance, sporting achievements (although I bow my head in shame at the England world cup performance, it must be maintained that per capita of individuals the UK trashes China, Russia and the US time and again in the Olympics and hey, we invented both football and that illustrious Cricket). China and Hong Kong need to up their game. Not squabble over petty niceties wrought by the British to Hong Kong and treated as a threat by an overly paranoid, historically invaded mainland Chinese. Everyone needs to relax more. Enjoy some tea, some tai chi (taiji) and some baijiu.

  2. In the original, HSBC appeared erroneously as Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank of China. This has been corrected.

  3. Sam,

    Thank you for your comments. With regards to HSBC I’m not sure what you would like to have corrected. Yes, it’s a British company. And, YES it participated in the united front action against Occupy Central with Love and Peace. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses any and all players it can in united front efforts (See Making the Foreign Serve China by Anne-Marie Brady, Enemies and Friends: The United Front in Chinese Communist History by Lyman P. Van Slyke, and Underground Front: The Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong by Christina Loh for starters.) The nationality of those participating witting or unwitting, willingly or unwilling is quote beside the point (though it is reflective of China’s growing power.) The point was what they – HSBC – did, as well as the other companies that lined up against the civil disobedience. One can argue they or other players were motivated by self-interest outside of any united front pressure, but the synchronicity in actions, sentiment, and timing argue against that. If your own opinion happens to align with the regimes there is nothing ‘wrong’ in that, but when you parrot it at the regime’s beck and call then you become perceived (right or wrong) as part of the intimidation apparatus. Moreover, as HSBC and some other companies have found (both in HK and elsewhere in the world) a company’s management doesn’t necessarily speak for its rank and file employees. And it doesn’t mean those employees will keep ‘quiet’ when you misrepresent your views as their views – especially when it’s a topic that is political or social as opposed to business.

    The colonial British regime in Hong Kong were no lovers of protest any more than any other regime. In fact, they were quite effective against leftist in Hong Kong and would routinely deported them out of the colony without due process. (I’d recommend the 2007 HK film Mr. Cinema as a good ‘light’ account of the difficulty of growing up red in colonial HK. http://www.lovehkfilm.com/reviews_2/mr_cinema.htm ) While not as rapid as the American in their embracing of red hysteria, the colonial Brits were no slouches and trouncing reds when they wanted to. The Brits also targeted and penetrated pro-democracy groups and anyone else in HK who criticized/challenged colonial rule as well. In the early 1980s the colonial and British governments clandestine political policing entity the Standing Committee on Pressure Groups (SCOPG) was outted and as noted by the New Statesman in 1980, the “SCOPG aims to undermine, co-opt or coerce” those groups it disliked. This later ended up being a huge scandal but the Brits have definitely waged their own “United Front” campaigns in the past. No doubt there remain in HK a lot of important people who would like their collaboration/cooperation with either or both regimes to remain a secret from the transition period (1984-1997) and during the opening up and reform start (1978–1984). No doubt there were spy dramas and intrigue to keep movie studios rolling films out for years if and when those stories are ever released – which isn’t likely given that both the Brits and the Chinese still classify important parts of the Sino-British negotiations and even on the deliberations of the Hong Kong SAR Basis Law albeit it is just China hiding details in that case.

    Unfortunately, the ugly truth of the matter is that Hong Kong was never ‘promised’ democracy by either the Brits OR the Chinese but BOTH extensively manipulated their public diplomacy discourses and the law over the last three decades to suggest otherwise. Now, 30 years after the Joint Declaration and 24 after the promulgation of the HKSAR Basic Law and the perpetuation of that myth both Beijing and Whitehall have a moral obligation to give Hongkongers at least a free and fair electoral system. Beijing retains the veto per the law but because of their united front and legal warfare games they’ve tried to manipulate and advantageously interpret the Basic Law to support their “patriot principle” when there is no codified legal basis to exclude people who don’t like the communist party. Beijing’s efforts to politically exclude people from even contesting for the office has, however, become “a bridge too far.” So, yes, both the British and the Chinese regimes as dominating (and perceived by some as occupying powers) are equally dirty when it comes to political policing in Hong Kong. That, however, doesn’t let Beijing or the HKSAR government off the hook for what they’ve done recently. By and large the “one country, two systems” ideology has worked by the leadership today and the times today have changed since the late-1970s/early-1980s when China was weak. They have a stronger hand to play now and are playing it – though very much overplaying it in some areas because the peace in HK is fragile (it was also during the colonial period too despite myths to the contrary.)

    There is some evidence that suggests the Chinese communist regime took over many of the political policing and governing practices in the territory. Insofar as colonial holdovers there are some but at the top is the Commissioner of Police who is a “principal official” and as such is vetted and appointed by the central authorities directly. In this sense, Beijing very much “pulls the strings” in that the power to appoint is also the power to remove. Obviously, there is some communication between the chief executive and the Beijing authorities regarding his cabinet but it is Beijing that appoints them and is thus, ultimately, their boss not the chief executive. In addition, as would normally be expected the HK police also cooperate and work closely with their mainland counterparts, the Ministry of Public Security, and other security/intelligence and military services like the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). In fact, the PLA Hong Kong Garrison commander has presided over Hong Kong police and other disciplined service graduations. This is both unnecessary and counterproductive in the current political situation. The propaganda use of the PLA and the HK police as threats has had the opposite result: it has solidified resistance and pushed some off the fence to become more action oriented.

    Insofar as some of the colonial holdover that have achieved /retained senior positions in the force, there are ‘problems’ with them insofar as many protesters are concerned. In fact the night/early morning of the crackdown an expat officer was heavily involved – one that has often been involved in the policing of so-called radical protests in Hong Kong. Indeed, his involvement in the police crackdown let to a variety of discussions among different groups of protesters who made mistakenly took his appearance to mean that they he would naturally aligned with their calls for democracy. They kind of learned the hard way that Beijing’s “friends of China” extend to all colors and nationalities. I’ve seen peculiar excessive policing actions other times too where a senior expat police officer was directing things from the street-level albeit through a local officer. It was quite amusing and tragic in the sense that the expat officer seemed scared or disgusted by the notion of having to talk negotiate with the radical protesters himself. At the very least it was highly inefficient and bureaucratic (as well as counterproductive.) Some have speculated that the high-profile use of expat officers has been a political calculation by the regime as well.

    Regarding Patton and other officials, it has long been the case that when it comes to criticism Beijing rejects any foreign observation as interference but if you have FDI you want to invest by all means speak up. Other countries have the similar issues, even the US made a big stink about alleged Chinese money influencing the Clinton election in the 1990s but made really didn’t make much of a stink with the all the Israeli money in the last election that was trying to get Obama out and Romney in by any and all means. The long and short of it insofar as the UK goes that because of the colonial role and the agreement between the UK and the PRC (the 1984 Joint Declaration) there is supposed to be some sort of monitoring of the implementation of “one country, two systems” insofar as the Brits are concerned. Or, probably more accurately, insofar as the UK Parliament was concerned at the time. Securing the “China trade”, however, seems to have been the primary and continuing interest in dealing with China over Hong Kong (as long as the Brits weren’t too thoroughly shamed by their exit or what they had to do to secure access to the market that is – the British National Archives provides some great reading on such behind the scenes deliberation in their declassified holdings). The UK still issues six-month reports on the state of affairs in HK. The US government issued annual reports for about a decade under the 1992 US-HK Policy Act and continues to remark on HK affairs in various reports on China issued by the Congress and its varied China-focused committees; pretty much universally negative as the case be. After Tiananmen some US Senators (Jessie Helms) even claimed that it was up to the US to look out for Hong Kong as the Brits had sold them down the road. The US executive, much like the UK executive, has primarily focused on filling respective national coffers with access to the Chinese mainland though (for the former) ‘democratic regime change’ has always been an auxiliary motivation. The Brits haven’t been quite the vehement anticommunists that the Americans have been and still largely remain, so even while they are scolded by Beijing they are probably viewed as less threatening than Washington. Yet, the Brits do hold the notorious distinction of being responsible for the carving up of China and the institution of the unequal treaties as many Chinese nationalists see (communist or otherwise.)

    Related to that is the fact Hong Kong has always been a base of subversion against one or another Chinese regime. Taipings hide out and plotted against the Qing dynasty (including Sun Yat-sen), the communists use HK as a base of subversion against the KMT after the purges of the 1920s and the subsequent civil war. The CCP also used HK as a base against the Japanese during the war. And post-WWII the CCP used HK to subvert the US/UN embargo against China during the Korean War. Taiwan intelligence even tried to kill Zhou Enlai by blowing up a plane leaving from Hong Kong (the Kashmir Princess) and Nationalists and Communists have repeatedly used the territory to run offensive intelligence operations against one another during and after the Cold War. And then you had use of HK as a listening and intelligence post on the periphery of China.

    More contemporary, because HK has significant Western sensibilities and preferences as a result of being the cliched nexus of “East and West” and is a gray area in communist parlance, it’s a threat of “peaceful evolution” against the socialist regime in Beijing. As one noted Chinese national security expert stated in 2007 during the first decade anniversary of Hong Kong’s return, the return had not been completed and HK was still a foreign area not yet returned in spirit. And indeed, as mentioned in the blog anticommunist sentiment remains high in HK. A whole slew of regime mouthpieces and united front talking heads in HK and former senior Chinese officials have recounted or made similar remarks in 2012 that HK was turning into an anticommunist base with some claiming that it was even the most anticommunist since the 1967 Riots. The line by many old democrats that HK would never have democracy until the mainland had democracy first inevitably pitted them in an oppositional role. Indeed, both sides have conceptualized the other as the ‘enemy’ which has led to no end of troubles.

    Insofar as a “cold analysis” that is what the focus of my thesis is – the use of competing moral panics by Beijing and Hongkongers and the deleterious effect it has had on ‘one country, two systems.” With regards to what happens the “Day After” the CCP implodes or go away, yes, you are correct most people have not considered that scenario and the ones that do essentially see the PRC devolving into a series of competing warlord-like states as occurred in the early part of the last century. That’s a scenario I don’t think is too farfetched though it really depends on how the regime collapsed more so than whether if it did or not. Some have expounded on the notion to say that Guangdong Province might even seize Hong Kong in such an event because the CCP center would not be able to reign it in and HK has no effective indigenous military outside of the PLA HK Garrison and the paramilitary HK police force. Given that the PLA HK Garrison is partially based on in Guangdong that is probably the direction they would swing if such a doomsday scenario ever developed. Yet, since some former top PLA HK Garrison officers have been moved up the PLA food chain after having served at what is the PLA’s showpiece, other scenarios might be plausible too.

    However, claims that Hong Kong would die if not for the mainland are highly exaggerated though it would suffer some in the short term. The ‘patriotic tycoons’ might die because they lost easy access to easy (and hot) money but HK could survive and thrive without China as its “backup” or its “hinterland.” The CCP line that there would be no New China without the CCP has been increasingly recast in HK by the pro-Beijing camp as there would be no Hong Kong without China. However, this is a very debatable and ignores a lot of advantages and linkages that HK has to the rest of the world. Moreover, it is clear fact that China still continues to benefit in an out-sized fashion from Hong Kong in terms of FDI and being a ‘safe ideological place’ for most of its tens-of-millions of tourists to go; essentially, Hong Kong has become part the CCP’s ‘red tourism’ game one. Heck, senior Chinese officials were even complaining they couldn’t’ get safe products for their kids or grand kids from HK after the SAR instituted export controls on baby formula because of massive cross-boundary underground trading that takes place. If HK goes then the supply of (supposedly) legitimate and safe products and foods for many mainlander elite goes too. So it wouldn’t be as ‘painless’ for Beijing as they would like make it out to be. All the more so because supervision of Hong Kong affairs directly falls under the central authorities so whatever goes wrong there falls back on them. There are no provincial officials to blame. HK is also a place where a lot of corrupt money from the mainland flows so where would those officials and their kids and spouses go if not to HK? Elsewhere overseas? Not in the current Xi corruption campaign (though it has largely left HK alone thus far.)

    However, the above is all beside the point because such talk and threats are counterproductive and neither side should be engaging in it IMO. It is divisive and can very easily lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy much how there is now a nascent independence/separatist movement in HK that did not exist 17 years ago. So, treating HK like it is the enemy is a bad policy option for Beijing because the converse inevitably happens: some in HK treat China as the enemy. A chill pill is needed but more so on the Beijing-side as they have the bulk of the power and the most to lose. It is clear that Beijing wants Hongkongers to adopt a “Let’s Shut Up and Make Money” approach, but Hongkongers understandably want what they have waited 30 years for – free and fair elections for their chief executive and legislature.

    As stated in the article, they’ve (pro-democracy Hongkongers) held up their end of the bargain, now it is time for Beijing to honor its side. Beijing doesn’t have to appoint an anticommunist chief executive (per the Basic Law) but they do need to allow one (or more) to run for office (per the Basic Law) if they want to have sort of credibility in the territory among the sizable number of democracy aspirants. “No Justice, No Peace” is the slogan you see and hear from some – an injustice frame that is heard elsewhere around the world too in the face of political oppression.) Ultimately, the people want to have their voices heard even if they know it won’t change anything. In that sense, refusing them civil nomination is silencing them. That said, some in HK have also taken a more chilled approach to the situation (though that was before the police crackdown) as seen in the satirical video Hong Kong will be Destroyed After 33 Years. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YzCXjm2yOU The humor and message of that video, however, seemed lost on Beijing as it was reportedly banned on the mainland. http://thediplomat.com/2014/04/beijings-censors-ban-hong-kong-short-film/

    Apologies for the long winded yet quick explanation. Nothing in HK is simple and the back story often matters a lot and is rarely ‘settled.’

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