20 September 2019
Pro-democracy activists assail Beijing's "authoritarian rule" in Hong Kong during a National Day protest on Sunday. Photo: AFP
Pro-democracy activists assail Beijing's "authoritarian rule" in Hong Kong during a National Day protest on Sunday. Photo: AFP

What National Day means to Hong Kong

October First is the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong’s sovereign state since 1997.

Government officials and Beijing loyalists mark the day with joyful celebrations, while the opposition stages protests to voice out their anger at central authorities and the local functionaries, who are doing everything in their power to remove the unique qualities that make us Hong Kong and turn our city into an indistinguisable mainland territory.

This year, more than 40,000 people took to the streets to denounce the emerging “authoritarian rule” in Hong Kong, while Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered her first National Day speech in Chinese style, making her more of a completely Chinese government official rather than Hong Kong’s leader.

The pro-democracy protesters on Sunday demanded the resignation of the Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen over the recent jailing of young activists who led the Occupy Movement three years ago.

It is quite strange for the protest organizers to focus on Yuen while proclaiming the return of authoritarian rule as the main theme of the protest. Yuen has barely anything to do with the return of authoritarian rule in the city. Whatever he does is in compliance with orders from the north.  The organizers should have focused the protest on Beijing, which is responsible for the erosion of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.

Avery Ng of the League of Social Democrats, one of the organizers of the march, made a grim assessment of the situation in the city. Ng said Hong Kong is entering an authoritarian era, in which the law is used against people who hold views that are different from those of the government. “For those who support the government’s views, no matter what crimes they commit, they will go unpunished,” Ng said.

Reacting to the pro-democracy march, the government insisted that the Basic Law provides constitutional protection to Hong Kong’s legal system, judicial independence, human rights and the rule of law. It said judicial decisions are made independently after fair and open hearings on the basis of the evidence presented in court and the applicable law. There are no political considerations in the court’s rulings at all, the government stressed.

From the perspective of the pro-democracy camp, National Day is but another day of protest against Beijing’s rule. Over the last two decades, Hong Kong has been losing the advantages it had during the British era, including judicial independence and freedom of expression.

Hong Kong people are feeling the pressure as the authorities are drawing so many red lines that we must not cross, such as the advocacy or even mere discussion of the concept of Hong Kong independence and self-determination.

These are clearly the emerging signs of Beijing’s authoritarian rule in Hong Kong, signs that became apparent after the people in 2014 stood up to fight for a chief executive election without intervention from the central government.

Says Demosistō: “As Hong Kong gradually becomes an authoritarian society, what we need is not more whitewashing or blind recognition of the country’s systems, but to be alert regarding our political, judicial and societal systems, and resistance towards one that is unfair and unjust.”

But the SAR government is doing everything to make us feel that everything is fine and normal. A few hours after the pro-democracy march, traditional fireworks lit up the sky above Victoria Harbour, attracting a crowd of about 250,000. The government also organized hundreds of events to mark the day, although most Hongkongers chose to spend the day elsewhere.

In her speech, Carrie Lam said: “After nearly 40 years of reform and opening up, China has made big strides forward: from managing to stand on its feet to becoming prosperous and strong, and is now the second largest economy in the world. The quality of life of its people has continued to improve. Internationally, China plays a very important role in various areas such as politics, economics, technology and environmental protection.”

She also said China’s growing prosperity “not only gives Hong Kong strength to rise to challenges, but also provides opportunities for Hong Kong to explore new directions for its development, and to seek new impetus as well as an expanded scope for such development.” Spoken like a true Chinese official.

That’s how the “one country, two systems” principle works in Hong Kong.

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EJ Insight writer