The long march for democracy

April 29, 2019 11:07
Pro-democracy demonstrators cheer as they approach the government headquarters in Admiralty on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

We say 130,000. They say 23,800.

Those are the widely different estimates of the number of people who joined Sunday's pro-democracy march, the former from the organizers and the other from the police. 

There is no debate, however, that it was the biggest turnout for a mass action since the 2014 Occupy Movement.

On Sunday people from all walks of life poured into the streets to tell the SAR government, and Beijing, that they fear Communist China.

The city has surely benefited from its return to Chinese sovereignty, particularly in terms of business and trade, over the past two decades, and we can look forward to a rosy future as part of the Greater Bay Area as well as the Belt and Road Initiative.

But the fact remains that Hong Kong doesn't want to have anything to do with Communist China's legal system.

Sunday's massive protest was meant to show the people's opposition to government plans to amend the city's extradition laws.

According to the SAR government, the plan to amend the fugitives law was spurred by the case of a Hong Kong man who killed his girlfriend in Taiwan; Hong Kong authorities could not send the man to the island to face justice in the absence of an extradition agreement with Taiwan.

There should be no problem if the issue was only about the extradition of the murder suspect to Taiwan, but the proposal would also cover cases involving alleged crimes committed in the mainland.

In opposing the bill, Hongkongers simply want to maintain the "one country, two systems" principle, that they will still be protected by the rule of law. 

They fear that this assurance of protection, this core value of Hong Kong, would be removed once they allow the Communist authorities to have a say in determining who has committed an extraditable crime.  

With the exception of a few, most of the city's business heavyweights have been coy in expressing their worries about it. But, really, nothing could be more worrying than the political risks that could see their business empire being chipped off from the Forbes list, just as what had happened to some of their mainland counterparts.

Sunday's march was staged a few days after a district court jailed four of the nine leaders of the 2014 Occupy protests for up to 16 months.

The 79-day civil disobedience campaign five years ago was a most peaceful movement, but the activists had to pay the price for fighting for democracy.

At least the leaders of the Umbrella Revolution could appeal their cases in prison, but who knows what would happen to those indicted and convicted in the mainland as a result of the proposed amendments to the extradition law?

Well, there are people who oppose the proposed legislation, and there are people who support it, just as there are many estimates of the number of protesters who joined Sunday's mass action.

It certainly won't be easy to establish a consensus in the second half of the 50 years that no changes to the city's capitalist system will be done as Beijing has promised.

I counted 5,000 steps from Causeway Bay to the government headquarters in Tamar for a 90-minute walk on a not-so-hot Sunday.

The road to democracy will only get tougher, and hotter, as more demonstrations are staged in the days leading to summer.

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EJ Insight writer