A chill wind from the north is sweeping across Hong Kong

June 18, 2020 06:00
People join the July 1 protest march every year since 1997 for political and livelihood issues.  Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong’s freedoms will be tested in less than two weeks. That’s when the police must decide if it will allow the annual July 1 protest march to proceed. My gut feeling is the police will use coronavirus social distancing rules as an excuse to refuse permission.

Just two weeks ago it used the same excuse to ban this year’s annual June 4 candlelight vigil, which has been held every year since 1990 to commemorate the June 4 1989 crackdown. The Victoria Park vigil is now part of Hong Kong’s psyche. So is the annual July 1 march.

On July 1 1997 – the day of reunification – Hongkongers held its first annual protest. People join the peaceful march every year for political and livelihood issues. Turnout size depends on the issues at the time. A record 500,000 peacefully joined the 2003 march to oppose Article 23 national security laws. If the police bans this year’s march, it will confirm Hong Kong’s freedoms are eroding.

Ocean Park has opened. So has Disney. Schools too. The annual book fair will go ahead next month. Social distancing rules will be relaxed to allow public gatherings of 50 people, restaurants will no longer have customer limits, and wedding banquets can resume.

If all that is allowed, why not political gatherings? Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has a logic for that. She told the media last week people in crowded supermarkets or Ocean Park are not in the same cluster. They are just shopping or having fun. But if people gather in a cluster to join an activity, they would violate social distancing rules.

If I could interview a virus I would ask if it differentiates between people shopping or having fun and people joining a political activity. I am sure the virus would tell me not to ask stupid questions. It would say its job is to indiscriminately infect people. The virus would be accused of discrimination if it only infected people at political rallies. Don’t bother explaining the logic of the virus to Lam. She wouldn’t understand it.

What makes it safer to be inside a packed Hong Kong supermarket than at outdoor rallies where social distancing is possible even though the clusters join an activity? What difference does it make to the virus whether it’s a political activity or shopping? You’ll only get an illogical answer from Lam.

June 4 vigil organizers had offered to observe social distancing rules but the police still banned it. Gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed from tomorrow. Will the police allow this year’s march if July 1 organizers offer to be in clusters of 50 and to strictly observe social distancing rules? You know the answer.

Lam has boasted the majority of Hong Kong people support Beijing imposing a national security law on Hong Kong because three million people signed up to back it. It is easy for people to sign petitions online or at street booths. Such petitions cannot guarantee a genuine reflection of public opinion.

In fact, numerous news reports said many were forced to sign or ordered by their bosses to do so. HSBC’s Asia-Pacific CEO Peter Wong Tung-shun signed the petition after the bank faced immense pressure. Is loyalty through threats real loyalty?

If Lam believes in numbers, why did she ignore the two million people who marched against her extradition bill? Surely, two million real people willing to protest in the hot sun is more reflective of public opinion than an alleged three million faceless people who signed a petition.

A chill wind is sweeping across Hong Kong. Brace yourselves. It will get chillier. I said before Hong Kong is entering a political dark age. We have now entered it. Just this week security secretary John Lee Ka-chiu hinted opposition members who meet Western leaders to promote democracy could violate Beijing’s national security law for Hong Kong. Beijing said it would have jurisdiction over some security cases.

Justice secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah insisted she had the power to overrule a magistrate who allowed the private prosecution of a policeman who shot a protester with live ammunition during last year’s protests. Cheng said the private prosecution could be political. That’s for a trial to determine. If anything is political, it’s her. She is a political appointee who should recuse herself from such decisions.

Hong Kong’s top officials are now leapfrogging over each other to show their patriotism to Beijing even though most have families with foreign passports or children at schools in the West. Constitutional and mainland affairs secretary Erick Tsang Kwok-wai boasted he isn’t afraid of possible US sanctions against him because he doesn’t have any American assets nor will he visit the US or even Canada.

Brave but idiotic words by a senior Hong Kong official who will now never be able to discuss constitutional issues with his US and Canadian counterparts. If that is the new philosophy of Hong Kong officials, I suggest Tsang urge all top officials, including Lam, to never visit the US or Canada again, and to urge their families to surrender their foreign passports.

-- Contact us at [email protected]

A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.