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Lessons of Hong Kong resistance

This article is over 2 years, 7 months old
It has been one year since the repressive Security Law was enacted in Hong Kong. Lam Chi Leung, an activist based in Hong Kong, explains how the situation has changed
Issue 2763
Umbrellas guard protesters from state surveillance at an anti-extradition bill protest in 201
Umbrellas guard protesters from state surveillance at an anti-extradition bill protest in 201 (Pic: Studio Incendo)

In the 12 months since the implementation of the National Security Law (NSL), things have been grim in Hong Kong.

More than 10,000 people have been arrested for participating in the anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill (ELAB) movement of two years ago, and more than 2,500 have been prosecuted.

At the same time, some 100 people have been arrested for NSL offences, including Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, members of opposition groups, and demonstrators.

Many political and civil organisations from the opposition camp, including ­pro-democracy, religious, and service sector unions have announced that they are disbanding.

Apart from Apple Daily, which was forced to cease publication in late June, Hong Kong’s alternative media has also come under serious political pressure.

Mass demonstrations defy draconian new laws in Hong Kong
Mass demonstrations defy draconian new laws in Hong Kong
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For example, the online website, Stand News has deleted all of its old articles.

Certain programmes have been suspended, and some hosts have been replaced. Citizens have become cautious in posting online and voicing political slogans, fearing they may be detected by national security authorities.

The freedom of speech and press freedoms that Hong Kong residents have enjoyed for the past 40 years are now seriously imperilled.

According to the NSL, not only actions but even speech that is considered separatist, subversive, or in collusion with foreign forces, can be criminally punished.


The definitions of “separatism”, “subversion,” and “collusion with foreigners” are extremely vague.

In deliberately refusing to clarify just where exactly its political “red line” lies, the Beijing authorities are intimidating the citizens to facilitate government control.

Some pro-Beijing figures have already said that the NSL is not just of use in attacking the opposition but should be the catalyst for a “political purge”.

This is in order to start a ­transformation of Hong Kong’s judicial, social, cultural, ideological and other spheres.

Moreover, the Hong Kong government is preparing to restart the legislative process for Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law.

It stipulates that the Hong Kong government should establish its own legislation to protect national security to strengthen its political control.

In 2003, a march of 500,000 city residents led to the shelving of similar Article 23 legislation.

The Apple Daily was launched in 1995. It is Hong Kong’s largest selling newspaper and one that supports the democratic opposition.

The founder has long supported mainstream pro-democracy groups such as the Democratic Party and has privately donated to such parties.

During the 2019 anti-ELAB campaign, he went to the US to meet politicians, telling them, “The people of Hong Kong stand with the US in fighting a war of values against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).”

It’s not hard to see that Apple Daily was a thorn in the side of the Beijing government.

Apple Daily’s political stance is one of opposition to CCP authoritarianism and criticism of the Hong Kong government. It is anti-communist, pro-American, and supportive of free-market capitalism.

The socialist left opposes the forced suspension of any publication and defends its freedom of speech. Having said that, we cannot abandon our principles and support Apple Daily’s political line.

The majority of residents sympathize with Apple Daily. On 24 June, its last day of publication, one million copies were sold. Some residents went to the newspaper’s office to express support for its journalists.

This year’s June 4 rally to commemorate Tiananmen, and the July 1 pro-democracy march on the anniversary of the hand-back, were both banned.

Given the level of political pressure, it is hard to imagine large-scale demonstrations of public support for Apple Daily, but most residents oppose the government’s authoritarianism.

In early May, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced that the ­government was exploring the possibility of passing a “Fake News Law”. It would deal with “misinformation, hate speech, and lies.”

This is intended to allow the government to further clamp down on news reporting and online discussion.

Existing legislation in Hong Kong already contains penalties for spreading false information, there is no need for a separate “Fake News Law.”

Both president Jo Biden and Donald Trump said that they oppose the repression in Hong Kong. But the US monopoly capital that they represent remains inextricably linked to circles within the Chinese bureaucracy.

There is a long history of exchange between US law enforcement and the Hong Kong police.

Weapons and other riot control technology used by the Hong Kong police have been supplied by American companies for many years.

During the anti-ELAB ­movement, Trump at one point referred to the Hong Kong mass movement as a “riot”, adopting the same language as the Beijing government. We can anticipate that Biden will simply pay lip service to the issue.

In 2019-20 quite a lot of Hong Kongers looked to Trump, hoping that he would force the Beijing government to end its crackdown on the Hong Kong mass movement and stop the passage of the NSL.

Far right localists in Hong Kong encouraged this trend and cultivated unrealistic expectations of the US.

They glorified Trump’s right-wing populism and claimed that Black Lives Matter was a CCP conspiracy.

With Trump’s departure from office, these Hong Kongers have come to a point of desperation, unable to see a way forward.

Hong Kong voters back democracy
Hong Kong voters back democracy
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For many years our position has been that in order to win democracy and autonomy for Hong Kong, we need the support of workers everywhere. A priority is to win the ­understanding and support of workers in the Chinese mainland.

To pin the future of Hong Kong’s democracy on America or other Western imperialist countries will only turn it into a geopolitical tool in the struggle between China and Western imperialism.

It will allow the CCP bureaucracy to demonise the Hong Kong democracy movement and successfully drive a wedge between the people of the ­mainland and Hong Kong.

The only true alternative is to unite the people of the ­mainland and Hong Kong in a collective struggle for democracy and workers’ power across the whole of China.

Hong Kong has now experienced the failures of the 2014 Umbrella Movement and the 2019 anti-ELAB campaign.


Coupled with today’s severe government crackdown, we are unlikely to see recent mass movements on the scale of these past two events.

To a large extent, the future of democracy in Hong Kong depends on whether there are economic crises in mainland China.

If the bureaucratic rule is not weakened, then Hong Kong is facing a grim period, one even more difficult than at present.

Hong Kong residents who are pro-democracy have not changed their stance, but some have lost their bearings, and some have chosen to emigrate.

Nevertheless, some too have begun to review the goals and strategies of past mass ­movements. The new generation is willing to consider different opinions—including those of the socialist left—and weigh the experience of the “New Trade Union Movement”.

The experience of these past struggles would seem to support what the socialist left has been advocating.

First, we need the self-organisation of the masses, not loose and irresponsible guerrilla actions.

Second, we need the ­self-organisation of ­workers and direct action such as strikes.

For this we need to combine the demands for political democracy with anti-capitalist demands.

Finally, we need to express solidarity with the struggles of workers in ­mainland China for their rights, to link the progressive forces of Hong Kong and mainland China.

Although Hong Kong’s ­socialist left has only limited influence, there was some positive development from 2009 to 2014.

Subsequently, because of the rise of far right localist ideology, the broad left fell into political confusion and was unable to intervene effectively.

Today, in the new political environment, the socialist left needs to work with the new generation of youth, to organize on the basis of the issues that most concern the public.

Only on this basis can it gradually strengthen its influence.

This interview was published first by the South Korean organisation Workers’ Solidarity, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

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