Spanish – Today, the situation in Hong Kong is close to chaos, after 18 weeks of demonstrations, mostly peaceful, but with a repressive response from the police, dependent on the semi-autonomous local government and the Beijing dictatorship. The police response has resulted in hundreds wounded (some with firearms) and thousands of prisoners. It supports the allegation by many demonstrators that Hong Kong “has already become a de facto police state.”
The demonstrations have blocked roads, paralyzed the airport, suspended international events (such as the Formula E calendar date) hindered economic dynamism, and cast shadows on the future of the city, fearing that China will at any time attempt a military solution to the conflict or at least declare a “state of emergency” to enforce the power to authorize arrests, censor the press, change laws, bypass the local Legislative Council (biased in Beijing’s favor), or assume full control of transportation.
This is worrying: if Hong Kong becomes a military, political, or ideological battleground, peace and prosperity will be severely affected both in the city and across the Asian continent, generating massive international outrage which will worsen the current crisis.
The protests started because of an extradition bill, promoted last February by Carrie Lam, the head of the Beijing-dependent local government, which many feared might extend China’s power over the Hong Kong judicial system, which has traditionally been independent, impartial, and meets very high standards.
The bill called for the arrest and extradition of suspected criminals to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong does not have a treaty, including mainland China (a country where the courts fully abide by the orders of the Communist Party, blatantly prosecuting its dissidents). It would involve a political handling of justice and a possible instrument of intimidation, political kidnapping, and repression against opponents of the Chinese regime, critics, and journalists.
Today the demands of the demonstrators in Hong Kong include the withdrawal of the extradition law (which already happened). They also want the government to stop categorizing the demonstrations as “revolts,” as the terminology criminalizes organizers and participants, a description that led to the Tiananmen massacre in 1989. They also want an independent investigation regarding the tactics and brutality perpetrated by the police, and freedom and amnesty for all detained protesters, and reactivation of the political reform process in the city, which should include full universal suffrage for the election of its rulers. However, new demands arise and accumulate, exacerbating the scenario.
This is very complicated: achieving greater democracy and a real participation of the citizens in their government is mentioned but not implemented in the so-called Basic Law, which turned the city into one of the two special administrative regions of China (the other is Macao), for a period of 50 years and by which, China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong on 1st July 1997 and which strengthened the commitment of “one country, two systems,” thus preserving the economic, political and legal capitalist foundations necessary for the development of the city in the following five decades. However, the demonstrators are courageously trying to extend their political, economic, and legal autonomy, making real the slogan of May 1968: “Be realistic, ask the impossible.” They are citizens who understand everything at stake and are acting per the gravity of the moment.
It is important to clarify: only a minority of demonstrators support the demand for full independence of Hong Kong, incompatible with the Basic Law, and with the principle of territorial integrity, which is very costly for the Chinese dictatorship. The majority has chosen to demand greater democracy to defend the valuable and highly valued economic and judicial system of the territory, which is the basis for the prosperity of the country and its people, with freedoms that are not enjoyed in the rest of China. But the dynamics of the demonstrations could gather more and more support for full independence as there is already talk, in the heat of the protests, of an unofficial anthem for the former British colony.
Hong Kong is ranked number one in the Fraser Institute’s Index of Economic Freedom, followed by Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States, completing the top five. It is a freedom that has allowed it to be one of the wealthiest territories in the world. In the index mentioned before, Hong Kong has excellent qualifications in the area of regulations to business, credit, and labor. The city also ranks 16th in the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project, just behind Japan and higher than, for example, consolidated democracies such as France (17th), Spain (21st), and Italy (28th). However, the rating of its legal system, although high, has been declining gradually in recent years, as can be seen in the Fraser Index, at least since the data for 2010. Such a decline and the attempt to impose new prohibitions and Chinese interference in Hong Kong’s institutions give rise to fears among many Hong Kongers that by 2047 when the city’s special status ends, they will no longer have any freedoms left.
To mitigate the crisis and explore a serious way out of the protests that began last June, Beijing should reaffirm firm respect for the principle of “one country, two systems:” the Chinese government would do itself a great favor if it expressed it. It already has enough with a trade war with the United States, which goes on for a long time, to run the risk of imploding by the periphery, in the manner of the former Soviet Union.
The protests in Hong Kong (where at least a third of the city’s inhabitants have participated in them) are a clear example of the struggle for human rights and freedom (a substantive freedom, not that of cursed speeches, but that of buying and selling at whatever price you want, without the government meddling) of a population that does not want to give them up. In Hong Kong, they understand that life worsens wherever socialist and statist ideas are practiced, such as those followed by the Chinese dictatorship. There is no single exception to this rule — not a single one.
In this regard, the exceptionally high civic commitment of the Hong Kong people contrasts with the widespread civic desertion in Latin America. Mexican citizens who watch with indifference as President Lopez Obrador attacks judicial independence and autonomous organizations. Or Argentines who are preparing to vote happily for Kirchnerism, ignoring the legacy of corruption, murder, and abuse from their previous government. Or Bolivians and Nicaraguans who have seen, almost impassively, the repeated constitutional violations of the governments of Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega. Or Venezuelans who are incapable of uniting in the face of the Chavista dictatorship and who seek “external intervention” to solve the problem they themselves generated. Or Peruvians who silently watch the recent coup d’Etat by President Vizcarra are signs of a real lack of commitment by Latin Americans to their rights and freedoms.
The citizens of Hong Kong today present a real, exemplary display of civic courage and respect for the freedom to the rather ghostly and elusive Latin American citizens.