The National Security Law is beginning to bite in Hong Kong, with demonstrators and organisers arrested and Covid-19 used as a pretexts for further crackdowns. Colin Sparks looks at the ongoing resistance activity.
Resistance to the new National Security Law continues in Hong Kong. Last Sunday, two months after the law came into effect and on the date originally scheduled for elections, there was a big demonstration in Mong Kok, one of the centres of popular opposition to the government. Police arrested 289 people, including a 12-year old girl. The girl, who was out shopping with her brother and mother, was jumped on by at least four police officers and pinned to the ground. She and her brother have been issued with a penalty notice under the Covid-19 restrictions, which ban gatherings of more than two people. Both of them intend to refuse to pay and challenge the cops in court. In another incident, a bus driver was charged with possession of an offensive weapon – having a spanner to fix his mirrors.
The protest was smaller than those a year ago, numbering in the hundreds rather than the hundreds of thousands. Part of the explanation for this decline is the brutality with which the police have handled any public demonstrations. The other major factor is a genuine fear of the health consequence of large gatherings while the pandemic is still a real threat. A better gauge of public attitudes towards the government is the low response to the introduction of universal testing for the virus. So far, only just over 1 million people, out of a population of more than 7 million, have answered the government’s call. Hong Kongers usually take public health very seriously – more than 90 per cent of people wear masks in public. The reason for this slow response is because the Beijing government is “helping” with the testing programme and people fear that they will use it to collect biometric data on those that come forward. Beijing has a well-developed, and extremely repressive, system of social control, using biometric data, that they have perfected in their campaign of terror in Xinjiang, so Hong Kongers are concerned that the same technologies will be used against them if their data is captured by Beijing. Another hopeful sign of continuing resistance is that bus drivers are threatening a “drive to rule” in protest at the arrest of their colleague.
The two months since the law was imposed on Hong Kong have seen a steady heightening of repression. There have been arrests of a wide spectrum of pro-democracy activists, including Jimmy Lai, the owner of Apple Daily, which has always supported the movement, veteran socialist activist ‘Long Hair’ Leung, and Agnes Chow, one of the leaders of youth party Demosisto, which itself has dissolved to avoid being banned. Arrest warrants have been issued for activists who have fled abroad and others, trying to escape to Taiwan by sea, were intercepted by the mainland coastguards. 12 candidates were banned from running for the Legislative Council elections, which were themselves postponed for 12 months. “Subversive” books have been removed from libraries and a new curriculum for Liberal Studies teaching in schools will fit Beijing’s view of government and China’s history. Most recently, a magistrate who refused to convict a demonstrator because police testimony was ‘lie after lie’ has been reassigned to an administrative job where he will no longer try cases. Sometimes the police and government have used the new law, at other times they have fabricated charges under laws inherited from the British imperialist regime. They are determined to punish the opposition so widely and so severely that the spirit of resistance will be completely crushed.
There is little sign that they will succeed. After the defeat of the 2014 Umbrella Movement there was a large-scale wave of repression (referred to by Hong Kongers as a ‘White Terror’ – borrowing the term from nearby Taiwan) aimed at preventing any resurgence. That failed miserably. The movement remerged in 2019 stronger, deeper, and more determined than ever. There is no doubt that for the moment the forces of reaction are on the offensive and open resistance is very difficult. However much one might wish, it is not likely that we will see millions on the streets as we did twelve months ago. But, as the response to mass testing shows, public contempt for the government and its puppet masters in Beijing remains very widespread. Sooner or later, the sparks of resistance that we can still see today will once more ignite into a major conflagration.