By Bob San
AAP contributing writer
HONG KONG (July 5, 2019) — Another week, another massive demonstration march in Hong Kong.
The latest mass demonstration took place on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China. Organizers estimated about 550,000 people took part in the march. This followed a march on June 9 that drew 1.03 million and another one on June 16 that saw 2 million participants.
These record demonstrations were staged in response to the contentious Extradition Bill proposed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. This piece of legislation, if passed, would allow Hong Kong to transfer anyone in Hong Kong suspected of wrong doings to mainland China. Many Hongkongers fear China will use this bill to arrest Hong Kong political activists and dissidents and send them to China, where tortures and forced confessions are common and rules of law and fair trials as the civilized world knows it does not exist.
HongKongers have been increasingly alarmed by China’s interference in recent years. When the colony was returned to China on July 1, 1997, it was under the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by China and the United Kingdom in 1985. Under the declaration, “the one country, two systems” principle was agreed between the two countries. Under this principle, China agrees that the communist system of China would not be practiced in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong’s capitalist system and its way of life and freedom would remain unchanged for 50 years. This would have left Hong Kong unchanged until 2047.
However, China has made it clear in recent years it does not intend to honor the agreement. It has tightened its control over the city, chipping away at freedom of speech, judicial independence and political rights and brazenly kidnapped several bookstore owners who sold anti-Communist China books.
This proposed Extradition Bill is, in a way, is the last straw. Many in Hong Kong feel if this bill passes, it would end Hong Kong as a free society. Concerns were raised from all sectors of the community, including legal professionals, journalists, human rights groups and business chambers. Critics expressed fears that the city would open itself up to mainland Chinese law and that people from Hong Kong would fall under the jurisdiction of a different legal system. To many, this is Hong Kong’s final fight to remain a free and open society.
The first march, on June 9, drew 1.03 million marchers, who demanded the government withdraw the bill and that Lam resign. A small group of protesters and the police clashed after the march but Lam refused to withdraw the bill.
On 12 June, the day the government attempted a discussion of the bill, protests outside the government headquarters escalated into violent clashes. Police fired tear gas, beanbag rounds and rubber bullets at largely peaceful protesters and declared it a “riot”. After the clashes, Lam announced at a press conference on June 15 that the bill would be paused, not withdrawn.
That did not sit well with most HongKongers. On Jun 16, 2 million marched to demand the Hong Kong government completely withdraw the bill, apologize for the police brutality against protesters and Lam to resign.
So far, Lam has steadfastly refused to do so, prompting another march on July 1, the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China. As with the two previously marches, this one was peaceful and orderly. Volunteers were handing out free water bottles and asked marchers to keep the streets clean. And the anti-China sentiment was vividly displayed as many flags of Taiwan and Great Britain were seen, not the flag of China.
“As usual, it’s as peaceful as ever, with volunteers putting out garbage bags to separate plastic from paper,” commented a marcher. “There are stations to refill water.It touched my heart that most of the volunteers are around 20 years old.”
While all the marches have been peaceful, it is obvious that some HongKongers are frustrated with the government’s refusal to listen. They believe more violent actions are needed to force Lam to withdraw the bill and to step down. Hours before the peaceful July 1 march, a group of protesters gathered at the Legislative Council and smashed windows at the front entrance. At that point, the Hong Kong police, who were inside the building, mysteriously retreated, allowing the protesters to enter the building and caused extensive damage.
“Peaceful marches are useless,” one banner said.
“It’s the third mass rally in Hong Kong and life goes on for our Chief Executive and the responsible government officials. They said no to all of the people’s requests,”said a marcher.
The July 1 march and violent outbreaks are the latest episodes in the on-going battle Hong Kong people have launched against the extradition bill and China. There will surely be more protests, marches and clashes.