October 3, 2023

An Editorial by Bob San
AAP contributing writer

HONG KONG — I have never been prouder as a Hongkong/American as I am in these last few months.

I have been following the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong for the past six months. I go to Asia quite often and I happened to be in Hong Kong in June when the protest movement began, sparked by an extradition bill proposed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam that would allow Hong Kong to send Hongkongers and other nationals to China for trials for any offense. I joined the June 9 march which drew 1 million people. Hopes were high that day and Hongkongers felt the huge turnout would force the government to concede. No one in that crowd expected things would turn the way they have in the following six months. 

Bob San taking part in this past summer’s protests in Hong Kong. Submitted photo

Despite the large turnout on June 9 and another one a week later that drew 2 million, Lam refused to withdraw the bill. Frustrated with the government’s lack of concession despite huge peaceful marches, some younger protesters turned to more physical measures and the government responded with physical forces. 

Two events cemented the protest movement’s shift to more violent tactics. On July 21, a gang of white-shirted triad members attacked protesters going home in a subway station in Yuen Long. Later, news photographs showed Hong Kong police officers and a legislator shaking hands with these triad members. Then on Aug. 31, police forces brutally pepper sprayed and hit innocent citizens at a subway station in Kowloon. These two incidents ignited more violent reaction from the protesters.

Lam finally got the greenlight from Beijing and withdrew the bill after two months of increasingly violent confrontations. But by then the anti-bill protest had morphed into a full scale movement for democracy. Since then, weekly battles between the police and protesters become a way of life in this once peaceful city. The movement is now demanding the government to yield to their five demands, including the resignation of Lam, an independent inquiry into police brutality and universal suffrage, which was promised by China when it signed with Great Britain the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984.

Why am I proud to be a Hongkong-American? First the Hong Kong part. As an immigrant from Hong Kong, my main impression of Hongkongers was they are very astute and very pragmatic and to be honest, not the type that would put up a physical confrontation and make huge sacrifices to reach their politcal demands. A common saying is “Sail the way the winds blow.’ They are unlikely to rock the boat or risk it all for a principle. The Umbrella Movement five years ago was a good example. Millions supported the peaceful and civilized protests, but once the police used some tear gas, the majority of Hongkongers stayed away and the movement ended without achieving any of its demands.

Sure there are Hongkongers such as Lam and other pro-Beijing people who are like that, but the movement in the past six months has shown me it is led by a generation of young Hongkongers who are willing to risk it all in order to protect the city they love. They are willing to sacrifice their futures, their bodies and even their lives so Hong Kong won’t lose its freedom and unique culture and way of life and become just another city in China. I am so proud of these young people. They are so brave, principled and determined to keep Hong Kong free.

I do not like violent and it breaks my heart to see so many young people getting arrested and abused by the ruthless police. But I completely understand that violence is one of several weapons of the movement. There will still be peaceful marches if the police permits them, but there will also be continued physical tactics employed to keep the pressure on the Hong Kong government and garner international attention. So these “young braves” fight on against a police force that is increasingly aggressive and has shown it is willing to shoot unarmed kids to kill.

This battle for freedom is one that even most of the youngsters know they are unlikely to win. Most of these kids are armed with umbrellas and plastic shields and they are going against a police state controlled by Beijing and a ruthless police force infiltrated by members of the People’s Liberation Army. It’s David vs. Goliath, eggs against rocks. But they persist, hoping for a miracle. 

And the Hongkongers who are not battling on the front line also show their support. Many donate money, volunteer as medical personal, provide free legal services for protesters who were arrested, harbor protesters on the run from the police in their apartments and some even drive their own cars to help protesters escape the police. And they gave the protest movement a resounding YES vote when the pro-democracy camp won the recent city election by a landslide.  They may not be battling the police on the front line, but millions of Hongkongers showed their support for the younger protesters with their votes. 

That’s why I am so proud of these Hongkongers.

No matter what happens in the future, the Hong Kong protesters have already won in my book. 

One, their peaceful and physical protests forced Beijing to withdraw the extradition bill. As far as I know, this is the first time in the 70-year history of Communist China that the Chinese Communist Party had conceded to a demand by democracy protestors. Usually, such protests in China are dealt with swiftly and brutally. But in this case, the Hong Kong protesters prevailed and forced Beijing to withdraw the bill. And it is Lam will soon be replaced, meaning that the protest movement will achieve two of their five demands.

Two, the brave actions in the past six months by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters reveal to the whole world what Communist China really is. It is like the Chinese Communist Party and its leader Winnie the Pooh Xi were stripped naked and the whole free world can see the ugliness and evilness that lie under those designers’ suits, dyed black hair and expensive watches. The rest of the free world can see clearly that China is a country that lies and cheats, does not follow international laws and treaties, and has designs on spreading its ugly ways to the rest of the world. 

Another brilliant tactic by the Hong Kong democracy movement is reaching out to the rest of the free world for support. At rallies I attended, flags of USA, Great Britain were very prominently displayed. The powerful testimonies by pop diva turned political activist Denise Ho and Umbrella Movement leader Joshua Wong in several countries, including the US Congress, have made a tremendous impact. Ho and Wong alerted other countries that their fight is not just to keep Hong Kong free, but also to warn the other countries that China will continue to spread its reign of terror if not contained.

Why am I proud to be an American? The powerful testimonies by Wong, Ho and other Hongkongers are main reasons that the US Congress had passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Spearheaded by Senator Marco Rubio, the act actually united the usually deeply divided US Congress as it passed by unanimous votes both in the House and Senate and President Trump had no choice but to sign it.

The USA is not perfect and is constantly the object of criticism and scorns by other nations. But what other nation has done so much for the Hong Kong democracy movement. The USA passed a bill that provides the threat of U.S. withdrawal of Hong Kong’s special economic status that China enjoys, and the separate threat of imposing financial sanctions and travel restrictions on individual Chinese and Hong Kong officials and their families who impinge upon Hong Kong’s autonomy. It could give China and those officials plenty of pause before clamping down further on the protesters.

After Trump signed the bill on Thanksgiving Day, over 100,000 Hongkongers celebrated wildly in the city center, many waving American flags and singing the Star Spangled Banner. In their lonely David vs. Goliath battle against a tyrannical and powerful communist state, the protesters’ spirits are lifted by the support of the U.S. That makes me proud to be an American.

The passage of the bill and the recent political election victories are great news for the Hong Kong democracy movement, but there is still a long, hard fight ahead. The history of Communist China indicates that Beijing is unlikely to yield further. But from talking to many young Hong Kong freedom fighters, I can tell from the determined looks in their eyes and on their faces that they will continue the fight. May God be with them.