We are all Hongkongers tonight. We should all care about the brave men and women fighting for freedom in Hong Kong
An edited version was published on Independent Voices on 29th September 2014.
This weekend, tens of thousands of peaceful protesters in Hong Kong were dispersed by the city’s police force on an unprecedented scale.
This is not the Hong Kong Britain handed over to China in 1997.
In August, Beijing ruled that Hong Kong, after 17 years’ long wait, will only be able to participate in Iranian-style democracy. Occupy Central, a campaign group aiming to blockade the financial district, reacted immediately by declaring waves of civil disobedience action. But it was last week’s student class boycott that fast-forwarded history. Students entered the public space outside government headquarters (not offices, contrary to certain reports) and prompted citizens to assemble and pressure the police when the students were surrounded and detained. As more and more Hongkongers answered calls for help outside Government headquarters, resulting in a panicked police response.
When I wrote in July and again in August criticising Beijing’s reckless and irresponsible behaviour, I anticipated the Chinese government in an uncompromising mood. ‘The bureaucrats in Beijing will not be moved one iota by civilian casualties, as the world discovered in 1989.’ However, I did not foresee Hong Kong Police falling into the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army and facilitating violence on their behalf. The current government, furthermore, is notorious for its slavish loyalty to Beijing. Hong Kong was pushed into a corner, which was why I called for Britain’s urgent mobilisation of the international community.
To be clear, this is first and foremost Hongkongers’ fight. But we cannot let them fight alone. No, this is not the warzone of Iraq and Syria. Instead, this is a people from a world class city who frankly for the better part of its history had been keener on capitalism rather than democracy. This is a people who were promised rights then got them violently striped away, and then disgracefully characterised as rioters. This is a people who are fighting with their last breathe against the bureaucrats in Beijing – the dragon the world dared not to offend. This is a people defending their way of life. This is a people that are friends of Britain in values and companions in history. How can we leave Hong Kong to rot in the hands of China?
‘But what can we do?’ You ask. You might be the retired Durham miner with no mine to work in, you might be the staunch Thatcherite in Birmingham for the Conservative conference, or you might not even care about politics. It doesn’t matter. You can start with signing this petition to ask the Foreign Ministry to respond to the current crisis. You can sign up to this event on Facebook pleading David Cameron and Phillip Hammond to address this issue in their conference speeches. Pick up a yellow ribbon and tell people why you are wearing it. You can join groups for direct action on social media across the UK, from London to Glasgow, organised by volunteers moved by Hongkongers’ resolute spirit.
Together, we will change the course of events, as the brave men and women in Hong Kong had begun to do.
After a tiring day of stressful news, I was mind blanked and zoned out as I headed down the tube. The train passed Holborn, where the red Central line and blue Piccadilly cross. I was reminded of Admiralty, Hong Kong, where two train lines, incidentally also blue and red, cross. I thought of those volunteers streaming into Admiralty to protect protesters at the frontline, disregarding their own safety. I thought of those who organised themselves, not under any political banner, but in the name of Hong Kong and a citizen of the city we call home. I thought of those who pleaded the police to stop the use of force, reducing themselves to tears when chanting ‘you guys are Hongkongers too!’
I wanted let my guard down and let my tears out. But then I remembered Admiralty. I remembered the students and teacher, parents and children, bosses and workers, braving tear gas and lifting each other up. Still, ever so willing to remain non-violent. Their only defence are the umbrellas in their hands to shield excessive use of pepper spray, and quick feet to dodge rounds of rubber bullets. Their most effective offense is their chanting and singing voice, and the tears in their eyes. These tears were not caused by tear gas. They were caused by broken hearts.
Tonight, we are all Hongkongers. And together, we will win.
London, 29th September 2014