Democracy is in decline worldwide, with authoritarianism on the rise in numerous nations, including China. So it is particularly encouraging that people peacefully marching can still have an impact, as they have in Hong Kong in recent days.
Up to 2 million people, out of a population of about 7 million, took to the streets on Sunday to express their rejection of heavy-handed tactics in response to previous protests and — more profoundly — of what most citizens consider an insincere apology from Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, over a proposed extradition law.
In a statement, Lam expressed regret “that inadequacies of the government’s job has caused major contradictions and arguments in Hong Kong society, making many citizens feeling disappointed and upset.”
Such blithe blather only seemed to further enrage and embolden citizens who are justifiably upset over a bill that would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite its citizens — and visitors, potentially including executives working for Minnesota firms and those advocating for human rights. Those are just two of many groups facing high stakes in Hong Kong.
The ostensible initial reason for the legislation — extradition to Taiwan — is not what has inflamed citizens. Rather it’s the prospect of extradition to mainland China, where prodemocracy activists, independent journalists, executives and just about anyone who gets on the wrong side of the repressive regime could face an opaque, even Kafkaesque, judicial ordeal.
Many of Sunday’s marchers demanded Lam’s resignation, and for valid reason. The Beijing-backed leader seems more reflexively responsive to the restrictive Chinese government than the fate of her own citizens, who have already endured restricted freedom since the United Kingdom turned over the territory to China in 1997.
The extraordinary display of people power comes amid challenging times for China’s leadership. President Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump are engaged in an increasingly intractable trade war that threatens the Chinese, American and global economies. And it comes at a time of growing global concern over China’s horrible human rights record — especially regarding its minority Muslim population — and the advancement of its Orwellian “social credit” system aided by advancements in surveillance technology.
If he meets with Xi at the June 28-29 G-20 Summit in Osaka, Japan, Trump is expected to emphasize trade issues. But the president should press human rights, including the Hong Kong issue, as well.
That may not pierce Xi’s conscience, considering he’s already cemented China in one-party (Communist), one-person (Xi, now president indefinitely) rule.
But the cynical mercantilism that undergirds Beijing’s rule is of concern to Xi, especially if investors shun Hong Kong.
Lam has withdrawn — but not scrapped — the extradition bill. Hong Kong residents would be wise to continue their protests until she does — and until it’s too late for anyone to protest without the risk of descending into China’s unjust legal system.