The protests in Hong Kong have rightly attracted international media attention. Escalating tensions frequently boil over into violence coming from both the police and pro-Beijing triads as well as hardcore elements among the protestors.
My Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance colleague Brian Marlow and I were in the city during Saturday’s the anniversary of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution which lasted for over 2 months. We spoke to locals and expats, as well as foreign students, and many told us the same story.
Throughout, the narrative shown in Western mainstream media has been a simple, easily told one: Hong Kong fears for its democratic rights in the face of Chinese attempts to limit them.
The problem is not that this narrative is wrong – because it isn’t – but that it oversimplifies the growing frustration and anger that Hong Kong’s citizens feel towards their own legislature and its refusal to listen to their concerns.
Hong Kongers do not just fear the extradition bill that threatens to allow their trial and punishment in mainland China, where due process and the rule of law are largely non-existent. They also fear the rollout of the ‘social credit’ system implemented on the mainland, they fear the growing inequality of public housing where mainlanders are given preferential access to affordable accommodation in the world’s most expensive city while locals pay through the nose for flats barely bigger than jail cells. And the government, in their eyes, cannot be trusted to keep its promises when it comes to resolving these issues. It has broken too many before and to this day refuses to take the extradition bill off the table, merely placing it on hiatus.
Most importantly, Hong Kongers feel the ‘White Terror’ which has swept the city, creating an atmosphere familiar to those who lived in the Soviet Union, Pol Pot’s Cambodia or Nazi Germany.
It was palpable as we walked the streets. People would not speak of the protests in public for fear that among the crowd could be an off-duty police officer, Chinese government supporter or worst of all a member of the triads who have repeatedly attacked protestors and passengers alike with batons at train stations across the city – as the now-infamous Associated Press photograph of the trio of Hong Kongers sprawled on the floor of an underground train, one with a helmet bearing Red Cross insignia, helpless and desperate as they attempt to avoid a jet of mace from the security forces.
It is a fear of reprisal by a government they do not trust. A government seen to be at the beck and call of Beijing rather than its own citizens. Worryingly, it is a fear which is well grounded in evidence. Pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was filmed shaking hands with the white-shirted men suspected of being responsible for the attacks.
Hong Kongers are shouting to the world as their own government fails to protect them. The day after the August 31 event, where British, Canadian and American flags were held high by locals, protesters marched peacefully to the British Consulate chanting “God save the Queen!”
The citizens of Hong Kong no longer feel their government can defend their rights and many are beginning to doubt that it even wants to. As their lawmakers abandon them, their police attack them and criminal elements within their own community work as spies and enforcers for Beijing it becomes clear that we must step up our support for a people so committed to democracy that they are willing to fight for it in the most literal sense.
Australia cannot be idle on this and nor can the rest of the world because China most certainly will not be.
We must stand with Hong Kong.
Eliot Metherell works for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.
Body photos: Eliot Metherell.
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