Europe’s support in Hong Kong is needed to “urge Beijing to accept requests from the Hong Kong people,” leading activist Joshua Wong has told EURACTIV, as violence took hold of the city yesterday (21 July) with armed mobs attacking residents, protesters and journalists.
The assaults, which took place at a train station in the Yuen Long region of the city, resulted in at least forty-five being injured – one critically, and followed pro-democracy demonstrations in the city. The violence was carried out by a large group of masked assailants, clad in white t-shirts.
Following the violence, a statement from the Hong Kong SAR government read that the riots were “absolutely unacceptable to Hong Kong as a society that observes the rule of law,” adding that the government “strongly condemns any violence and will seriously take enforcement actions.”
Earlier in the day, police had discharged tear gas and rubber bullets at a group of pro-democracy protesters, and detained demonstrators. Around 430,000 protesters were said to have taken part in Sunday’s march, according to organisers from the Civil Human Rights Front.
The violence is the latest in a series of riots that have hit the city, following concerns from many pro-democracy campaigners that the autonomy of Hong Kong is being undermined by Beijing.
These thugs are so unafraid of arrest or reprisals from the feckless @hkpoliceforce that they were inciting their fellow white shirts to beat HK citizens in full view of CCTV and camera phones. Will they be held to account or is this now acceptable? #antiELAB #NoChinaExtradition pic.twitter.com/1jWoIFNDZ0
— 𝕾𝖆𝖒 𝕴𝖓𝖌𝖑𝖎𝖘 (@the_ice_man_24) July 21, 2019
Wong, a pro-democracy campaigner and secretary general of the Demosisto party, has long been a vocal advocate for electoral reform and greater autonomy for Hong Kong.
The most recent example where he believes this is being compromised, is the attempt to legislate for an extradition bill that would allow authorities in mainland China, Taiwan and Macau to demand the deportation of suspected criminals based in Hong Kong.
The plans had recently been described as ‘dead’ by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, after there was a significant backlash from Hong Kongers, fearful that Beijing would exercise the new provisions too liberally, in order to extradite pro-democracy campaigners.
“The bill has been suspended but it still exists in the legislative program. It’s not ‘dead’ as Carrie Lam has said. She would never have announced the suspension if there hadn’t been a trade war between China and the US.” Wong told EURACTIV. “This shows how important international communities are to our cause.”
“We urge the bill to be terminated rather than suspended.”
Last week, MEPs in Strasbourg backed a motion to support pro-democracy demonstrators, demanding the Hong Kong government “immediately release and drop all charges against peaceful protesters” and calling for an “investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police against protesters.”
Wong welcomes the support from the European Parliament, but hopes that more can be done to persuade Beijing about the demands of the Hong Kong people.
He told EURACTIV that international communities are starting to realise the danger of the extradition bill, not just on moral grounds, but also because of the threats the bill may have to the business community in Hong Kong, a city famed for its liberal economic policy and its international financial markets. Wong says that awareness of the risks of the extradition bill should be coupled with more political pressure on China.
Following the European Parliament’s motion, American counterparts are beginning to voice concern over the state of play in Hong Kong.
On Sunday, Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern said that the “orchestrated violence against peaceful protestors is unacceptable. Hong Kong authorities must protect the right to peacefully assemble and protest. The world is watching.”
However, some Western countries have also been seen to be complicit in the violence in Hong Kong, after it recently transpired that the UK government has been selling surveillance equipment to Hong Kong authorities in addition to teargas used by local police in the city, which UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has since banned, following its use by police forces against protesters.
Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 following 156 years of British rule and has since been considered a semi-autonomous region of the Chinese state, under the principle of “one country, two systems,” allowing Hong Kongers the right to certain civil liberties not permitted in China.
However, Wong doesn’t believe that this agreement is being respected. “At the moment, the situation we have is one country, one and a half systems,” Wong said. “The government here is just serving the interests of Beijing.”
“Elected lawmakers have been unseated by the Chinese government. Pro-democracy campaigners have been disqualified after they have tried to stand in local elections. Some of our supporters have been jailed. We are facing threats.”
Wong himself was released from prison in June, following a period of incarceration for his involvement in the Mong Kok riots, part of the Umbrella revolutions – a movement that emerged as part of a pro-democracy campaign in 2014.
“Compared to the price paid by activists in mainland China, the price I pay is small,” he said. “I’ve just been jailed for less than four months. If they threaten to jail me for 40 years, that could be a different story.”
(Edited by Benjamin Fox)