Martin Lee: Hong Kong’s young people should be willing to drag out this fight

One year after the anti-extradition bill protest, Hong Kong is facing renewed challenges to maintain its way of life. Hong Kong politician Martin Lee said Hong Kong’s younger generation should be prepared for a long, drawn-out fight.

DW: Today’s the one-year anniversary of the anti-extradition bill protest movement. How do you assess the changes that Hong Kong has gone through over the last year?

Martin Lee: The city has changed a lot, but the changes came about because of Beijing. Beijing has changed its basic policies regarding Hong Kong, and that’s why people are resisting. In the white paper published by Beijing in June 2014, the Chinese central government claimed they have complete jurisdiction over Hong Kong, and that’s a complete departure from Deng Xiaoping’s original plan for Hong Kong.

The summarized first paragraph of the Sino-British Joint Declaration effectively laid out how Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong with a high degree of autonomy. Our law would be exactly the same as before and our lives would not change for 50 years. But in the white paper released in 2014, the Chinese government changed all that. It is no longer Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, but the Chinese government ruling Hong Kong with complete jurisdiction, which is a complete departure from Deng Xiaoping’s formula.

What they are doing now is to implement this new policy to the full. More terrible things will come, I’m telling you. This is not the end. As they are enacting the national security law now, it is already breaching the Basic Law, which clearly states that only the Hong Kong legislative council may legislate for Hong Kong. Not anybody else, including the National People’s Congress. It’s very clear, because otherwise how can there be a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong if Beijing can legislate for us.

However, Beijing is now telling the whole world that they are no longer playing the old rules of the game laid down by Deng Xiaoping, which is stated in the Joint Declaration as China’s basic policies regarding Hong Kong. Now it’s a different set of policies. It’s Chinese Communist Party will control Hong Kong directly.

On August 31, 2014, the Chinese government put forward a proposal for the election of the chief executive by giving Hong Kong people the vote, but they wanted to control the nomination process in the election of the chief executive. They only allowed two to three candidates and effectively, Beijing will control all of them. They would elect them for us, and that’s why Hong Kong people protested.

They wanted to give us a sham democracy through the election of the chief executive. This is another breach of the promise, because we expect universal suffrage will be according to international standards. They broke the agreement first before Hong Kong people reacted.

That was six years ago. Last year, our chief executive Carrie Lam tried to enact the extradition bill, so of course it was not in the interest of the Hong Kong people. They protested and instead of withdrawing it right away, she only suspended it. Following months of protests normally during the weekends, we are now celebrating the first anniversary of the important event. These anniversaries will keep coming back.

DW: Earlier on Tuesday, Carrie Lam commented on the one year anniversary of the anti-extradition bill movement by saying that she hoped everyone in Hong Kong had learned something from last year’s protest as Hong Kong can’t afford to be chaotic. What are your thoughts on her reflection on the anniversary?

Martin Lee: She was referring specifically to the skirmishes that happened at the end of every protest in Hong Kong. But if you look at it closely, every time the skirmishes were concluded by the police containing the situation. The rest of the world have been watching skirmishes of this kind happening in Hong Kong, with protesters wearing black clashing with the police. The police always won.

How can you describe that as a serious threat to national security? China is not that weak. When Deng Xiaoping gave us the “One Country, Two Systems” and the Basic Law, the Chinese government was not confident at all about their future. Even then if you look at the Basic Law, it was nothing like this kind. Even the Chinese government during those awful moments was able to come up with a Basic Law for Hong Kong, which the Chinese government now can’t live with.

Just look at the logic of it. China is the world’s second largest economy and Xi Jinping has already said that China will be effectively the number one country in the world in five years. China is confident, so why do they want to exercise their full control over Hong Kong now? This is a pretext. Of course there is nothing to threaten China’s national security from Hong Kong.

The Chinese government also keeps saying the democrats in Hong Kong are causing all the trouble, so the Hong Kong government was unable to legislate its own national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law. But if you look at how Hong Kong’s Legislative Council functions, I can’t give you one single day in which the Chinese government didn’t have control over Hong Kong’s legislative council. They always have the majority.

When China wants something done, our legislative council will deliver, as how they passed the national anthem law last Friday. China wanted it and China got it. So how can they say they can’t legislate the national security law under Article 23 because of the opposition? I have never heard anything so nonsensical.

Hong Kong will not just be a normal Chinese city once the national security law is imposed. Hong Kong will become Xinjiang, and they will certainly lock up the majority of the Hong Kong people who are against China. We need re-education camps because our prisons can’t hold so many people.

DW: One year ago, Hong Kong was trying to prevent China from breaching its judicial independence. One year on, the city seems to be dealing with a bigger challenge. How do you assess this situation?

Martin Lee: When the national security law is passed, they will control Hong Kong’s courts. They already get the Hong Kong government on its knees, so when Carrie Lam said all these things, I don’t know how she would face her own conscience in the middle of the night. She should be defending Hong Kong, because she is the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

But instead of defending Hong Kong’s systems, she has been on her knees kowtowing to Beijing. Hong Kong’s young people are now the ones defending the city’s values. These kids should be playing soccer or other sports, as what I did when I was their age. They now may sacrifice a number of years of their lives and go to prison.

I think people in the Hong Kong government should be ashamed of themselves. Instead of retiring or resigning, they put the blame on us even though they don’t want to legislate the national security law under Article 23. They are punishing protesters’ violent conducts but they are not punishing police brutality. The police were caught on television using brutality against the demonstrators. None of them have been arrested. That’s a breach of rule of law, which requires everyone to be treated equally.

DW: Hong Kong has been so much over the last year, but at a time when situations aren’t looking to improve, what is your advice for Hong Kong’s younger generation as many of them are considering leaving Hong Kong?

Martin Lee: Hong Kong’s younger generation should realize that we have not yet succeeded. We have not failed. Beijing has failed. That’s why Beijing doesn’t even want to play the game Deng Xiaoping established. Young people in Hong Kong should recognize that by their courageous acts, putting their own lives at stake, they have actually been winning so far.

They have forced their opponents to abandon the game that’s based on their rules. Our young people should say “good, we are winning.” They shouldn’t have to consider themselves as having lost the game all the time. They should be prepared for a long fight. No people in the world could grab power from repressive governments just by one battle alone.

They should translate their anger and frustration into perseverance and confidence. They should have the willingness to drag out this fight. They are younger than the Chinese leaders, so they have the advantage. Very importantly, they now have the support of the international community. A lot of the older people are also on their side. That’s why whenever there is a skirmish, people in the neighborhood would come out.

Young people have been supported by the local population in Hong Kong, as well as the international community. Why do they need to use violence? Once they use violence, they know they can’t win. Then it gives the tyrants in Beijing an excuse to use force on the protesters. They can also say Hong Kong people are terrorists. It’s such a handy word for them to use. They are using these sporadic acts of violence to justify their decision to walk away from Deng Xiaoping’s promises.

We must not give them excuses and we must be prepared for a long, drawn-out fight.

This interview is published in Mandarin on DW’s Chinese website.

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William Yang

William Yang is a journalist based in Taiwan, where he writes about politics, society, and human rights issues in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.