The government’s retreat in the face of massive protests was an unexpected win for the territory’s citizens, but they are unlikely to prevail against Beijing in the long struggle to maintain their rights
Last week, two days after one of the most violent protests in Hong Kong since China resumed control of the territory in 1997, Thomas, a 20-year-old medical student who declined to give his last name, was still helping to clean up and replenish supplies at an emergency medical station outside the headquarters of the territory’s government.
He had spent the better part of a day ferrying wounded protesters from the streets to his first-aid tent nearby. In unprecedented scenes in this city once seen, somewhat patronizingly, as a pragmatic, orderly, business-oriented community with little time for politics, thousands of demonstrators—mostly young, many of them equipped with little more than gas masks and umbrellas—had taken to the streets. Thomas found himself treating internal injuries and blunt-object wounds inflicted by repeated baton rounds and tear-gas fusillades from the Hong Kong police.
But when I spoke to him, exhausted in the searing midsummer heat of tropical Hong Kong, he was ready for the next round of protests to defend the territory’s jealously guarded but fragile freedoms. “Protesting might not succeed, it’s true,” he told me. “But if we don’t protest, we will definitely not succeed.”
Hundreds of thousands of protesters march through the streets of Hong Kong to protest an extradition bill, June 16. PHOTO: KIN CHEUNG/ASSOCIATED PRESS
It is a sentiment that has echoed across centuries of democratic resistance. And although Hong Kong is home to just seven million people, the struggle that continues to play out on the city’s streets has global resonance. While many in the West ponder their own politics and lament the supposed erosion of their freedoms, the people of Hong Kong are engaged in a real struggle for their human rights against the world’s biggest authoritarian power.
The immediate target of the revolt is the Hong Kong government, led by the hapless chief executive, Carrie Lam. But everyone here knows the real fight is against the People’s Republic of China. Beijing is being challenged not by a great military rival but by hundreds of thousands of students, doctors, factory workers, lawyers and civil servants, armed only with a seasoned defiance and a determination to defend their cherished liberties.
That they are unlikely to succeed in the end is not just the predictable denouement of the 1997 agreement returning Hong Kong to China. The fact is that, as an economic asset and gateway, the city now matters less to Beijing than ever before. Its prosperity may well be a sacrifice that President Xi Jinping is willing to make as he asserts the authority of the Communist Party ever more aggressively at home and abroad.
For now, at least, Hong Kong’s rebels have the upper hand. Their resistance was rewarded when, three days after the violent clashes and less than a week after an estimated one million people—one seventh of the city’s population—took to the streets, Ms. Lam announced a climb-down.
She would, she said, “suspend” her attempts to pass legislation through Hong Kong’s legislative council that would have allowed China to extradite people in Hong Kong suspected of crimes. Later, Ms. Lam, who was appointed by the communist government in Beijing, issued an extraordinary televised apology. “I personally have to shoulder much of the responsibility. This has led to controversies, disputes and anxieties in society,” she said. “For this, I offer my most sincere apology to all people of Hong Kong.”
The government had insisted that the extradition arrangement was necessary to ensure that Hong Kong didn’t become a “haven for fugitives” and that the transfer of suspects to China would be permitted only after due judicial process. But people here, including thousands of lawyers, scoffed, warning that the measure would open the way for Beijing to have political opponents and critics of the communist government picked up and sent across the border, where they would be subject to China’s capricious legal arrangements.
“This law would be a huge blow to Hong Kong,” says Jeffrey Ngo, a leading member of the Demosisto group, which advocates for more freedom for the territory. “The rule of law is essential to Hong Kong’s character and its commercial viability.”
‘It’s too soon to call this a turning point—too soon to count our blessings.’—Emily Lau, former Hong Kong lawmaker
Few in Hong Kong are ready to declare victory in what some have termed “the last battle” for the territory’s freedoms—and its unusual status as a semi-independent enclave within the People’s Republic. To veterans of the fight for democracy in Hong Kong, Ms. Lam’s unexpected decision instead looked simply like a tactical retreat by China and its proxies, not a strategic victory in the long struggle for human rights.
“It’s too soon to call this a turning point—too soon to count our blessings,” said Emily Lau, a former lawmaker who has been a persistent critic of China and its nominees for years.
The next day, hundreds of thousands of protesters again took to the streets, this time demanding the full withdrawal of the bill and Ms. Lam’s resignation. More protests took place at the end of the week to keep the pressure on the government and to send a continuing signal to Beijing and the world.
When Britain agreed to hand Hong Kong over to China in 1997, Beijing committed to maintaining much of the territory’s legal system and open culture. In recognition of Hong Kong’s striking economic success over 150 years of British rule and its status as one of the world’s major financial centers, the Communist Party leadership agreed to a most unusual arrangement. China’s leader, Deng Xiaoping, enshrined the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”: Hong Kong would be legally part of China, but it would be a “special administrative region,” largely free to make its own laws (outside of defense and foreign policy) and maintain its liberal system of governance, which includes freedom of speech, freedom of the press and, crucially, the rule of law and an independent judiciary.
There were plenty of skeptics at the outset. Sure enough, over the first 20 years of China’s control, the character of the city has steadily changed. Chief executives of the territory have become steadily more complaisant to China’s wishes, say critics.
A report in April by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons noted the erosion of liberties. “We fear that Hong Kong is in reality moving towards ‘One Country, One and a Half Systems,’ ” the members of Parliament said after a review of the territory’s political system. “We also believe that the Chinese government’s approach to Hong Kong is moving closer to ‘One Country, One System’ than it is to maintaining its treaty commitments under the Joint Declaration.”
The report went on to note in detail breaches of the right to freedom of expression, freedom of the press and media, freedom of assembly and association and academic freedom. It also noted the prevention of democratically elected representatives from taking their seats, extrajudicial abductions, violations of the rule of law, interference in business activities and clampdowns on political speech and human-rights defenders.
Some critics go further. “It is more like One Country, 1.1 Systems,” says Claudia Mo, convener of the pro-democracy bloc in Hong Kong’s legislature. Or, as Thomas, the medical student, puts it, “China’s invisible hand is becoming steadily more visible.”
In 2016, for instance, several anti-Beijing lawmakers refused to take the prescribed oath of loyalty to the People’s Republic, vowing instead to serve the people of Hong Kong, or deliberately flubbed the oath. Though duly elected, they were removed from office.
China has been blamed for spiriting people out of Hong Kong and onto the mainland for detention and torture. The local press, lively and garrulous in the past, has taken on a somewhat muted quality when reporting on subjects of high sensitivity to Beijing. Last year, a journalist for the Financial Times was denied a visa renewal and banned from re-entering Hong Kong for the crime of hosting an event with a local leader who has called for independence for the territory.
A protester holds an umbrella during a performance on a main road in the occupied areas outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Oct. 9, 2014. The color yellow was closely associated with the massive pro-democracy protests known as the Umbrella Movement. PHOTO: KIN CHEUNG/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Five years ago, tens of thousands took to Hong Kong’s streets in colorful demonstrations to demand an end to China’s steady encroachment on their liberties. These were known as the Umbrella Movement protests, after the implements the marchers carried to ward off both the seasonal rains and the pepper spray used by the police. But that protest fizzled in what seemed like a possible indication of the ultimate acquiescence of Hong Kongers in their political reality.
So when the protests burst onto the streets this month, some were surprised at their ferocity. Mr. Ngo, of the Demosisto movement, says that much more was at stake this time. “In 2014, people were fighting for greater democracy—trying to get China to fulfill its promises,” he said. “In 2019, they are trying to preserve their existing freedoms.”
‘If Hong Kong becomes just like any other Chinese city, it’s not going to work for international business people.’—Claudia Mo, Hong Kong lawmaker
This was not the only time since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 that street protests have forced the territory’s government to back down. In 2003, the government’s chief executive tried to introduce legislation that would have expanded the definition of treason under Hong Kong’s constitution in ways that would have dramatically reduced freedom to criticize the Chinese government. Concerns among commercial interests—especially the institutions that have made Hong Kong a major financial center—helped to defeat the measure. Their objections may have been crucial this time as well.
“The risk of extradition [to China] could affect business people too. They’re not apathetic,” says Ms. Mo, the pro-democracy legislator. “And if Hong Kong becomes just like any other Chinese city, it’s not going to work for international business people.”
While the protesters are determined to fight this battle alone if necessary, they also retain a sliver of hope that the world beyond China might help them preserve their way of life in inhospitable circumstances.
On the streets near the government’s offices, Alexandra Wong was bedecked in the British union flag—on her T-shirt, on her umbrella, in her hand. In an irony that may not be lost on Beijing, which recovered Hong Kong as part of its pledge to reverse the “century of humiliation” under imperial intervention, she has fond recollections of Hong Kong’s outside rulers. “As a British colony, we were very happy because we could see the future and we could do what we want,” she says. She isn’t hopeful, given the distractions roilingthe U.K. today, but she would like Britain again to stand firm with its former subjects.
One hears more optimism about the U.S. under President Donald Trump, given his administration’s aggressive posture toward China. “There’s an opportunity here—the U.S. could make the preservation of Hong Kong’s freedoms part of its trade discussions with China,” says Ms. Mo. “U.S. investment here is not exactly tiny, and I hope Washington can find a way to take Hong Kong into account,” she adds.
For now, the territory remains tense as people await the next move from the government and its shadow bosses in Beijing. Any immediate optimism is tempered by the realization that two powerful changes since Hong Kong’s handover to China make it much less likely that the Communist Party’s leaders will tolerate much latitude for this troublesome outpost in their own land.
The first shift is that Hong Kong’s economic significance has dramatically diminished. In 1997, Hong Kong’s output was, remarkably, 20% of China’s GDP. Today, after two decades of rapid Chinese growth, it makes up less than 3%. Chinese financial institutions and other businesses have also become a major presence in the territory, making Hong Kong more dependent on the mainland. Still, if forced to choose, Beijing has always made clear that it would opt for China’s territorial integrity over Hong Kong’s prosperity. If that was true 20 years ago, it is even more so now.
The other big change is the rise of more authoritarian rule in China. Some democrats, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, once thought that the city’s success as a thriving political territory under the rule of law, with freedoms taken for granted in the West, might be a kind of democratic wedge, an inspiration to the rest of China.
But since 2012, when Mr. Xi came to power, the Western conceit that China would become steadily freer has been demolished as China’s new leader has reversed much of the political liberalization of his predecessors. “Thinking [that] Hong Kong could help make China freer was part of the misconception that China was in any case headed in that direction,” says Mr. Ngo.
So despite the tumultuous events of the past week and the success (for now) of the rebels, the odds for Hong Kong don’t look good. It is hard to be hopeful about the territory’s future. Yet it is equally impossible not to be inspired by the events of the past few weeks.
All along Harcourt Road, where many of the pitched battles between police and demonstrators took place last week, posters were pasted to lamp posts, depicting the famous “Tank Man,” a lone man confronting a column of tanks near Tiananmen Square in 1989. They bore the words: “We are Hong Kongers with a conscience. We are not thugs without a conscience.”
“The Chinese government knows that Hong Kong is not Tiananmen Square—what they did 30 years ago, they would not dare to do it here,” says Ms. Lau, the former lawmaker. It is a characteristically defiant statement from a characteristically defiant people, the last flickering flame of resistance to a rising oppressor. For now, at least, it is also true.
By Gerard Baker
A Virginia Democrat, who was accused in 2014 of having sex with his teenage secretary he later married, won the Democratic primary on Tuesday for the state’s 16th Senate District.
Joe Morrissey, a former state legislator, was sentenced four years ago and jailed over a scandal involving a minor. He was in his fifties at the time while the minor was 17 years old. She worked at his law office.
Despite denying the wrongdoing, he pleaded guilty in 2015 to a misdemeanor, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and admitted that prosecutors had enough evidence for a conviction.
The Democrat spent six months in jail for the crime but managed to continue serving in the state legislature during the sentence.
“People try to blow things up more than what it is,” voter Melvin Washington told the Associated Press. “Ain’t none of us perfect.”
The issue is an Indiana abortion case, Box v. Planned Parenthood. In 2016 the state passed a law banning so-called selective abortions—based on race, gender or disability—and requiring that a baby’s remains be cremated or buried after the procedure is finished. The law was challenged, and the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found both provisions unconstitutional.
Last week’s Supreme Court ruling only partially settled the matter. It upheld the state requirement on the disposal of fetal remains but declined to consider the constitutionality of laws that prohibit what he termed “eugenic” abortions. Sooner or later, writes Justice Thomas, the court will have to take up the issue. “Having created a constitutional right to an abortion, this Court is duty bound to address its scope.”
Those words come at the end of Justice Thomas’s concurrence, which amounts to a 20-page summary of the eugenics movement in the U.S., how it found common cause with abortion-rights activists, and the ramifications of this alliance. Margaret Sanger, feminist icon and founder of Planned Parenthood, opposed abortion but thought birth control—including forced sterilization—should be used to prevent “unfit” people from reproducing.
Sanger was especially concerned about black people having children. She campaigned for birth control in black communities and set up a clinic in Harlem in 1930. “Support for eugenics waned considerably by the 1940s as Americans became familiar with the eugenics of the Nazis,” Justice Thomas explains. But “even after World War II, future Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and other abortion advocates endorsed abortion for eugenic reasons and promoted it as a means of controlling the population and improving its quality.”
Whether or not today’s abortion-rights advocates share the views of yesterday’s eugenicists, technology has made the elimination of fetuses with unwanted characteristics disturbingly commonplace. Abortion rates for babies diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome are close to 100% in some European countries. Sex-selective abortions in India have resulted in some 50 million more men than women in the country.
And eight decades after Margaret Sanger set up her birth-control clinic in Harlem, Justice Thomas writes, “there are areas of New York City in which black children are more likely to be aborted than they are to be born alive—and are up to eight times more likely to be aborted than white children in the same area.” Pro-choice advocates cite black poverty and discrimination to explain high black abortion rates, but other low-income minorities, such as Hispanics, terminate pregnancies at far lower rates than blacks.
This isn’t the first time Justice Thomas has used a concurrence or a dissent to lay out the relevant racial history of a case. And whenever he does so it’s a public service.
By Jason L. Riley
It is a far more common occurrence than you might think, yet most of us have no idea what drowning really looks like. Clue number one: forget everything you’ve seen in the films. There’s no yelling or splashing; it’s undramatic and easy to ignore.
Drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide, with children particularly susceptible, according to the World Health Organization. For infants up to the age of three, it’s the number one cause in countries like Australia where exposure to water is more regular.
Alarmingly, nearly half of these drownings will take place within 25 yards of the caregiver, and in 10 per cent of cases, the adult will watch it happen without realising.
Mario Vittone, a Florida-based expert in sea rescue, develops training courses on the subject of drowning. Below he explains how to spot the signs, and possibly even save a life.
A cautionary tale
The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and dashed through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach.
“I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard.
”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears.
How did this captain know – from 50 feet away – what the father couldn’t recognise from just ten?
Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognise drowning by experts and years of experience.
The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s almost all of us) then you should make sure that you know what to look for whenever people enter the water.
Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” upon rescue, she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event.
The Instinctive Drowning Response
– so-named by Francesco A Pia, PhD, is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect.
There is very little splashing, no waving, and no shouting or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents); of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In 10 per cent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening.
NOTE: Many years ago I had the honor of meeting some of Dr. Savimbi’s leadership in Washington DC. He was a great man who in his in younger years realized the evils of Marxism and changed his focus to Democratic reform. He made mistakes but his efforts in the long run helped the Angolan people and Africa. Dale Yeager
The former leader of Angola’s Unita rebel group, Jonas Savimbi, is being reburied 17 years after his death.
Thousands of former Unita fighters wearing white T-shirts emblazoned with images of Savimbi attended the ceremony in his home village of Lopitanga.
His 2002 death brought an end to one of Africa’s longest civil wars.
His remains were finally handed over to his family on Friday following confusion earlier in the week.
Unita says the funeral ceremony will be an important step towards national reconciliation in the oil-rich nation.
However, no government representatives were present at the ceremony, reports the AFP news agency.
His coffin was draped in Unita’s green and red flag.
Angola was a Cold War battleground, with the US and apartheid South Africa backing Unita, while the governing MPLA received support from the former Soviet Union and Cuba.
At least 500,000 people died in the 27-year conflict.
Who was Jonas Savimbi?
He was killed by government soldiers in 2002 and was hurriedly buried in a cemetery in the central town of Luena. His grave was marked by a cross of iron on a mound of red soil, AFP reports.
He will be buried near his father.
His family and Unita officials had demanded his reburial for many years to no avail.
The impasse was broken after his long-time foe, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, stepped down as president in 2017.
His successor, Joao Lourenco, agreed to their demands and his body was exhumed earlier this year, with DNA tests confirming his identity.
Durão Sakaíta, one of Savimbi’s eldest sons, told the Lusa news agency that the family would “finally be at peace” after he was reburied.
- Founded Unita movement in 1966 in eastern Angola
- Abandoned his medical studies in Portugal to join anti-colonial struggle
- Despite Angola’s independence in 1975, Unita continues to fight the government
- Savimbi considered himself leader of Angola’s struggle against communism
- He received strong support from the US and met President Reagan at the White House in 1986
- His death in 2002 was celebrated in the capital, Luanda