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Friday, July 02, 2004

July 1 and Hong Kong: Beginnings of a Call for True Democracy

On July 1, 2003--(note year)--500,000 Hong Kong (pop. 7 million) residents and citizens marched to voice their opposition to the introduction of a new security bill (article) to the constitution of the basic law, or the rules set up to govern HK after the handover from UK to Beijing. Article 23 called for increased security measures, similar to those in the Patriot Act. Many people, especially in the NGO community, felt that Article 23 was an attempt by Beijing to start limiting the freedoms and rights of Hong Kong citizens and residents. Hong Kong is home to hundreds, if not a thousand of small and large NGOs working in all areas of social, gender, human, and economic justice issues. Here is an excerpt from a statement by Rose Wu, a prominent feminist theologian, activist and close phriend, regarding Article 23.
However, the Hong Kong government is currently rushing to legislate by July this year national security laws on treason, subversion, secession, sedition and the theft of state secrets under Article 23 of the Basic Law. A group of academics criticised the government for not doing justice to public opinion in the three-month consultation on the Article 23 legislation that ended in December 2002 in order to present an impression of positive public support to the government's proposals. With all these questions, we worry that the law will then become a means to deny, rather than to protect, the rights of Hong Kong's people.

One major threat is that the Article 23 legislation will criminalise free speech, especially the proposals regarding sedition and the theft of state secrets. For example, in the bill, the government has not provided a rationale for protecting information relating to Hong Kong's affairs which are within the purview of the central authorities. From the manner in which government officials in China initially handled the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) crisis, it is very clear that their lack of transparency and accountability has seriously harmed people's health on the mainland as well as that of the global community. This should be an important lesson for the Hong Kong government as well.
Due to the protests in July 2003, the Hong Kong government retracted the bill, delaying it's introduction to the Basic Law for a later date.

Now jump to 2004. Beijing's recent denial of political autonomy to the Hong Kong people, enfuriated the population. On this July 1, once again hundreds of thousands of people marched in the street calling for universal suffrage. The cry of "Give Power to the People" was the most controversial, pitting in conflict pro-Beijing and pro-Democracy residents, lawmakers and government officials. Debate has arose over why the protests were so large this year. Some commentators blamed the poor economy (post-SARS) and low unemployment as a major contributing factor to the number of protestors in 2003. Mr. Lau, as quoted on the BBC News feels other wise. I participated in both demonstrations last year and this year.
I don't think the heat has been taken out of the debate by the improved economy and lower unemployment rate as people in Hong Kong are fighting for more autonomy and democracy. They are fighting for their in-born right. In both demonstrations, if you listen to what the demonstrators shouted most loudly, it's "Mr Tung - resign!"
YS Lau, Hong Kong

It appears that July 1 is now an official day for democracy, like June 4 is for Tianammen Square. For people living in Taiwan, Hong Kong is that piece, depending on how this democracy bid resolves, that could ignite a push for independence. China maintains an army of 1 million soldiers across the bay from Taiwan, so any move by the Taiwanese government takes into consideration pending military interaction. In the coming months, and years, as Hong Kong residents fight to directly elect their representatives, their success or defeat will likely affect decisions in Taiwan, and hence, challenge Beijing's claim of "one country, two policies" ruling practice.

The BBC compiled an informative gathering of the major news voices in Hong Kong regarding the most recent marches. Both sides of the debate are represented and each is noted as to what side of the HK/Beijing line they reside on. Read Split Media Voices

From my short experience, the future of Hong Kong WILL be defined by it's people, persons whom for the sake of freedom originally fled China prior to and during the Communist take over. I see a few similarities between the struggle of Hong Kong for it's democracy and the struggle occuring in the United States as to our lack of democracy. I find hope in the struggle of HK residents as they HAVE forced their government to listen to the people. According to Gene Stoltzfus, it takes only 2 percent of a population to enact system wide change. Hong Kong claims at least 7 percent involvement and change is occuring. I wonder what our government would do if 21 million people came to Washington to voice their opposition and new priorities and goals for this country?

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