East Asia Theater
Protesters are rejecting what they call Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's "fake concession," with the demonstrations now in their fourteenth straight week. Contrary to widespread media reports, Lam's supposed "withdrawal" of the extradition bill is actually only a promise to withdraw it when the Legislative Council reconvenes next month—with no date yet set. Lam refused the other four demands of the current unprecedented mass movement: repudatiation of the term "riots" for the protests (with "riot" charges carrying a 10-year prison term); an independent investigation into police brutality during the demonstrations; release of all detained protesters, and the dropping of all charges; and "universal suffrage" in elections of the chief executive and Legislative Council. (Nikkei Asian Review, The Villager)
In Episode 39 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the politics of the Hong Kong protests—and especially how they have been playing out in New York's Chinatown. It is natural that the Hong Kong protesters have made common cause with the Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols also struggling for their rights and dignity against China's ruling party-state. But some supporters of these movements have come to embrace a separatist position, actually seeking independent states in Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkistan and South Mongolia. This position inevitably raises certain contradictions. Will self-determination for these regions and peoples be possible without active solidarity with the struggles for democracy and political empowerment by the Han Chinese majority of the People's Republic? Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Hong Kong riot police used tear-gas, rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse protesters as tens of thousands marched in the city Aug. 31, defying a ban. Police fired live rounds over the heads of the crowd as "warning shots" in Causeway Bay. Some protesters set fires and threw Molotov cocktails and bricks at police lines. TV news footage showed riot police beating people with their batons inside commuter-train cars at Prince Edward station, with many passengers seen to be cowering and bleeding. In a first for Hong Kong, police water-cannon trucks fired dyed water at protesters near government headquarters in an effort to identify those who fled for later arrest. The Civil Human Rights Front, a coalition of around 50 pro-democracy groups, had cancelled a march scheduled for that day in response to the government ban, but many organizations pledged to carry on anyway—with some calling the march a "religious" procession in a bid to evade the ban. (HKFP, BBC News, NPR)
Employees at Hubei Meiyang Automobile Industry Co., Ltd. staged a demonstration on July 25 to protest "illegal dismissals, wage arrears and compensation payments." Meiyang Auto, a "new energy" start-up based in the central city of Xiangyang, had been in production for less than two years before halting operations. One day earlier, workers at Eastone Automotive in Shanghai's Pudong district staged a protest claiming they were owed around 40 million yuan in wages in arrears stretching back to the beginning of the year. Employees claimed they were being forced to leave without any compensation, and appealed to the local government for help. And on July 23, workers staged a protest demanding the payment of wages in arrears from a Cadillac dealership in Taizhou, Zhejiang, that had suddenly closed down without warning. So far this year, China Labour Bulletin's Strike Map has recorded 25 collective protests by workers in the automotive sector, up from just five in the same period last year. The protests, mostly related to layoffs and wage arrears, have occurred in car plants, components factories, dealerships and service centers, and even car rental agencies.
A Hong Kong court on July 31 charged 44 protesters with rioting over their involvement in street protests over the weekend. The peaceful sit-in at a park outside Beijing's Liaison Office July 28 turned into running battles between black-clad demonstrators and police, with security forces using tear-gas and rubber bullets. The 44 are the first demonstrators to be charged since protests over the extradition bill began in June. The defendants were released on bail. Most were ordered to remain in Hong Kong, except a pilot who is able to leave when working; and had a midnight to 6 AM curfew imposed on them, except for a children's home worker. Hong Kong's anti-riot law defines rioting as an unlawful assembly of three or more people where any person commits a breach of the peace. If convicted under this law, the sentence can be up to 10 years in prison. This heavy sentence has sparked outrage, and protesters demonstrated at the courthouse where the 44 defendants were charged. While the protests initially began in June to demonstrate against the extradition bill, they have since developed into a call for wider democratic reform.
Huang Qi, a Chinese journalist and "cyber-dissident," was sentenced July 29 to 12 years in prison for illegally disclosing state secrets abroad. Huang Qi is founder of 64 Tianwang, a Chinese news site that has reported frequently on protests and human rights abuses in the People's Republic. His site has run articles on the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. He supported families in Sichuan in their case against the government for children who died in schoolhouses during the 2008 earthquake there. He reported on Tiananmen Square again in 2013 when a rare demonstration was held there, and in 2014 when a woman tried to self-immolate there to protest the opening of the National People’s Congress. Each of these reports led to prison time for Huang Qi.
International rights groups are demanding accountability from China in the death of Ji Sizun, the most recent victim of the ongoing crackdown on dissident lawyers in the People's Republic. On July 10, two months after being released from prison, Ji, 69, died from unknown illnesses, guarded by state security in a hospital in his native Fujian province. He had reportedly been ill-treated in detention. One of China's most prominent "barefoot lawyers," or self-taught legal advocates, Ji spent most of the past 10 years in prison. His release in April came after serving four and a half years on dubious charges of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order" and "picking quarrels." Upon release, reportedly in a comatose state, he was taken straight to the intensive care unit of Xiangcheng District Hospital in his hometown of Zhangzhou. Police allowed only very limited visits by his family, prevented his friends from visiting, and warned family and friends alike not to speak publicly about his condition.
Hong Kong protesters stormed and occupied the city's legislative chamber on July 1, which marked the 22nd anniversary of the handover from British to Chinese rule. The protesters, many wearing helmets, spray-painted the walls with slogans including "Oppose Chinese colonialism." But some, at least, betrayed a nostalgia for the earlier colonialism. Hong Kong Free Press writes: "A British colonial flag—often used in protesters—was also unfurled at the president's chair." And sure enough, the former colonial power has emerged as defender of the protest movement. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warns China of "serious consequences" over the Hong Kong repression, and will not rule out sanctions, BBC reports.