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.
Despite limited victories, leaders of the declaredly "leaderless" protest movement that has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in Hong Kong over the past weeks pledge to keep up the pressure. The unpopular bill that sparked the protests and would have allowed extradition to mainland China has now been suspended. But six student unions issued a call to escalate protest actions if the government does not respond to their outstanding demands in the coming days. These include that the extradition bill be formally withdrawn, that all charges be dropped against arrested protesters, and investigations be opened into cases of police brutality. Protesters are also demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down.
Nine leading activists of Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement have been convicted under colonial-era "public nuisance" laws, concluding one of the city's most politically charged trials in years. The nine may face up to seven years in prison. They include the famous "Occupy Trio"—legal scholar Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Rev. Chu Yiu-ming. The Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong's history, during which thousands occupied Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay from September to December of 2014. (HKFP, BBC News) In a sentencing statement, Rev. Chu Yiu-ming said: "[M]y heart tells me that with this defendant's dock, I have found the most honorable pulpit of my ministerial career... We have no regrets... We do not give up " (HKFP)
Pressure from China, restrictive legislation and self-censorship among Taiwanese youth have emerged as threats to freedom of speech in Taiwan, according to Nylon Cheng Liberty Foundation director Cheng Tsing-hua. He made his comments on Taiwan's Free Speech Day, April 7, which commemorates the day in 1989 that his brother Cheng Nan-jung, a young democracy advocate under the gradually loosening one-party dictatorship of the Kuomintang, self-immolated as a protest against government restrictions on freedom of expression. The surviving Cheng noted that the recent Taiwanese film Missing Johnny was last month banned in China after the male lead, Lawrence Ko, was reported to be a supporter of Taiwanese independence. He also pointed to Taiwan's Assembly and Parade Act, a holdover from the KMT dictatorship, as restricting the right to hold public demonstrations. And he noted government orders banning the public from displaying the national (Republic of China) flag at various occasions— such as the 2008 visit of Chen Yunlin, then chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.
Human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng was reportedly charged Jan. 27 with "inciting subversion of state officials" after writing a letter calling for reform to China's constitution. Yu was arrested outside his home in Beijing nearly two weeks ago for "disrupting a public service," just hours after he wrote an open letter urging democratic changes, including multi-party presidential election. His wife was summoned on Jan. 27, at which time she learned of the more serious incitement charge now against him. Authorities searched Yu's office and residence, and seized documents and data related to his more recent cases. Yu is reportedly being held under "Residential Surveillance in a Designated Location" (RSDL) and is out of communication with his family and attorney. Those held under RSDL can be detained for six months with no outside communication. In addition, the current charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 15 years.
Panama announced June 13 that it is breaking its long-standing diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of establishing relations with China—a clear political coup for Beijing. The Panamanian statement said it recognized "only one China" and considers Taiwan to be part of it. The change was spurred by an unavoidable fact: China is the second most important Panama Canal user after the United States. Last year it sent 38 million metric tons of cargo through the interoceanic waterway, accounting for 19% of its traffic. The announcement of the diplomatic switch also comes just as Chinese enterprises began building a container port, with natural gas terminals, in Panama's Colón province, on the Atlantic side of the canal. "I think Dominican Republic and Nicaragua will soon follow," Mexico's former ambassador to China, Jorge Guajardo, tweeted soon after the announcement.
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was barred from entering Thailand and deported Oct. 5. The 19-year-old was detained on arrival at Suvarnabhumi airport, held by police for 12 hours and then flown back to Hong Kong. Wong had been invited by Thai student activist Netiwit Chotipatpaisal to speak at events marking the 40th anniversary of a student massacre in 1976. The deputy commander of Suvarnabhumi airport's immigration office said at a press conference that Wong was blacklisted after China asked the Thai government to deny him entry, according to a report in Thai media. Thailand's military rulers, in power since a 2014 coup, denied any role in the detention. But junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters after the deportation: "He already went back to China. Officials there have requested to take him back. It's Chinese officials' business. Don't get involved too much. They are all Chinese people no matter Hong Kong or mainland China."
The annual Hong Kong vigil commemorating the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre took place June 4 amid a split, with the city's biggest student union boycotting. The Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) broke from the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, to emphasize a "localist" position. An estimated 125,000 attended the vigil in Victoria Park, compared to 135,000 last year. Disturbingly, a localist protester even rushed the stage at the event, seizing a microphone to exhort: "We don't want a democratic China, we want Hong Kong independence!"