JAPANESE LAWMAKERS MUST MORE VIGOROUSLY PROTEST BEIJING’S SUPPRESSION OF HONG KONG
Pro-democracy candidates in Hong Kong scored a resounding victory in all 18 district councils on November 24, capturing 389 (approximately 85%) of 452 elected seats. With a record turnout of 71%, the elections reflected a strong sense of crisis shared by Hong Kongers.
The candidates deserve their victory after having fought heroically since early June against their Beijing-backed government, declaring emphatically that Hong Kong is not China. But a closer examination of the election results leaves one less than optimistic about the future of the semi-autonomous former British colony, which reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” scheme.
We should first note the total number of votes polled—1.68 million for the pro-democracy forces against 1.24 million for the pro-China forces. While the former won a whopping 85% of the seats, the ratio was a close 4 to 3 in terms of the seats won. New immigrants from mainland China have been pouring into Hong Kong constantly, with the authorities having implemented a daily quota of 150 to check the inflow.
By simple arithmetic, more than 1.2 million mainlanders have settled in Hong Kong in the 22 years since reversion. The immigration from the mainland had started earlier so the actual number of former mainlanders should be larger—an estimated 20% of the present population. (The People’s Daily put the figure at 40% some years ago.) Hong Kong’s population has been significantly diluted by mainlanders.
The other important takeaway from this election is that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has no chance of winning any free and democratic elections in Hong Kong in the future no matter how hard it may try. The election results proved to the pro-democracy camp how important free elections are, and on the other hand, how unacceptable they are for the CCP, out to safeguard Beijing’s one-party dictatorship.
As is widely known, the demonstrators have made five demands. The controversial extradition bill has been completely withdrawn, but it is highly doubtful if Beijing will agree to any of the other four demands, including fully free elections.
The next election for Hong Kong’s chief executive is slated for 2022. The local council members elected this time essentially have limited authority, charged mostly with matters related to local administrative matters, such as school management and waste disposal. By contrast, Lam is linked closely to the central government in Beijing and has the power to control broader policy matters, excluding foreign policy and defense. Xi Jing-pin will not allow free elections as a means of selecting the top administrator for the Hong Kong government, as he knows that will only invite opposition to the CCP. Cleary, Xi stands ready to crush any attempt on the part of Hong Kongers to pursue the freedoms they desire.
Beginning of Long Struggle for Hong Kong
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who visited Japan last week for a G20 Aichi-Nagoya foreign ministers’ meeting, spoke to the press on the morning of November 25 after conferring with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Hong Kong and other matters affecting Japan-China relations. As regards Hong Kong, Wang said:
“Hong Kong is a part of China—our special administrative region. Any attempts to undermine Hong Kong, or damage its prosperity and stability, will not succeed.”
Wang wore a stiff expression throughout the interview as if to show Beijing’s resolve to not allow Hong Kongers to willfully pursue freedom and democracy.
During his talks with Wang, Abe raised a number of matters, including the disputed Senkaku Islands, restrictions Beijing has imposed on the imports of Japanese food from areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, and detention of Japanese nationals on spying charges. Abe also brought up Hong Kong, stressing: “Japan considers it vital for a free and open Hong Kong to prosper under the principle of the ‘one nation, two systems.’”
Credit goes to Abe for having candidly argued Japan’s position regarding these issues and calling on China to resolve them as a responsible world power. But there is absolutely no guarantee that China will make compromises with Japan over the Senkaku issue or guarantee Hong Kong’s freedom and prosperity. The landslide victory registered by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy forces is just the beginning of a long and excruciating struggle for Hong Kong. The situation there will likely continue to deteriorate going forward.
Lam, who has led Hong Kong’s pro-establishment forces to a stunning defeat, is apparently suffering a decline of her leadership. It will be just a matter of time before Beijing will start intervening in Hong Kong’s internal affairs by force, ushering in an era marked by a direct and bitter confrontation between the Chinese government and the people of Hong Kong. The basic pattern of policies Xi Jing-pin will take can be surmised from the stern and crude methods he has implemented in controlling the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in western China.
On November 11, The New York Times carried an articles about internal documents exposing China’s suppressive policies toward the Islamic Uyghurs in China. The 403 pages of documents, which contain Xi’s explicit directive to show “absolutely no mercy,” allegedly have been circulated among local officials across Xinjiang by the authorities concerned about the influence of Hong Kong’s tenacious campaign for freedom and democracy.
Among other things, the documents direct local officials to pressure the local population to keep silent about the disappearance of family members into unknown “re-education camps.” They also stipulate how to handle Uyghur students returning from schools away from home, and how to keep thorough tabs on, re-educate, suppress, and transform Uyghurs (into loyal subjects faithful to the Han Chinese and the CCP by compelling them to renounce Islamic beliefs).
Many Uyghur students will soon be returning to Xinjiang from colleges and universities in big cities to join their families during the winter recess. But most of them will likely find their homes empty: the CCP has already taken as many as 2 million Uyghurs out of their homes into detention camps.
Well-Being without Freedom for Uyghurs
When the students ask where their families are, local officials are instructed to reply as follows:
“They’re in a training school set up by the government to undergo collective systematic training, study and instruction. They have very good conditions for studying and living there, and you have nothing to worry about. Tuition for their period of study is free and so are food and living costs, and the standards are quite high. The provision for food is 21 yuan (US$3.00) or more a day—that’s even better than the living standards that some students have back home.”
This explanation is full of lies. Detention camps for Uyghurs are unsanitary with the inmates subject to physical violence, psychological pressure, and subsistence food—an outrage against humanity about which many former detainees have testified.
If the students still query where their families are, they are told: “They haven’t committed a crime and won’t be convicted, but cannot leave the reeducation center anytime soon.” If they become more inquisitive, they are threatened with the possibility of their complaints or dissent being used to extend a relative’s detention.
This method of suppressing Uyghurs has been applied to Mongols and Tibetans in China as well, although there may have been some difference. And I assume the basic posture of Xi and the CCP toward Hong Kongers will be no different. As matters stand now, the outlook for the future of Hong Kongers remains harsh. Should they obey the CCP, they may possibly be granted “wellbeing without freedom.” Any hopes for freedom and democracy have been shattered.
Xi’s policies toward ethnic minorities in China have attracted stern criticism from the international community, but the Chinese people support them. Under the peculiar circumstances in China that make dissemination of proper information impossible, it is a fact that Xi’s policies for ethnic oppression get public support, with the average Chinese viewing Uyghurs and Hong Kongers as being in the wrong.
That is why the posture of the Japanese government is put to the test now. China is Japan’s neighbor—an economic giant no less—and it would be ideal if Tokyo could manage to develop normal relations with Beijing. Despite Abe’s resolve to raise the troubling questions about the Senkakus, however, China’s aggressive approach to the unmanned islands in the East China Sea will continue unabated.
Responding to Abe’s request, China recently released Professor Nobu Iwaya of Hokkaido University, who had been held in Beijing since September on spying charges. But still nine more Japanese citizens are being detained on similar charges. If the state of the US-China economic war should change to its disadvantage, it is quite possible that China will quickly stop smiling at Japan, readily slipping back into its age-old anti-Japanese policies. Japanese must bear in mind that China, which adroitly utilizes its huge financial, human, and military resources, is exceedingly shrewd—a very crafty neighbor.
As a responsible member of the international community honoring freedom, democracy, and the rule of law, Japan must now speak up to China. I believe members of our Diet, apart from the Japanese government, must fulfill their responsibility as lawmakers by giving a strong warning to China. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 879 in the December 5, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)