Stephen Ku Bok-him: Composed and Tactful, the Way We Are and Will Be

Composed and Tactful, the Way We Are and Will Be
Translated by Karen L., written and edited by Stephen Ku Bok-him
Original: The Undergrad, Apr 2017 edition

“We shall endure. All overlords will go.
Away the stranger, who has seized your land.
Time has decided, time has decreed it so.”
—— Imants Auzio

On 5 November 2016, the High Court determined that Youngspiration’s Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching were disqualified from taking office. The decision was made as the court deemed that the duo’s displaying “Hong Kong is not China” flags and changing the wording of their oaths (pronouncing “China” as “Shina”) “clearly confirmed” that they “declined or neglected” to take their oath in accordance with Article 104 of the Basic Law. HK Communist Regime’s judicial review against directly elected members in addition to the NPCSC’s interpretation all point to the regime’s resentment for Hong Kong independence and its determination to get rid of it, even if it means to rip the facade of Hong Kong’s rule of law and judicial independence.

Such means to suppress Hong Kong independence is merely the tip of an iceberg. As early as in 2016, the Companies Registry refused the application of Hong Kong National Party; the Education Bureau declared that “no pro-independence advocacy or activities should appear in schools”; five localist candidates were barred from running in the LegCo election and deprived of their political rights; FEHD cancelled both Youngspiration’s and Hong Kong National Party’s booths at 2017 Lunar New Year flower market as the department saw “significant chances of disrupting public order”. While we are still champing with rage thinking of a way to cope with these acts, the pro-communist authority has already been planning on another wave of suppression at full speed. Not a single second are we left idling.

Meanwhile, the regime is also equipping itself for the mass movements to come. In the 2017-18 Budget, the police force expects to hire up to 600 new recruits and, better yet, to spend 75% more in “specialist supplies and equipment” ($175 million in total) than last year. Purchases included firearms, ammunition, pepper-spray projectiles, and three riot control vehicles equipped with water cannons ($27 million). In comparison, the tear gas that once provoked the Umbrella Revolution is simply insignificant.

Besides, the abuse of police power and grievous bodily harm against protestors are somehow deemed reasonable acts by the police force. Seven police officers were found guilty in the assault of a pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang during the Umbrella Revolution. Having heard that his fellow officers were being sentenced to two-year imprisonment, Stephen Lo, the current Commissioner of Police, was “saddened by the recent court case that saw the seven jailed” and “pledged support for the jailed officers”. Afterwards, Junior Police Officers Association, along with Hong Kong Police Inspectors’ Association and four other police associations organized a special meeting to condemn the court’s verdict in Tsang’s assault case, where some police officers referred themselves as “the Jews under Nazi persecution”. Mistaking themselves for victims instead of perpetrators, it only makes it obvious they are entirely incapable of self-reflection. Their increasing hostility towards protestors is sure to lead to more power abuse.

CY Leung’s regime has exhausted all his power to stem the tide of independence. The political oppression is heavier than ever before. One man’s decision could not have got this far unless he has got backing from higher authorities. Thus, as long as the CE is from the CCP-controlled small-circle election, he or she shall swear to uphold the Basic Law and show allegiance to the central government. It’s only natural for them to continue implementing China’s colonial policy in Hong Kong and to “prohibit the independence movement from harming the city”. Among the 2017 CE candidates, Carrie Lam, former Chief Secretary for Administration, for one, stated that “Hong Kong independence violates ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the Basic Law”. Even for the public-favoured John Tsang, who received financial support from those self-proclaimed democratic advocates through fundraising, has mentioned in his Chinese declaration that “For those minor irrational minds which root for independence, I wonder what possible grounds they have to deny our history like this. The ideology of their actions is an insult to Hongkongers.” Without exception, CE Candidate Woo Kwok-hing, a retired judge, whose standpoints supposedly most agreeable to democracy, believe that independence can be neither realistic nor practical.

Yet Commentator Joseph Lian sees it differently, “Some think that independence in Hong Kong is gone for good. But think of this, how is it possible to stay fighting every second without respite? The movement at present is simply going through a phase of recovering.”

Recuperation before another storm
Besieged at the moment, we need to keep thinking about further moves, and more importantly, the future direction of the independence movement. We shall be well-prepared for our goal in the meantime and make our comeback by going towards the establishment of our republic further and further.

Route to a revolution – the essentials
The political environment in Hong Kong is ever-changing. While independence is by no means a preordained course, neither is it impossible. If this is the answer to what we aspire for our future to become, we shall be prepared for our course.

In Revolutions and Revolutionary Movement, American scholar James DeFronzo compared revolutions around the world and found out that there are innumerable factors affecting the result of a revolution. Nevertheless, he identified five factors critical to its success: mass frustration, dissident elite political movements, unifying motivations for revolution, severe state crisis, and permissive world context. While the attainment of the five requirements does not guarantee a successful revolution, things look dim without any of them.

The first criterion should be the easiest to satisfy. Since CY Leung’s taking up of his office in 2012, a series of retrograde policies, designed to serve the CCP government but not the locals, have come into play. The Umbrella Revolution in 2014, followed by Mong Kok civil unrest in 2016, embodied the intensive fluctuations of Hong Kong’s political climate and the public resentment against the government. Some people worry that the CCP-dictated puppet government after CY Leung would employ kid-glove policies to persuade the Hongkongers to accept the current situation, and gradually put an end to the resistance, to which Ray Wong Toi-yeung, the convenor of Hong Kong Indigenous, agreed, “If a CE is willing to listen to what the citizens have to say, there will be no room for independence.” As long as Hong Kong is still attached to CCP and the Central government maintains its current policies towards our city, the CEs will conform. Highhanded stability maintenance (weiwen) will, therefore, come first and the rebound resulted in such crackdown is expected to be huge.
Having said that, the economy in Hong Kong is healthy at present. Citizens have little to hold against the government given the fact that most lead relatively comfortable lives. DeFronzo suggested that the turning point of independence movement sometimes emerges with economic recession, where citizens find it impossible to make a living and begin to air their resentment. It would be critical for the independence camp to look out for the times of economic downturn when drawing up their plans. Back in 2003, there were 500,000 citizens taking part in the Hong Kong July 1 protest mainly because the economy had suffered greatly from SARS. It can be seen that mass frustration is a formidable source of political power, and it ought to be put to good use.
As for dissident elite political movements, they have as yet emerged in Hong Kong. At the beginning of Umbrella Revolution, many expected to see extreme division within the government – opposite views towards the occupy movement or even blame-taking resignations from high-ranking officials – but these wishes remain wishes. In The Result of Umbrella Revolution ── Hong Kong as an Existence for Politics, Taiwanese scholar Wu Jieh-min noted the “crack” within Taiwan Nationalist Party started from the second half of 2013. It was the power struggle between Ma Ying-jeou and Wang Jin-pyng that contributed to Wang's solution during Occupy Taiwan Legislature, which crossed paths with the students’ demands. In Wu’s words, “The fights among the politicians at such a significant historical moment gave rise to an unintentional result. What a good fortune Taiwan had.”

Dissident elites in charge can weaken a regime’s power and cause confusion to those suppressing the protesters. In Transitions from Authoritarian Rule by Argentine scholar Guillermo A. O’Donnell and American scholar Philippe C. Schmitter, it is said that elites in the establishment play a key role in democratization, “elite dispositions, calculations and pacts […] largely determine whether or not an opening [to democracy] will occur at all”. Independence is not a movement that can be accomplished overnight, and on that account, the determined activists shall encourage talents to engage in counter-penetration to the government in an organized manner. Such group of independence advocates within the establishment will be of use at serious times. There are times when we cannot risk being blocked by honourable grounds, and challenging the CCP is one of them.

For unifying motivations for revolution, it involves strengthening the movement’s discourse and the application of political language. Thomas H. Greene mentioned in Comparative Revolutionary Movements: Search for Theory and Justice that a revolution without support from various social class would hardly succeed. Independence advocates shall find the rhetoric they share with different social classes and camps in order to unify powers and trigger revolution.

In Greene’s view, nationalism is what brings every class together to revolution. It originated from direct or indirect colonialization as the colony normally has to sacrifice its own benefit to serve the suzerain. This description fits the situation in Hong Kong, a city now under China’s political control, while it has not been convenient to persuade all of the opposition to this ideology due to Hong Kong’s complicated historical context and China’s intensive propaganda. In other words, independence advocates require another symbol – probably democracy – to unite different camps. Whatever advocates they have among the opposition, “I want true universal suffrage”, “self-determination”, “Hongkongers Priority” or “national independence”, “democracy” is always the element in common. Thus strengthening the “independence equals democracy” symbolic linkage can do the trick. The more come to realize that democracy stands no chance under China’s regime and that only the identity of national sovereignty will be able to ensure that, the more will join the course. Pro-democracy camp, as well, will have to recognize that independence is a prerequisite for democracy if they truly have the intention of the genuine thing. On the path of Hong Kong independence, an unavoidable phase to be marked in history, pro-democracy camp and independence camp are not enemies, but allies.

Independence camp is rather passive in the aspect of severe state crisis. Ever since 2001, expositions of “The Coming Collapse of China” and “China Meltdown” have appeared on media from time to time, while CCP is still safe and sound to the present day. Still, in case of any state crisis, it is possible for revolutionary movement to triumph over the suppression forces. Though at this stage the independence camp has not been capable of creating one, it should absorb as much as experts specialized in China’s problems and even cultivate talents in this field. When upholding the principle of “Segregation of Hong Kong with China”, there is no way the advocates do not keep an eye on China. If any signs show up, independence camp has to seize the opportunity and take advantage of the crisis to forward the movement. In If TFR's Less than 1 China Will Force People to Have Children, Joseph Lian mentioned that China’s total fertility rate is currently decreasing in an “avalanche-like manner”. The possible economic turmoil due to the drastically reduced population of Han Chinese could act as a catalyst for “China Meltdown”. Indeed we have no control over this, but before that, we shall be fully prepared. As the saying goes, “Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”

For the very last one, permissive world context, it is totally out of reach for independence camp. Economically speaking, Hong Kong still functions as the window to the world for China. Especially under the Hong-Kong-China-Segregation, Hong Kong has enjoyed multiple economic benefits in the international world. But ever since Donald Trump has taken office, he has been playing “hardball diplomacy” with China. If Hong Kong continues to be dwarfed, this would make plausible reason for America to cancel or narrow the United States–Hong Kong Policy Act, and in so doing, China will end up being the biggest loser. If there serves as any indication, it is that independence camp has to get involved: breaking the inertia of thinking which Hongkongers often assume that China is a hyperpower, or no one dares to offend it, and communicating with foreign officials every now and then to let them know about Hong Kong’s situation and thus muster support for the movement.

Civil disobedience, peaceful protest and revolution
In 2013, a group of scholars and opposition camps led by Benny Tai Yiu-ting advocated civil disobedience to be adopted. In particular, the group suggested occupying roads, paralysing the core of Hong Kong ’s economy and finance, exercising voluntary surrender, and even enlightening the public as to the morality of such acts.  The participants were disillusioned at the end of the day, finding that Occupy Central did not happen and Benny Tai, along with his theory, received some fierce criticism.

True, Occupy Central did not make the impact it had hoped to achieve, and Benny Tai’s civil disobedience was unsuccessful. While “civil disobedience” and “peaceful protest” are concepts to no avail following the trail of the Umbrella Revolution, they do not self-evidently entail failure. Advocates for independence must enquire: Are “civil disobedience” and “peaceful protest” necessarily in conflict with the independence movement? Must future advocates exclude “civil disobedience” and “peaceful protest” in their agenda?

As a means to fight for changes within the system, civil disobedience is hardly in line with revolutionary movement. The latter implies overthrowing the present system and re-establishing political order. Bruce Pech, an American scholar, said that it is the promotion of justice and reform within just such an existing structure of legitimate legal and political institutions. Michael Walzer, also mentioned in Civil Disobedience and Resistance that “those who engage in civil disobedience contest illicit acts of the regime, not the regime’s legitimacy.” 

It is worth mentioning that figures such as Henry David Thoreau, the honorific Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. regarded civil disobedience as the transformation of the pre-existing system, according to American scholar Lawrence Quill. The social institution during Martin Luther King Jr.’s time was so unjust and evil that King asserted that “The thing to do is to get rid of the system”. This suggests that not only is it possible for notions of revolution to co-exist with civil disobedience,  but they may even become part of civil disobedience. Nevertheless, civil disobedience generally targets the unjust law rather than the legitimacy of a regime. This coincides with the position of Benny Tai’s Occupy Central, which sought genuine universal suffrage but did not attempt to challenge the legitimacy of the government.

As to the use of peaceful confrontational tactics in independence movement, both Alexander Pavkovic and Peter Radan gave in-depth analysis in Creating New States: Theory and Practice of Secession. They pointed out a few characteristics found in the political environment where peaceful separatist movements have taken place: independence camp would end up getting majority in the legislature and seize so much power to the extent that the suzerain would rule out the possibility of suppressing independence movement by force. Yet, in the context of Hong Kong and China, anyone who is considered as part of the independence movement would at once be excluded from the legislature. China would not spare an effort in repressing the movement to cling on to its territorial integrity, even if it means violence. It follows that, however unwilling Hongkongers are to get involved in violence, it is an inevitable element in Hong Kong’s separatist movement.

All in all, we cannot deny the possibility that illegal anti-government conduct and peaceful acts of civil disobedience may one day turn into a revolution that has what it takes to challenge the regime’s legitimacy. The cost is nonetheless huge – Defendants in the Mong Kok civil unrest are facing imprisonment of up to 10 years. No doubt, violence is unavoidable, but few are willing to make such sacrifice. Where power of the mass is still scattered, the only really meaningful way to fight back would be to fight with non-violent tactics. Only when mass uprising and the necessary conditions are available should the independence camp consider advancing its purposes.

Concluding remarks
Most of us independence advocates are now in our 20s. We’ll be in middle age when 2047 strikes. No one can be sure what comes ahead for Hong Kong’s future. One thing is certain though: We have a long way to go. Time is too precious to be spent on brooding.

However harsh the journey is, we will come to the end of it.