[HKUSU Undergrad] Max Chan: Despise Imaginary Freedom, Fight the Regime Until the End

Despise Imaginary Freedom, Fight the Regime Until the End
Translated by Natalie Lung, written by Max Chan Sze-chai 陳思齊, edited by Chen-t'ang

Photo of 國民教育家長關注組
One Country, Two Systems is an evil tool for the United Front: The Chinese Communist Party knew in the first place that it has no legitimacy in governing Hong Kong, hence it “bestowed” freedom on Hongkongers through One Country, Two Systems. This creates legitimacy to govern and causes us to let down our guard, gradually weakening our willpower to rebel. We should not be so naïve to think that the CCP would grant us rights. When we are willing to recognize CCP’s governance and accept the rights given to us in One Country, Two Systems, what follows is even more yokes—chains that imprison freedom and the soul. We, the imprisoned, can only struggle to survive.  

All Freedoms Are Imaginary

Why have Hongkongers gained nothing even after nearly 30 years of fighting for democracy? Apart from being bound by the evil barrier that is the concept of “Greater China”, there is indeed too many Hong Kong people who are restricted by imaginary freedoms to do anything further.  The freedoms we have been enjoying are all imaginary. In fact, under the fantasy land that is One Country, Two Systems, many things we thought we owned don’t exist anymore.

For example, Hongkongers keep saying there is “separation of powers”, but the CCP never intended for Hong Kong to have separation of powers in the first place. Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces like Li Hou, Zhou Nan, Xu Jiatun, Lu Ping, Hao Tiechuan, Zhang Xiaoming, Zhang Dejiang have in fact stated that Hong Kong is executive-led. For example, Zhang Dejiang once said, “The political system of the Hong Kong SAR is not one of separation of powers, it is an executive-led system.”

In other words, separation of powers has been Hongkongers’ fantasy all along. The Basic Law has given Hong Kong too many restrictions: the judgement of disqualified lawmakers Yau Wai-ching and Baggio Leung’s appeal is proof that the status of principle of non-interference and separation of powers are not as stable as everyone thought, and what we own now is all within the confines of the Basic Law. The judgement reads, “the supremacy of the Basic Law means that no one—the legislature included—is above the Basic Law.” You could, of course, argue that this is sophistry, but the ruler’s sophistry is the reality that we are facing.

There is no doubt about the rule of law and judicial independence. Without crossing the line of the regime, the judiciary is no doubt independent, and judgement of the court is of course fair, just, and impartial. But once the line of the regime is crossed, the so-called rule of law that Hongkongers are proud it is unscrupulously trampled by the regime.

The Ng Ka Ling case in 1999 already shows that Hong Kong’s courts stand little chance against the interpretation of Basic Law by the NPCSC. The Court of Final Appeal’s initial interpretation of “rule of law” is as such: “What has been controversial is the jurisdiction of the courts of the Region to examine whether any legislative acts of the National People’s Congress or its Standing Committee (which we shall refer to simply as “acts”) are consistent with the Basic Law and to declare them to be invalid if found to be inconsistent. In our view, the courts of the region do have this jurisdiction and indeed the duty to declare invalidity if an inconsistency is found. It is right that we should take this opportunity of stating so unequivocally.” 

But the sections about the NPCSC in this judgement has later been challenged by CCP minions, and the Court of Final Appeal eventually decided to give in and released another judgement in the following month: 

“The Court’s judgment on 29 January 1999 did not question the authority of the Standing Committee to make an interpretation under Article 158 which would have to be followed by the courts of the Region. The Court accepts that it cannot question that authority. Nor did the Courts judgment question, and the Court accepts that it cannot question, the authority of the National People’s Congress or the Standing Committee to do any act which is in accordance with the provisions of the Basic Law and the procedure therein.” 

The attitude toward the interpretation of the Basic Law reflected in the two judgements are a far cry from each other.

Under the decree of the CCP, so-called rule of law has been distorted to the point of being unrecognizable. Using the same logic, if the bottom line of the regime is crossed, the freedom and rights stipulated by the Basic Law could be retracted at any time. The right to vote, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly are just strange bedfellows. One Country, Two Systems merely creates an illusion of freedom; the cornerstones and core values of Hongkongers are just a defenseless fantasy under the cruel oppression of the regime.

Shaking Off the Illusion of Freedom

To put it simply, imaginary freedom equates to no freedom, and this is the reality. As unembellished and cruel it is, we must accept this reality, thoroughly rejecting the legitimacy of the governance of this regime. Not doing so would result in being forever imprisoned by these fantasies and living a life that is not free.

In face of increasing encroachment of the CCP in recent years, a small number of Hongkongers have finally become aware that if we want to seek after genuine democratic freedom, we must first throw off the yoke set up by the regime, then someone would risk universal condemnation, stepping into what common people see as a no-go area—separatism. Some examples are Undergrad’s Hong Kong Nationalism and Hong Kong National Party’s advocacy of “a self-reliant nation, an independent Hong Kong”. But the scope of political censorship has expanded: candidacies, LegCo seats, and Lunar New Year fair stall licenses have been denied due to political advocacy, and even today’s peaceful assemblies cannot be tolerated.

Does this mean we ought to be deprived of freedom just because the idea of independence crosses the bottom line of the regime? Hong Kong independence goes against the first article of the Basic Law. Article 158 stipulates the NPCSC’s right to interpret the Basic Law. There is no doubt that all decisions have been made in accordance to the law, but is it just? Hongkongers have become too obsessed with the defenseless “rule of law” and “judicial independence”, which creates obsession and frenzy toward legality, rationalizing all irrationals.

Nearing the point of life and death, we should stop continually persuading ourselves to accept the acts of the regime and the boundaries drawn up by the Basic Law, and resist till the end. Why should we be imprisoned by the political prison established by an authoritarian regime, and treat freedom as a gift from the regime? Why should we have to surround ourselves with fear and trepidation and be worried that the regime might take away our freedom? Shouldn’t humans be born with freedom? When we have deprived of our inherent rights, our resistance should be respected. Taking back our due rights and determining our own future is the historical mission of our time. Therefore, we should no longer hold the mindset of “defending the rule of law” and “defending separation of powers”—we fundamentally do not have rule of law and separation of powers, we have nothing, hence we are not defending the system, but we are building a new one on our own.

The Reason for Independence

Hong Kong should be independent because reality tells us that, the CCP had decided not to give Hong Kong democracy from day one. Imagine a colony asking an authoritarian suzerain for democracy. This is not negotiation, but is as unrealistic as “asking a tiger for its skin”. To China, Hong Kong is only a gear in the state apparatus. And the only duty for the gear is to give impetus to the country’s development. Granting Hong Kong democracy means giving an opportunity for the gear to reverse, which could cause the whole apparatus to break down.

Why would the Communist Party be so foolish to set itself on fire?

We may look at how Tibet fell into the CCP’s death trap. In 1951, the 14th Dalai Lama signed the 17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, a document like the Basic Law, with the CCP. At first, Tibetans naively believed that One Country, Two Systems was sustainable, but the 17-Point Agreement was sugar-coated poison, the CCP’s goal from day one was to deceive the people of Tibet using the Agreement, finally transitioning to One Country, One System. As days passed, Tibetans started taking notice of the Communist Party’s plot. Up until the Lhasa Uprising, the CCP had every right to deploy force to take over Tibet and carry out One Country, One System.

Hong Kong’s situation is like Tibet at that time. In only 20 years, the CCP’s real intentions are revealed as they bluntly referred to the Sino-British Joint Declaration as a historical document.

Be it “I want genuine democracy”, “democratic self-determination”, or “independence for Hong Kong” - it is impossible to beg with the CCP because these advocacies are solely political terms to the CCP—they all belong to the “subversion of state regime”.

We can therefore infer that if Hong Kong independence is described as not feasible by the pan-democrats, then the feasibility of fighting for genuine democracy is no different to that of fighting for Hong Kong independence. Since there is no way to achieve success by begging for democracy from the CCP, why don’t we fight for it on our own? Since what we have left are all infeasible options, where is the reason not to go after an option that could rid Hongkongers of CCP rule?

Pro-Independence Camp Must Admit They Lack Strength

The Chinese saying goes, “The feeling of shame is close to bravery”. We must admit that we lack strength and full awareness of our circumstances. We must put more effort to promote the thinking of the independence camp. 

Pan-localists gained a strong momentum after the New Territories East by-election. The independence camp, however, could not keep up after being hit by waves of political pressure. But we should not be disheartened nor deceive ourselves, and run away from the fact that we lack ability. Bluffing would lead us to misinterpret and miscalculate the circumstances and ultimately, to self-destruction. We should therefore accept reality and begin accumulating political energy again—that is the priority for the independence camp.

But one of the reasons many people are unwilling to admit the camp’s lack of strength is because they could not stand being mocked by the pan-democrats. “Aren’t you brave enough? When is the said revolution going to take place? When are you going to build the nation? These are some of the provocations the independence camp often receives. Perhaps it is because many from the independence camp have often criticized the pan-democrats for not achieving a thing having fought for so many years that they are unwilling to accept such mockery from the pan-democrats.

But if the independence camp wishes to continue growing, it must bear these provocations. As the Chinese saying goes, “lack of forbearance in small matters upsets great plans”, are we going to stage a violent protest on the streets to prove our bravery just because we were provoked? No. This is just foolhardy. With the sky-high cost of today’s protests, we now know that the Hong Kong communist regime would charge protesters with the offence of rioting, an ordinance that has been gathering dust. Conflicts with the regime would only create more wounds. I believe no arrested warriors would wish to see more members of the independence camp behind bars.

It is true that we don’t have yet the ability to be brave, to rebel, or to build a nation, but this is not something to be ashamed of. Precisely because our goal is grander than past generations—we are fighting for genuine freedom, and to be completely free from an authoritarian regime, to build a nation independently—our preparation process must be longer than any other resistance or movement, there are more reasons for us to build up our strength. 

The work of the independence camp has just begun. If we compare ourselves to the pan-democrats, who have been fighting for democracy for nearly thirty years, or the resourceful pro-establishment camp, there is of course a lot of catch up to do, but this is nothing to be ashamed of.

Time Will Be on the Side of the Independence Camp

I must come clean that my attitude towards the self-determination camp has been constantly changing. At first, I felt they were out-and-out politicians, taking out the “far-right”, “xenophobic” and “fascist” concept of “national” from “national self-determination”, distorting “national self-determination” into “democratic self-determination” to win the election. Though I still think “democratic self-determination” is abstract political jargon, even New Power Party’s Huang Kuo-chang said Taiwan’s independence camp had difficulty understanding “democratic self-determination” because he said “we wanted self-determination from the start, it should have been like this from the start.”

But now I believe that we shouldn’t exclude the self-determination camp so much. As much as you see them as politicians, but they indeed have been wielding influence they meant to wield, and it is not harming the independence camp in any way. In a highly politically polarized place like Hong Kong, people embrace peace and they wish to use peace to solve all problems and to use the gentlest of appeals to fight for democracy.

Back in the day, all Raymond Wong Yuk-man did was throw a banana in LegCo, which was met with much criticism. But occupying the chairman’s podium is now a common scene whenever there is an important vote.

Hu Shih once said “a trendsetter not a master made”; this may well describe Raymond Wong Yuk-man’s introduction of disruptive resistance to Hong Kong’s legislative politics. From this, we know that we have to constantly challenge Hongkonger’s moral bottom line to increase their level of acceptance towards protests. 

Wong said he does not support independence, but supports the notion of devising a new constitution made with the support of all the people. However, he encourages discussions about Hong Kong independence, because of these very same reasons. 

However, Hong Kong independence is clearly beyond Hongkongers' understanding at this point. If the existence of the self-determination camp can help increase Hongkongers' openness towards political ideals, they are beneficial to the independence camp. 

What’s more is that in the HKU forum on 1 July, Andy Chan said many so-called members of the self-determination camp don’t feel much different from those in the independence camp, which is a reasonable guess to make. No proponent of self-determination would say that “self-determine to be ruled by the mother country”, as they are often the ones oppressed by an imperialist or mother country, which explains their desire for self-determination, to break free and regain freedom.

Time will be on our side — as political oppression runs increasingly rampant, the independence camp will grow exponentially. 

The CCP is not only pointing fingers at the independence camp; attacks on the self-determination camp are also becoming more obvious. Six elected warriors have already been stripped of their seats, and there will be more to come. 

Furthermore, we can observe from state propaganda the CCP’s attitude towards the self-determination camp. The pro-establishment camp has also condemned the self-determination camp for colluding with the Taiwan independence movement. It is safe to say that the self-determination camp is no different from the independence camp to the CCP. The independence camp has lost freedom of assembly, which means the same could happen soon to the self-determination camp.

The Last Bastion of Defense

The police issued a formal prohibition letter to ban the National Party’s 30 June gathering, citing the event’s conflict with Article 1 of the Basic Law. It was as if a curfew was in place in Tsim Sha Tsui that night, with a heavy police presence. The gathering had to be cancelled and moved to Baptist University. 

We were angered by this, but it was all within our expectations. Andy Chan had predicted as early as August last year that the independence camp would one day be deprived of their freedom of assembly.

Putting resentment aside, the independence camp now must understand that in this era of constant political oppression, university campuses will be the independence camp’s last and sturdiest bastion of defense.

Although the police had invaded our HKU campus in the battle of Sassoon Road (26 January 2016), universities are halos and shelters of academic freedom after all, making it impossible for the machine of “maintaining stability” to enter university campuses overtly for the time being.
Defending HKU 

But how long can this aura and shelter last? The regime knows for sure that university campuses now act as a protective shield for the independence camp. Hence, since the beginning of the fall of Hong Kong to the communists, the regime has always wanted to capture universities, and the invasion into and oppression of campuses have never stopped.

Take HKU as an example, the Robert Chung Ting-yiu incident (July 2000) is irrefutable evidence of the clamping down of academic freedom. Another is the growing Communist influence in student councils. Just look at Wong Yiu-ying, the Hong Kong Tertiary Student Alliance, Ayo Chan Yi-ngok (2009 SU President), the messes caused by Tam Chun-sing (2012 Convocation Chairman) and Dan Chan (2012 SU President), and Smarties (February 2015)—the CCP’s attempt to infiltrate the HKU Student Union is self-evident.

The University’s Council is the eye of the storm in recent years. The Council, comprising CY Leung’s supporters, cited ridiculous reasons to reject Professor Johannes Chan’s appointment as pro-vice chancellor; former student president Billy Fung and former external affairs vice chairman Li Fung Kei are facing legal charges due to their participation in besieging the council meeting at the Sassoon Road campus; and the Council’s recent rejection of reform—all of which are enough to prove the Hong Kong Communist regime’s desire to keep  students out of any discussion of university governance.

In addition, Cai Hongbin, a member of the National Committee of the CPPCC, was made Dean of HKU’s School of Economics and Finance this year. The communist regime’s desire to influence the senior management of HKU is all too clear. Vice-chancellor Peter Mathieson is about to leave and the search for a new vice-chancellor has also commenced. The new vice-chancellor candidate would certainly have a far-reaching impact on academic freedom, and if they are similar to the likes of Cai Hongbin, it would only take a day to destroy the University’s legacy.

Hence, I hope all HKU students would unite and resist the encroachment of the tyrant, to monitor the progress of university governance reform and the search for a new vice-chancellor. Hall life and running for as cabinet member post are no doubt diverse and exciting, and the report recently published by the Review Panel of University Governance and the Council’s Working Party is lengthy and boring, but if you are self-aware and proud of your identity as a member of HKU, you should come forward and defend the university. 

The first step is to understand; support comes next. What follows is participation—to save HKU from going downhill. I am very pessimistic and could not stop thinking that one day, the police could unscrupulously enter our campus, and the university could bar students from holding any activities or discussing and promoting Hong Kong independence. However, we must persist till the end no matter what, defending all those whose freedom and political rights have been deprived of, allowing university campuses to be their sturdiest bastion of defense. Surely, apart from HKU students, my hope is that my fellow tertiary schoolmates can equip themselves and defend higher education together.

Do not underestimate yourselves—each of us can make a change in society. College students are often the trailblazers of our time and they can always be found at forefront of advocating social change. Just look at China’s May Fourth movement and Taiwan’s Wild Lily student movement and the Sunflower student movement. College students often play the role of leaders and strive for social change. College students symbolize freedom of thought, and they are destined to become rebels if they enjoy freedom of thought in an unfree world. But once university campuses, a hub in which freedom of thought is nurtured, are occupied by tyrants, we would lose many of our free-thinking youngsters. Society would also lose a powerful force of resistance.

Fighting the regime until the end is our historic mission.

We must break free from confinement. Only people who have overcome their fears will truly be free.