This is the speech socialist activist Maxine Mallon (pictured above protesting at the Home Office against the Nationality and Borders Bill) gave recently about the democracy struggle in Hong Kong and its wider implications and connections.
Less than five years after the Umbrella movement and Hong Kong was back in the international news with a mass mobilisation. In early June 2019, over a million protesters took to the street to oppose a bill to give mainland China extradition rights in Hong Kong.
Just over a week later, two million people – 30% of Hong Kong’s population – were on the streets. The extradition bill was a bid for power by Beijing, threatening activists and journalists with extradition to the mainland and opening up Hong Kong’s criminal justice system to further abuse by the CCP. Police responded to protesters with brute force and violence – many were shot and injured with rubber bullets, batons, pepper spray and tear gas.
Hong Kong was a British colony taken by the British Empire after the UK and China fought the opium wars of the mid 19th century. These wars were instigated by the British in an attempt to wrack up Chinese goods like tea, silk and porcelain by smuggling in opium illegally, creating an addiction crisis across China. By 1840 ten million were addicted.
If you don’t know this history, don’t be surprised. I remember the only place I learnt about it was in Hong Kong. Being the only partly white kid, I sunk into my chair, feeling guilty and conflicted about the history behind my home and identity. Unsurprisingly, the UK school curriculum doesn’t honestly or transparently teach these histories, leaving most British youth uneducated about Britain’s colonial violence and blind to the legacies of British imperialism that continue to curse many peoples and communities in the 21st century.
In 1984, an agreement was made to hand over Hong Kong to China in 1997. The “one country, two systems” policy was agreed, promising protection of Hong Kong’s democratic rights. With the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square, the Hong Kong people’s trust in promises of autonomy continued to deteriorate.
In this century, the Hong Kong people have repeatedly demonstrated their collective strength in the face of Beijing’s creeping advance against their rights. The violence and brutality of the Hong Kong police was a clear violation of people’s right to protest and mobilise, a blunt reminder of encroaching authoritarianism.
But I want to talk less about the specifics of the gore and trauma of police violence and give space to the beauty of collective action and the tactics that continue to travel across the globe between different grassroots social movements. Recently I saw images of Colombian protesters using the tactics of the 2019 Hong Kong demos, distracting and confusing police with laser pointers. This is what global connection is all about: uniting communities across borders to share and learn from our stories of struggle.
We can’t allow accounts that elevate the actions of governments and bureaucratic institutions to dictate how history is written. The history of Hong Kong is often told like this, as a clash between West and East, a clash between Western liberal democracy and Chinese “communism”. This is outright wrong.
Hong Kong was never democratic under British colonial rule and China is no socialist state. Neither the UK government or the CCP fight for the rights of working class people, British or Chinese. It is so important that in the context of these struggles we don’t let them be co-opted by any nationalist perspectives – perspectives which manipulate the truth and use us as political pawns.
These mass movements against police violence, control and surveillance are not local issues. This fight transcends borders, whether that is opposing the Hong Kong police or the ESMAD forces in Colombia – both trained by the UK police – or opposing the Israeli military forces funded by the US. Here in the UK it is crucial we oppose the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, defending our right to express through collective direct action our solidarity with struggles around the world.
We must demand accountability from the UK government for its complicity, whether its ties with oppressive regimes or its silence against oppression. Let’s continue to build this movement and channel the energy back into communities every day. Let’s build an environment in which working-class people can disrupt the status quo of the global capitalist class and their apparatus. Let’s take back the resources and power the police are given by the state to abuse and dominate us, and redistribute it among our communities. Love and solidarity.