The uprising in Hong Kong has successfully forced the withdrawal of the hated extradition bill. But protesters are not prepared to trust Chief Executive Carrie Lam and have continued hitting the streets in their hundreds of thousands.
Seventeen weeks in, chanting “Five demands, not one less!” protesters vowed not to stop until they win full universal suffrage, all protesters are released, and police brutality is investigated.
On 1 October, while China celebrated 70 years of “Communist” rule, 150,000 people marched. As soldiers paraded through Beijing, President Xi Jinping threatened, “No force can obstruct the advance of the Chinese nation.”
Despite a partial shutdown of the train network, people rallied in Hong Kong’s business district, shouting “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time!” They held up open hands to symbolise the five demands, and broke out into a new protest anthem, Glory to Hong Kong.
The next day, cops shot 18-year old-student protester Tony Tsang at point blank range, nearly killing him. Thousands of students at schools and universities held rallies and sit-ins demanding justice.
The government’s effort to ban the wearing of face masks, using a colonial British-era emergency law, has been defied en masse. The masks have become a symbol of the demonstrations used to hide protesters identities and avoid state repression. The emergency law allows the government to impose laws without reference to the local parliament, and is widely seen as another step towards authoritarianism.
Groups of activists have also fought back against police attacks with Molotov cocktails and stones.
Chinese-owned businesses have been increasingly targeted for attack, as well as those whose owners have opposed the protests.
Hong Kong’s people have developed their own identity, and many do not see themselves as Chinese. There is also a strain of racism against Chinese mainlanders among some protesters.
But the movement will need to win the support of ordinary Chinese people, and encourage a fight for democracy in mainland China too, if it is going to secure democratic freedoms in Hong Kong.
US no ally
In desperation, some have turned to Western governments for support, even going so far as to call for “intervention”.
UK and US flags have been a presence at pro-democracy rallies for months.
A rally of 130,000 people in mid-October called on the US to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a bipartisan bill that has gone through the US House of Representatives, backed by hard-line conservatives like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
Last month, pro-democracy activists Denise Ho and Joshua Wong spoke in support of the bill before a US Congressional Commission on China.
Formally, the bill calls for a yearly assessment of Hong Kong’s autonomy to decide whether its preferential US trade conditions can continue. It also applies targeted sanctions on individuals and their families who have extradited Hong Kong activists to China.
But the bill itself says that its purpose is to protect US interests. Left-wing activists in the Lausan collective warn that the bill contains extraordinary provisions such as maintaining an active list of detained Hong Kong protesters and suspected Chinese operatives.
It compels Hong Kong to enforce US sanctions and extradite suspects to the US, and would have applied to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden when he sought asylum there in 2013.
Looking to the West to rescue Hong Kong is a dead end strategy. The US has no real concern for democracy and only acts to advance its own interests. Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds in Syria has shown again that the US cannot be trusted. It is also dangerous for Hong Kong to enflame the growing imperialist tensions between the US and China.
The movement for democracy in Hong Kong needs to be connected to the fight for workers’ rights. Demands around housing, wages and eliminating the horrific inequality in Hong Kong can help draw the working class into active participation.
Workers have the potential power to paralyse the economy through mass strike action. This could enable the movement to shut down society without forcing small groups into violent street confrontations with police. And such a movement could win wider support amongst mainland Chinese across the border.
Independent unions, grouped in the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), are weak. The general strikes held so far have mostly involved workers taking leave to attend as individuals. Even so, tens of thousands took part. The people have Hong Kong have shown enormous courage to stand up to the violence of the police as well as threats of military intervention. But the outcome of their struggle still hangs in the balance.
By Jason Wong