The violence we saw inside Prince Edward metro station on Saturday was infuriating, unacceptable, and terribly unjust. Police officers were seen storming the train platform and carriages, indiscriminately beating passengers with batons and deploying pepper spray. You hear screams and shrieks as passengers are seen cowering, fearing for their lives. This is nothing short of police violence, used not in order to sort out a situation, but to scare, to terrify.
This is petrifying stuff, especially to anyone who has ever been to Hong Kong. Saturday was not Hong Kong as any of us know it. Amnesty International Hong Kong has condemned what they call “the horrifying scenes at Prince Edward metro station”, noting in a press statement that the incident “saw terrified bystanders caught up in the melee” and “fell far short of international policing standards.”
Yet I understand for some, this violence can feel very far away. If you are beginning to lose track of how many demonstrations Hong Kong has seen this summer and what is at stake, you’re not alone. I understand if it seems distant: Hong Kong may be miles away from you geographically. Politically speaking, the city may feel even more set apart: unrelated to your life, and none of your concern.
I’m aware that it can also feel like the world is fraying at the edges – in so many ways, in so many places – that we hardly have the time or tools to address the problems at hand. There’s climate change, right-wing extremism, rising nationalism, surveillance, trade wars, humanitarian crises of all sorts – you name it, we have our hands full. How do we even know which battles to pick?
Still, I want to make the case that Hong Kong and the current political crisis in the city matters, regardless of where you are. What is going on Hong Kong cannot be isolated, cannot be thought to not matter to us all. We should all be frightened and angry, and we should all care. Why? Because the political crisis in Hong Kong right now demonstrates what the future may hold – that is, if the Chinese government has any say in what that future will be.
Let me put it this way: Do you believe that the Chinese government will cease to be a major player in world politics in the near future? If yes, then the ongoing political conflict, the police violence, and the suppression of human rights in Hong Kong doesn’t matter. Then the political unrest in Hong Kong is an isolated incident – a one-off that has no significant impact on the rest of the world, including what you regard as your world, wherever it may be. If you predict that the future will be a future free of China’s influence, then I understand why you aren’t scared, why you aren’t worried, and why you aren’t enraged on behalf of Hong Kong people, or in the name of basic human rights. I understand you. I also envy you.
Now, to anyone who does believe that China’s power and influence will matter – if not grow – I beg you: Let us watch what is happening now, and watch as closely as we possibly can. Let us watch together, or apart, and get together and talk. Let’s talk until we are sick of our own opinions, and then talk to some people who disagree. After that, let us act, and act as a group.
Amidst the other news that we read, let us make time for Hong Kong. Because Hong Kong is a test, a testing ground for China, that increasingly authoritarian nation-state that will shape the agenda in the coming years. China will not be the only player, but it will have a say in politics, in business, in culture, in technology. In short, in every aspect of society China will have some influence, be it in obvious or less obvious ways. (Just watch how today, countries are responding – or not responding – to the crisis in Hong Kong. Watch and notice how few of the powerful nations are speaking up, how little they are doing, and ask yourself why that is.)
At the risk of simplifying things, I think the current political crisis and abuse of power in Hong Kong only ceases to matter under two conditions: 1) if you believe that China will not matter in the future, or 2) if you believe that China will matter, but think that the political injustice in Hong Kong is not actually taking place – that it isn’t happening, or that it isn’t really that unjust. If either of those two conditions apply, then yes, none of it matters really. None of it has any impact on the future we have ahead of us, the future we will all have to share and grapple with together.
Propaganda, with the help of trolls and surveillance, can try to make Hong Kong go away. It can try to change the pitch of Hong Kongers’ chants so that they become mere noise, rather than a clear political outcry.
To those who do have access to the news: This is a time we need to watch and learn. Whether we live in Hong Kong or miles away, in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceania or elsewhere in Asia, we need to pay attention, now.
The Chinese government thinks that it is teaching Hong Kongers and the rest of the world a lesson. Only we can prove the opposite to be true: that it is actually Hong Kongers teaching the world right now, showing us how the future is already here – and how to face that future head-on, hand in hand.
Iris Li, who was granted a pseudonym, is a Hong Kong permanent resident from Scandinavia.
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