By Julian Chan
Beijing’s decision to impose a new national security law in Hong Kong has sent shockwaves across the international community, especially amongst those who stand firmly in the liberal, democratic order.
This gives added importance to a united Hongkongers’ international front – an essential last-standing pillar that can continue crucial efforts to raise global awareness – and for global communities to continue supporting the causes and values of Hong Kong people across all possible levels.
The enormous decision by Beijing effectively to tear up the One Country, Two Systems in Hong Kong must be understood as part of a wider geopolitical power struggle (primarily between China and the US), but also one that is highly ideological.
This is in the context of a new cold war on a scale not seen since the fall of the USSR, which is rapidly developing between, on one side, liberal democracies, and on the other, a giant communist authoritarian dictatorship.
Particularly over the past decade, existing routes of resistance against the Chinese Communist Party among Hong Kong people can be roughly seen through three categories:
- within the Legislative Council (Hong Kong’s Parliament)
- street protests, and
- the international front
Despite the large number and wide range of anti-Beijing (or “non-pro-establishment”) groups and political parties, often perceived as lacking in unity, there has been arguably an increasing understanding amongst the camp that there is a need to coordinate and collaborate, in order to make resistance effective.
However, by around August this year, the room for parliamentary opposition and street protests will come to an abrupt end. This means that any hope for change from within Hong Kong will be vastly diminished, or effectively destroyed.
International lobbying efforts from Hong Kong will be entirely banned under the new law which prohibits “activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong”. For groups in Hong Kong, this includes an end to any form of communication or cooperation with communities, groups or parties outside of the territory.
Traditionally, such lobbying groups have been rather successful, even conspicuous, in raising attention in the UK, EU and US, calling for governments to speak out or take action to stand in solidarity with Hong Kong people.
Yet with this seismic change in the rules, this will no longer be possible. The focus will therefore rapidly shift to groups which are already established and operational on the international front.
These groups will require not only the support of Hongkongers abroad, but also the general public in their communities to develop a firmer understanding for the need to help Hong Kong, as well as inheriting and keeping the spirit of Hongkongers well and alive.
The Umbrella Union – for which your writer is a researcher – is a newly established group in the UK which is “dedicated to carrying out ground operations in the UK and the EU in order to raise awareness of human and civil rights abuse in Hong Kong and to promote high standards of cultural products in relation to Hong Kong.”
The organisation has sections covering areas such as education, counselling and culture, as well as the establishment of a think tank and an apolitical BNO community. It aims to work on community building, fill in gaps across UK and EU societies, while collaborating closely with groups which are focused on political lobbying such as Hong Kong Watch, along with communities such as Friends of Hong Kong, Britons in Hong Kong, Manchester in Hong Kong and so on.
Such an approach ensures an all-rounded, tightly-knit strategy and coordination amongst the interests and priorities of various groups, whilst adopting a flexible approach that can respond to areas which need most urgent attention.
This ranges from supporting asylum-seekers, providing education and info sessions on taking civil service exams, as well as holding art, literature and cultural exhibitions and projects which maximise local communities’ engagement with such groups.
On the European front, which is perhaps more complex yet equally important, further collaboration among lobbying groups supporting or focusing on the Hong Kong issue will be needed to maximise attention at the various European institutions and Member States.
European institutions such as the European External Action Service, Commission, Parliament and Council must be made fully aware, and take a much more proactive approach in speaking out and taking necessary actions.
This is to safeguard the values and principles of human rights, rule of law and democracy that the EU is itself founded upon, and ensure they are enacted in the EU’s external relations. Local communities in Europe and communities of Hongkongers in Europe must continue to emphasise that the EU cannot afford to be naïve, indifferent or asleep to Hong Kong peoples’ causes, or fail to recognise the imminent threats of China.
In addition, there must be continued effort to ensure that European businesses and politicians cannot be so short-sighted as to see only the immediate economic benefits of the Chinese market, while failing to defend themselves from a rogue regime that is reshaping the world order, which aims at a total destruction of a rules-based system, fair competition, and all things liberal and democratic.
Across Member States, it is of paramount priority to pass on such messages wherever and whenever possible to Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Members of Parliament and Civil Society Organisations, in order to exert continued pressure at all levels for concrete action and consistency with the European community’s values.
The international lobbying front for Hongkongers’ around the world will have to take centre stage, as room for action from within Hong Kong will soon come to an end. This will require a prudent, flexible, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional approach which can only be effective and successful through stronger unity amongst all groups.
It will need a much enhanced engagement with local communities that can continue to support and rally to causes that represent the core of Hongkongers’ principles and values.
Along with the US, the UK and EU fronts – through existing and new groups of Hongkongers there – will be absolutely critical in future months and years, to ensure governments that uphold human rights, justice and democracy will continue to do so, to keep the Hong Kong spirit and values well and alive.
Julian Chan is the Researcher for EU Affairs at the Umbrella Union, a founding member of the Institute of China-Europe Affairs, a former member of the British Consulate-General Hong Kong and Guangzhou, Political and Economic department at the Asia-Europe Foundation, and the Europe Asia Policy Centre for Comparative Research, with a Master’s in EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies from the College of Europe.