If you think Hong Kong demonstrators demanding their freedoms doesn’t have anything to do with you, think again.
From Chinese students in Southern California, to tourists, to American diplomats and investors, what matters in the former British colony matters here.
Just ask the heads of Activision Blizzard, Apple and the NBA, all of whom this month immediately kowtowed to China when the government made clear it was upset with those organizations over what Beijing considered meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs.
They’re not alone. The president of the United States, too, reportedly agreed to China’s request to stay quiet about Hong Kong demonstrators’ quest for human rights.
But what some forget and should matter to any American who salutes the Stars and Stripes, is the protesters’ unquenched thirst for what the United States has always stood for — liberty, hope, freedom.
Heck, there’s even a Disneyland in Hong Kong. And don’t get me started on American military. Ah well, too late.
As a rather rambunctious kid who was born and partly raised in Hong Kong, I can personally attest to hanging out with sailors on leave from Vietnam who got tattooed on the island of Victoria and to this day (and night) wear Hong Kong ink.
First, a little primer on what sometimes seems a complex issue, but really isn’t.
When Great Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, it didn’t just give away the colony. There were stipulations.
China agreed there would be “one country, two systems” and Hong Kong would be known as the “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China,” or HKSAR.
The name is a mouthful. But, in essence, this “Basic Law” agreement meant that Hong Kong would remain essentially the same for at least 50 years, until 2047. It also would retain legislative, judicial and executive power.
And that is where things get sticky.
The latest uproar started in March when Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam pushed for a bill that many saw as allowing Hong Kong residents to be shipped to the mainland for judicial proceedings.
Over the summer, things escalated and protesters now have five demands:
One, retracting the term “riot” from what arguably have been passionate but rarely violent protests.
Two, exonerating and releasing arrested protesters.
Three, establishing an independent review of police conduct and use of force.
Four — and this is big — dump the extradition bill, which, though sidelined, remains on the table.
Five — and this is much bigger — Lam resigns and instead of having a committee choose the next chief executive, citizens get to vote.
Oops, one more thing and it’s something several of our leaders in Washington, D.C., seem to have forgotten.
There’s an act that President George H. Bush signed called the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act. It allows the U.S. to treat Hong Kong separately from mainland China when it comes to trade and economic control.
It’s easy to be glib and say that the NBA, Apple and Activision Blizzard might want to take note.
But when it comes to a nation with the wealth, size and population of China, you can bet corporate heads already know about the act.
So what did these big boys end up doing this month?
The NBA apologized and waffled. Activision suspended a player. Apple killed an app that allowed protesters to track police.
Hong Kong ink
Remember the former colony’s new name? Meet one of its former members.
Christin Loh earned her law degree in England, teaches something called “non-market risks” at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and until two years ago served as undersecretary in Hong Kong’s government.
Right now, Loh is back in Hong Kong as chief development strategist at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
We chatted by email the other day and I asked Loh if Hong Kong should matter to Americans. She chose her words carefully.
“My concern today,” Loh stressed, “is that U.S. interests and H.K.’s own interests — as a part of China — may not be the same.
“In my view, Hong Kong’s interest is to flourish as a special part of China and must not be seen to want to separate from China. Hong Kong has to navigate a careful path.”
Loh also addressed long-term relations between Hong Kong and the United States. “Hong Kong is a city that has many connections with the U.S. and has had these connections for a very long time,” Loh explained.
“These include U.S. citizens who are originally from Hong Kong and U.S. citizens currently living there (and) span across social, economic, financial, academic and family fields.”
Yes, I fall into one of those fields and along with my sailor buddies who got me into a ton of trouble when Mom spotted a tattoo on my leg at age 13, there are thousands of others who fall into those fields as well.
Consider that several months ago, a reported 800 members and supporters of an organization called “Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles” hit the streets in downtown L.A. to support the protesters in Hong Kong.
“The Chinese Communist Party and Hong Kong government has done nothing but step on us like cockroaches,” forum leaders said. “They have shown no respect to the Sino–British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong’s ‘The Basic Law’ or ‘2 Systems, 1 Country.’”
Fists of fury
The slogan may not sound like much, but consider its origin. It’s from “Fists of Fury” legend Bruce Lee.
Today, “be water” is a clarion call for Hong Kong protesters in the face of escalating adversity and Jeffery Wasserstrom, UC Irvine history professor, explains activists use the motto to ensure they are fluid enough to avoid getting arrested.
Wasserstrom, whose specialty is connecting China’s past and present, told me, “Hong Kong’s people are fighting for ideals that should resonate with Americans as they desire the ability to have a direct say in how they are governed.
“The current movement can be seen, in part, as driven by frustration that Beijing has been imposing a new sort of colonial rule on Hong Kong,” Wasserstrom continued. “Once again, people do not get to have a direct say in how the top leader in the city is chosen, and they want that.
“They also want the kind of rule of law and freedom of assembly they have had, which, for good reason, they feel is threatened.”
Gabriel Law, UCLA alumnus and spokesman for Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles brought home Wasserstrom’s point after a recent protest.
“What is happening in Hong Kong is something that we never imagined would be happening,” Law said, “where we truly have to fear for our way of life (and) the imminent possibility of loss of freedom.”
Currently, there is a US. Congressional bill with bipartisan support that recently was sent to the House and Senate as a whole called the “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019.” It calls for annual reviews of the former colony.
“The report,” the bill declares, “shall assess whether China has eroded Hong Kong’s civil liberties and rule of law as protected by Hong Kong’s Basic Law.”
Lee, who was born in San Francisco and died in Hong Kong in 1973 at the age of 32, had another saying:
“Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”