To no-one’s great surprise, Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal sends Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow to prison. This follows the tougher re-sentencing of 13 other activists on Wednesday.
The Hong Kong authorities will indignantly deny that these appeals against earlier sentences were politically motivated, or that the city now has prisoners of conscience. Strictly speaking, they may well be correct in insisting that they followed due process.
But, along with the disqualification of lawmakers and other signs of Beijing’s tighter grasp, this represents the crossing of a line. Actions that were previously tolerated or dealt with leniently are now outlawed or punished severely when committed by critics of the Chinese Communist Party. This entails the application of formerly hidden or disused laws. Meanwhile, the timing of prosecutors’ decisions has been erratic.
This last sign indicates Chinese officials at work, intervening where the supposedly autonomous local administration failed to act decisively enough. The specific aim is to crush or eliminate Umbrella-movement radicals, localists and others who ‘challenge’ the one-party state. This means barring them from the Legislative Council, and intimidating protesters by imposing harsher punishments on their leading figures.
Beijing’s officials will not relax now. They will push to further gradually degrade once-independent institutions like the legislature and civil service, as well as the media and (democrat- and lawyer-infested) academia. And of course, the legal system – one judge re-sentencing Joshua et al could almost have been channeling former Chief Executive CY Leung in his comments about civil disobedience as an ‘unhealthy trend’, and ‘arrogant and self-righteous’ young people who ‘despise rule of law’ (more here).
Beijing wants Hong Kong to be like the Mainland – where the population is removed from and uninterested in the political process. But there are two problems.
First, the Mainland has long-embedded media, schooling, penal and other systems that reinforce party control and thought, while Hong Kong is already pluralistic and its people see open and accountable government as a norm. Second, while the Chinese dictatorship can buy off Mainlanders with recent gains in material prosperity after previous eras of disastrous governance, Hong Kong seems to be going backwards economically, and many residents recall colonial rule as better.
This is not about Hong Kong: it is simply our local version of what Xi Jinping is also doing to Xinjiang, Tibet, the Internet, churches, tycoons, and so on. No-one can convince Beijing to change its mind. Ideas like a Nobel Peace Prize for Joshua or US sanctions are fanciful. So is the older-pro-dems’ dream of seeking change through formal constitutional domestic channels – the whole plan is to neutralize elections, protest marches and the law.
All anyone can do is stay sane while we wait for the Communists to fail. They think jailing three kids for demanding democracy is a victory, when all they have done is earned more hatred and encouraged greater opposition to act more creatively and surreptitiously in the future. The CCP is just proving that they are scum.
I declare the weekend open with some reading: a Taiwanese-oriented angle on the above events; a great in-depth look at the whole money-for-Chinese-influence thing of which Ronnie Chan/Asia Society/Harvard are but a part; and an interesting analysis of the (not totally unrelated) expulsion of academic Huang Jing from Singapore.