Interview with Vincent Kolo taken from www.chinaworker.info, the website of our sister organisation in Hong Kong/China/Taiwan on the mass protest protests that have erupted in Hong Kong against attempts to introduce a new extradition law.
After one in four of Hong Kong’s population join mega demonstration – how far can the movement push?
The incredible mass movement in Hong Kong with two million people marching last Sunday is shaking the whole region. Offensiv (weekly newspaper of CWI in Sweden) spoke to Vincent Kolo of chinaworker.info:
“It is an unprecedented movement in Hong Kong which has mobilised the biggest demonstrations in the territory’s history. On June 9, one million people took over Hong Kong’s streets, then on June 16 it was two million, more than a quarter of Hong Kong’s population. It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of this movement not only for Hong Kong but also for China.”
What’s the significance of the Hong Kong government’s climbdown?
“The New York Times described the government’s suspension of its planned extradition law, announced on June 15, as the biggest retreat on a political issue from China since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012. Xi was seen as an invincible “strongman” so this is a turning point.
“There should be no misunderstanding, despite the insistence of the Chinese dictatorship that the extradition law was the brainchild of the Hong Kong government and Chief Executive Carrie Lam, which may be true, but the green light came from Beijing. If it hadn’t, the Hong Kong government would never have dared go so far. The order to make concessions (the suspension of the law) also came from Beijing.
“Top Chinese officials, including Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier Han Zheng, went to Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong on Friday, June 14, for crisis talks. Carrie Lam and top Hong Kong ministers met them and received orders to back down.”
How did the masses react to this?
“The mood in Hong Kong is that it is not enough. The concession is too little too late. The masses hate Lam’s government and do not believe a single word she says. They want the extradition law to be scrapped completely and they’re afraid of government dirty tricks. The government has lied, bullied and tried to shoot itself out of trouble by ordering the police to use extreme violence, especially on June 12. It was then that 70,000 students and young people protested outside Legco (Hong Kong’s fake parliament) in a mobilisation that totally surprised the police.
“Young people arrived en masse already at six in the morning and before the police knew what had happened they had occupied all the roads around Legco. The police totally misjudged the situation. This mobilisation was mostly done via social media and encrypted messenging apps like Telegram, which was the target of a major hacking attack from China on that day. Tens of thousands of young people are connecting through these messenging apps to organise protest actions.
“The mood of the youth is the most shocking for the ruling elite. The South China Morning Post’s chief news editor wrote an article headlined: ‘Our youth do not fear batons and bullets – it’s scary’.”
How does it compare with the Umbrella Revolution?
“The movement has learned a lot from the Umbrella Revolution in 2014, which ended in a stalemate. This was followed by four years of vicious repression and increased control by the Chinese dictatorship over Hong Kong’s political system.
“On the afternoon of June 12, the government and police chief decided to use repression, fearing a new Umbrella-style occupation, so they fired more tear gas in one day than during the entire 79-day Umbrella Revolution.
“And for the first time they shot at the crowds with rubber bullets. Two are shot in the head, and two are in hospital with life-threatening injuries. They also used beanbag rounds for the first time. These are the new investments the police purchased after 2014 – and it didn’t work! They thought that the show of force would disperse the youth and break the momentum of the movement, but the youth remained and their resistance terrified the elite, especially in a situation when one million people had just been marching. This is why Beijing got cold feet.
“China’s dictatorship feels they can’t have such a mass movement in Hong Kong at the same time as they are in a difficult confrontation with the US and Trump, so they tried to defuse it quickly, but this has failed.
“Carrie Lam’s suspension of the extradition law on June 15 did not appease the masses and, on the contrary, her refusal to withdraw the law and her defence of police violence further infuriated people. That is why two million went out on the streets the next day, June 16.”
What happens next?
“Now the masses are discussing what the next step should be. The government must scrap the proposed law completely. Lam went out today (June 18) and apologised again, which she has done every day since June 15. But the apologies don’t contain any new concessions, just empty words. She’s a devout Catholic, so this is a bit like going to church to confess her sins. God may forgive her, but the people won’t.
“Her speeches lack the key words that the law will be scrapped completely and that she resigns. The fact is that the Chinese regime is preventing her from doing this regardless of what she wants to do. She’s their hostage.
“Suspending the law was not enough, so now Beijing and the Hong Kong government are trying to wait the movement out and muddle through without making even greater concessions.
“This has already been a very high political price for the authority of Xi Jinping’s dictatorship and if the law were to be scrapped and Lam falls, that would be a massive defeat for them. The dictatorship needs to be feared. Backing down in front of a mass movement is the most dangerous thing it can do. This is not just about Hong Kong, but what can happen in China.
“Therefore the movement will probably grow and become even more intense, because the majority are not satisfied. A pro-democracy speaker at a rally on Monday compared the new situation to a football team winning “5-0” over the government – this speaker was booed by the demonstrators. The mood is that to settle for today’s concessions would not be a victory, it would be unacceptable.”
Why doesn’t Lam resign? Surely the CCP dictatorship can find another willing puppet to implement their policies in Hong Kong?
“Lam is a zombie leader, a walking dead, but the CCP is trying to hold the line and defend her because it would be a disaster for them if she is brought down by this movement. Hong Kong is not a democracy: if there’s a new election it is in the rigged small-circle system in which just 1,200 electors, billionaires plus some mere millionaires, get a vote.
“These elite electors are told by Beijing who to vote for, which is a system the capitalists in Hong Kong embrace. In exchange for losing a bit of direct political influence they get all sorts of privileges and fat business contracts in both China and Hong Kong – their financial interests are well taken care of by the dictatorship.
“Most importantly, the dictatorship prevents the working class and the masses in China from organising and challenging the capitalists’ power. This is why socialists link the struggle for democratic rights and against the current authoritarian system with the need to break the power of the capitalists. You need to do both.
“The CCP doesn’t want such a so-called election to take place in Hong Kong in the heat of a mass movement as big as this one. If they are forced to hold such a grotesque ‘election’ farce in this situation, in which we can see some pre-revolutionary features although consciousness about how to change things is still not high, they could be faced with the mass movement redirecting its anger against the sham election and demanding real elections. It would reignite the mass struggle for one-person-one-vote and open a Pandora’s box for China’s regime.
“There are no signs of more concessions at the moment and the masses are not satisfied, so the logic of the struggle is towards further escalation.”
How does Socialist Action (CWI) participate in the movement?
“Socialist Action is fully involved in the movement and was the only political force until the million-strong demonstration on June 9 to demand a political strike to overthrow the extradition law and Carrie Lam’s puppet government. We call for a one-day political strike, something we emphasise most in the 25,000 leaflets we have distributed, on our banners, newspapers, and speeches along the demonstration route. This has met with a growing echo.
“There is no tradition, not since the 1920s, of this type of strike action in Hong Kong. So it’s about re-establishing very old and forgotten traditions and there is an urgency about it because the situation cannot stand still. The clock is ticking for this impressive mass movement to find the methods and programme needed to win a decisive victory over the dictatorship. If the opportunity is lost the dictatorship will come back for revenge.