After a summer spent learning to goose-step under police direction, 60 patriotic schoolchildren returned for Hong Kong’s new academic year, performing ceremonial protection of the flag that oppresses them, just as they would in mainland China.
Watched over in their flag-guarding teams by Chief Inspector Lo Yee-chung (盧宜頌) of Hong Kong Police College, the youth are being thoroughly prepped to defend a future in which the richest 10 percent of goose-steppers will earn up to 60 times more than the poorest 10 percent, and none of them can do anything to change it, because even the nominal Democratic Party of their city no longer advocates for political reform or their right to meaningfully vote.
Looking to that future, those among the flag-raisers who dream of a career in journalism will be reassured to hear that freedom of the press is now self-avowedly in the pocket of Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超), so they will only have to endure five days in prison each time they attempt to cover a simple residents’ meeting. Such was the court verdict handed down on September 25 to Ronson Chan Ron-sing (陳朗昇), chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
Chan, who has been supporting himself as a delivery driver after Hong Kong’s recent media purge, was convicted of obstructing police for not availing them of his identity in a “timely” manner and “recklessly” asking them questions when looking to report on a meeting in the Mong Kok area one year ago. The decision to jail him chokes on its own irony, given the police’s obvious obstruction to his previous work as an editor, such as by raiding and forcibly closing his former employer, Stand News.
Released on bail pending an appeal, Chan has suffered outrageous treatment yet can only consider himself inordinately lucky when compared to the plight of media heavyweight Jimmy Lai, who, on September 26, completed his 1,000th day of incarceration for having the audacity to support freedom of expression, including via his newspaper, the now-defunct Apple Daily.
To ensure that Lai’s bitter landmark does not go unobserved, 67 organizations around the world authored a letter to U.S. President Joe Biden, imploring him to hold Hong Kong authorities to account for their detention of political prisoners, to deny John Lee Ka-chiu entry to the United States for the forthcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco, to expand individually targeted sanctions to more officials who suffocate basic human rights, including prosecutors and judges, and to demand an unconditional release for Lai.
The letter may not see an actioned response in the near future, considering that, just a few days beforehand, U.S. Assistant Secretary for International Finance Brent Neiman had quietly become the highest-ranking Department of the Treasury official to visit Hong Kong since the city’s brutal response to 2019 protests.
Neiman’s stated mission was to “deepen ties between the world’s two biggest economies,” and his remarks at a U.S.-China Symposium emphasized an intention to keep sanctions narrow in scope and continue the trillion-dollar economic embrace between Washington and Beijing with Hong Kong in the middle.
How long that business-as-usual approach can stay viable remains to be seen. Bookending Neiman’s visit, China defied multiple United Nations special rapporteurs to repatriate human rights lawyer Lu Siwei (盧思位) from Laos and slapped an exit ban on Charles Wang Zhonghe (王仲何), a senior banker at Japanese firm Nomura International, preventing him from returning to Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland.
Beijing’s enmity towards Lu had been partially stoked by his previous appointment as a defense lawyer by the family of one of the 12 Hong Kong activists who were caught attempting to flee the city for Taiwan in 2020. Wang’s freedom has been restricted despite no known charges brought against him, which further corrodes even the appearance of a safe operating environment for finance and trade at the Hong Kong-China nexus.
Meanwhile, yet more relatives of exiled Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders were being hauled into police stations for questioning; criminal charges were being laid against another individual for possession of books about guarding a sheep village; a possible spy for China, with contacts at the very heart of the international Hong Kong protest movement, was unmasked in the U.K.; the tally of nameless individuals vanished away by national security officials ticked higher; and even the “King of Judicial Reviews” Kwok Cheuk-kin (郭卓堅), a veteran activist famous for fighting authorities over all kinds of issues in the courts, was forced to abandon his support for Hong Kong’s unofficial city anthem after political pressure and alleged contact from triads.
Among the fear and intimidation, the years stripped from the lives of the innocent and the seeming move towards normalization of the new status quo by the United States, bright spots were hard to find, even in the hands of Alexandra Wong Fung-yiu (王鳳瑤), better known to many as Grandma Wong (王婆婆). Defying the risk of another disappearance, prison sentence or physical assault, Wong publicly held protest flowers and four fingers aloft in commemoration of a troubled teenage girl named Chan Yin-lam (陳彥霖), who died at the height of Hong Kong protests in September 2019.
Chan’s untimely passing, for which an open verdict was recorded, became an instant truth vortex amid a crumbling of trust in Hong Kong authorities and the police acting on their behalf. Wong’s lonely flowers to her memory four years on demonstrate that no amount of goose-stepping and flag-raising can build that trust back again, if, indeed, that is even the intention of such activities anyway.
Image: Apple Daily