Mainland China’s designated rulers in Hong Kong failed to squash the democracy movement, so the government in Beijing has decided to do the job itself. The May 28 vote by China’s rubber-stamp parliament paves the way for China’s Party-State to impose on Hong Kong a draconian national security law and security agencies to enforce it.
The law would criminalize ‘sedition’, ‘subversion’, ‘foreign interference’, ‘separatism’ and ‘terrorism’. Affiliation or even ties with an international organization could suffice to qualify as ‘interference’; street demonstrations could qualify as ‘terrorism’. Demanding the direct, universal suffrage Hong Kong people have been fighting for could constitute ‘sedition’. And the independent unions joined together in the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), which has anchored the democracy movement, are prime candidates for being charged with ‘subversion’ simply because they are independent worker organizations defending workers’ rights.
While the legislation is of questionable legality under the Basic Law governing Hong Kong’s relations with the People’s Republic since 1997, legality is irrelevant. Worker activists and rights defenders on the mainland are routinely sentenced to prison for ‘provoking a quarrel’, and Beijing has always been the final arbiter in Hong Kong.
The legislative move should be seen as an act of political aggression against the only independent unions in China. The arrest and ongoing criminal prosecution of Lee Cheuk Yan, general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions in February and again in April this year, along with other prominent activists in the pro-democracy movement, already signaled an escalation of repression and mounting impatience in Beijing. Now the ‘One country, two systems’ framework has been openly breached.
Hong Kong police have banned the annual June 4 commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre, a public event attracting hundreds of thousands of people, which maintains the memory and the promise of China’s 1989 democracy movement and the workers’ autonomous trade unions that challenged the official structures of the Party-State.
June 4 is also our day. Labour internationally should proudly stand in militant solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Hong Kong. And we need to recall (since many seem to have forgotten) that the defense of democracy and trade union rights in Hong Kong is inseparable from the fight for rights throughout China. China’s foreign minister has declared that the new legislation will strengthen the rule of law and bring about “a better business environment.” Foreign capital however needs no reassuring; investors have profited from repression in China, especially the denial of the right of workers to join or form unions of their own choosing. It is up to us, the international labour movement, to defend workers’ rights.
Hong Kong, June 4, 2019
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