The announced law could establish Chinese security institutions in Hong Kong, ending historically protected freedom around dissent and free speech.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Mark Steiner: Welcome to The Real News, I’m Mark Steiner. Good to have you all with us once again.
On Thursday, the Chinese parliament, the National People’s Congress, passed the National Security Law, which applies to Hong Kong. The full details of the law have not been made public, but it includes many acts of dissent, subversion or disloyalty and allows the Chinese security forces to operate freely in Hong Kong. Mass protest in Hong Kong against this legislation erupted last week as the news of the new law spread. But the police put down these demonstrations with a really heavy hand, and the legislation proceeded at a lightning speed, seems to be taking over. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, tweeted that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous. What does that mean? Although he ended the tweet by saying that the US stands with Hong Kong, whatever that means. The legal significance of his statement could mean that trade agreements and visa arrangements for residents of Hong Kong will be more difficult with United States.
We’re joined now by Kevin Lin. Once again, joining us, he’s an activist and researcher at Hong Kong University. A member of the Laoson Collective and co-edits the Made in China Journal. And Kevin, welcome back to The Real News. It’s always good to have you with us.
Kevin Lin: Thank you.
Mark Steiner: Let me, before we get into kind of the heart of what this means, I really want to kind of explore this why it’s happening now. In the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the globe and in Hong Kong as well. And so what’s the connection here? You have to ask that question first. I think.
Kevin Lin: Yeah, I think this national security legislation could have been in the work for months now. It’s well to remember that the national People’s Congress was delayed for about three months. It was supposed to have taken to take place back in February, but because of the pandemic, it was postponed to May. It could have been in the work for several months. And we know essentially the Chinese central government has lost confidence in the Hong Kong government’s ability to stop the protests or introduce similar legislations, essentially criminalize legitimate political activities as well as serious illegal activities. This could have been work in the work for them for several months now.
Mark Steiner: Not to stay on this point too long, because there’s too much to talk about here, Kevin, but some people have been saying that the pro-democracy groups have been calling for quarantines and then some people have argued that this law being legislated so quickly dovetails with that. Kind of politically good timing for, even though it’s been planned for awhile, this moment could really hit it. It seems to be some people are arguing the timing was just right for the People’s Republic of China.
Kevin Lin: Yeah. That could very well be true. I think this is a moment where, because of the quarantine and restrictions that the police essentially, it’s very, very easy to use the restrictions to disperse the crowds. That has been really effective in terms of just controlling the protesters. But I think the timing is definitely a politically calculated one.
Mark Steiner: A lot of countries around the world this moment, including the United States, European Union, in China for promoting its national security law. But other than saying, disapprove they don’t seem to have any real strategy to ensure autonomy of Hong Kong with a freedom of the residents. How do you explain the fact that pretty much the activist in Hong Kong continue to organize protests against the odds without any real external support?
Kevin Lin: There’s still quite a bit of political autonomy and space right now in Hong Kong to organize a protest. I think what people are really worried about is this national security legislation is going to take away that freedom almost completely because he essentially, as you said in your introduction, it’s going to criminalize not just subversion, not successions per se, but perfectly legitimate political actions could also be penalized and criminalized.
Mark Steiner: Do you think that the law of national security is practically the end of this, of the notion of a one country, two systems, that’s been an arrangement since Britain turned Hong Kong over the People’s Republic of China? Are we seeing the beginning of the end here?
Kevin Lin: Yeah. I think for many people, this is really the end of the one country, two system arrangement. To explain, the, the legislation essentially bypassed the Hong Kong legislature. Again, because I think the Chinese national government, doesn’t think that the Hong Kong government is able to introduce legislation like this, they bypassed the legislature completely. And that usually is really, really concerning. But at the same time, this is not the first time national security legislation was attempted. Back in 2003, there was a time to introduce such legislation by the Hong Kong government. And that was defeated because so many people went down to the street and protested against the legislation and it was withdrawn. I think it’s still up in the air, even though it calls for pessimism. I think there’s still a chance that if people are mobilized there’s a chance that it could be defeated.
Mark Steiner: I’m very curious. What is the sense of your fellow protestors, of the men and women in the street? What is their sense of where it is now? And how desperate or hopeful you find the people around you are in these demonstrations and what’s happening? Give us a sense of what’s happening on the ground and how it’s seething what’s happening.
Kevin Lin: I think you’re seeing both. You’re seeing a lot of despair, a lot of desperation because it’s one thing to protest against the Hong Kong government, it’s quite another thing to be able to stop the Chinese national government. There’s a lot of desperation. A lot of people are talking about emigrating to other countries. At the same time, I think, that the protests returned straight away right after the announcement. I think that both are happening. A lot of people are in despair, but at the same time, a lot of people are also writing against this.
Mark Steiner: Fine, two little quick things here. How are you feeling personally? I know other people around you in terms of your own safety about the future, and where this can take you, I have family that lives in Hong Kong and it was one of my, I have a nephew there and who is saying, they’re all very kind of concerned that this could mean a mass emigration from Hong Kong. It could mean that because the Chinese government, the People’s Republic is such a powerful economy, there’s very little the world can do, even if it wanted to. What about those two different, very different, but really kind of powerful movements?
Kevin Lin: Yeah. I think it’s perfectly understandable why many people are considering emigration, although that that’s only feasible for a fairly small percentage of people who are wealthy now and have the ways to emigrate to other countries, especially, in a time like this, where countries are closing doors to immigrants. The majority of people, especially working people are going to be in Hong Kong. I think that the fight has to be here. And I think once people, moving on from the initial reactions of desperation, I think, I’m confident people are going to be able to be organized and push back against the sort of the legislation.
Finally, what do you think that the viewers that are watching this across United States and Canada, across the globe, what should we be looking for? What should be our response? What should be the governments’ responses in the places that we live?
Mark Steiner: Yeah, this is definitely what’s happening in Hong Kong is part of a bigger battle between US and China. It’s just kind of the latest manifestation of the intensifying rivalry between you guys’ government and the Chinese government. As sort of Hong Kong is being sacrificed in this kind of great power rivalry. And for us, and for people in the States and for leftists in the States, I think, the really the target, the enemy at home is the US government, which is primarily responsible for escalating tensions right now and very often using racism to sort of escalate the tensions with China.
I think that’s a primary responsibility is to counter that escalation at home by the Trump administration, by the right wing media, but also by the Biden campaign, which has tried to out do Trump by putting out like an ad, a political campaign ad that says basically, Trump is not tough enough on China. But at the same time, I think people should also be critical of the Chinese government. And it will be a disservice to all the social movement activists in China if we turn a blind eye to the domestic repressions within China. I think as leftists, as progressives, we need to be critical and opposed to the Chinese state and the US state.
Kevin Lin: You said this very clearly and concisely. I think that the really important messages to give out to this, given being stuck between both the People’s Republic of China and the United States, where the administrations that they have, that this movement that you’re a part of, much of it is left, but it is democratic all the way through. And it’s really different voices trying to be heard. And I think that gets lost in all of this. Can get lost in all of this. That message you just gave, I think it was really important for us to hear.
Kevin Lin, I deeply appreciate you staying up so late to talk with us tonight and being with us today. We want you to stay safe. We’ll stay in touch. We’ll keep telling your story as much as we can. And thank you so much. And please, as I said, please stay safe as you can.
Mark Steiner: Thank you.
Kevin Lin: We’ve been talking to Kevin Lin, Hong Kong University researcher about what’s going on in Hong Kong. Of course, we’re saying all this, talking about this while we won’t let it go. And in this, this COVID-19 please everybody stay safe, stay home. Be careful. I’m Mark Steiner here for The Real News Network. Take care.
Marc Steiner, interim co-Editor at TRNN, is a Peabody Award-winning journalist who has spent his life working on issues of social justice. He walked his first picket line at age 13 and at age 16 became the youngest person in Maryland arrested for Civil Rights protests, in the Freedom Rides through Cambridge. As part of the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, Marc helped organize poor white communities with the Young Patriots, the white Appalachian counterpart to the Black Panthers. Early in his career he counseled at-risk youth in therapeutic settings and founded a theater program in the Maryland State prison system. He also taught Theatre for 10 years at the Baltimore School for the Arts. From 1993 through 1997 his signature “Marc Steiner Show” aired on Baltimore’s public radio airwaves, both WYPR – which Marc co-founded – and Morgan State University’s WEAA.