Activist on the Front Lines Discusses the Historic Protests in Hong Kong

August 19, 2019

We had to blur her image but she talks about police brutality, the struggle for a transparent democracy, the Chinese army at the border, and hope for the future

We had to blur her image but she talks about police brutality, the struggle for a transparent democracy, the Chinese army at the border, and hope for the future


Activist on the Front Lines Discusses the Historic Protests in Hong Kong

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner.

On Sunday, March 31st, the people of Hong Kong began marching. Initially it was to protest an extradition bill proposed by the Hong Kong government that would allow mainland China to extradite anyone for trial including foreigners. Now Hong Kong, since it was repatriated back to the People’s Republic of China by its colonial ruler, Great Britain, 22 years ago in July of 1997, it has been considered a special zone. It was known as “one country, two systems.” Tensions existed from the very beginning in that kind of system. Protests began in 2012 when mainland China tried to impose their school system on Hong Kong. Leap forward to this moment that we face at this moment. Protests have involved millions of people in the streets. It has gone beyond fighting the extradition treaty, which Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, said is now put to the side. In recent days we have seen protesters taking over the airport, Chinese troops massing at the border, and Hollywood stars like Jackie Chan and the star of Mulan backing the Chinese government, and protests intensifying.

Our guest today joins us, she lives in Hong Kong. She has been part of the protest. We’re not using her real name or her real image for her own safety as she joins us. We are referring to her as “Rose” today. So Rose, welcome. Good to have you with us.

ROSE: You’re welcome.

MARC STEINER: So, let me start with kind of a personal question. Talk about why you and your friends first began hitting the streets, and what that meant. What drove you, other young people, professionals, workers, older people, lawyers to take to the streets?

ROSE: This time is very different from previous protests we have had in Hong Kong. We all say it is the endgame for Hong Kong people. If we don’t come out this time, probably in the future we cannot come out again. So people from all walks of life in Hong Kong, they join together this time. And for me, for myself, the identity of Hong Kongers is much stronger compared to the Umbrella Movement back in 2014.

MARC STEINER: What do you mean?

ROSE: I feel like I am fighting for Hong Kong this time, defending the bottom line for Hong Kong, the freedom that we deserve, the high autonomy that the basic Hong Kongers ask.

MARC STEINER: Rose, it seems to me from what I’ve been reading in the press from all across the globe that these protests, involving millions of people in Hong Kong, span the class spectrum from wealthy people, students, workers, lawyers, to poor working-class people in the Hong Kong streets. It also seems from what I’ve been reading— and you can describe this better than I— that it also spans the political spectrum in Hong Kong, from left-people who might like socialism to people who are involved deeply in the corporate, capitalist system, to everybody in the middle. Now, is that true or are we misreading something here?

ROSE: I think you are completely true. For my personal experience, I see people from different backgrounds from all walks of the society joined together in the protests. In my opinion, one of the bigger factor, contributors, is the police brutality. I think a lot of people come out and protest because they are so dissatisfied and disappointed about what the police have been doing to the protestors, and even passersby, those people who are not even in the protest. They use tear gas when there are no people on the streets, they beat civilians, they do not rescue people. When more than 2,000 people called the emergency call, after 40 minutes, the police came to the empty house station of Yuen Long in 21st of July, so I think all these things have already crossed the bottom line of a lot of Hong Kong people, and we think that the police are racing to the bottom.

We always think that the Hong Kong Police is very professional compared to other countries and they should behave themselves. They should control their emotion, but in these protests of the anti-extradition bill, we see the police is totally out of control. They cannot control their temper. They actually do not follow the rules of using this kind of force against protestors. I think that most people come out because we are really angry and mad about what the police do, especially to the young people.

MARC STEINER: Where do you think this goes? You said earlier in this conversation that this is a critical series of demonstrations. And if you lose this, you might lose everything, is what you were alluding to. This has been going on now for four months, two weeks, and two days as of our taping. Chinese troops apparently are massing right across the border from Hong Kong itself, with the threat of moving in if things don’t change. Talk a bit about that, what you meant by the critical nature of this demonstration. What would happen if Chinese troops came across the line into Hong Kong, and kind of analyze that for us for a moment.

ROSE: I think the Beijing government can witness how determined Hong Kong people are this time, and they also know what are the tactics, what are the strategies the Hong Kong Protestors are using. They are looking at the Hong Kong protestors, they know what we are doing, and they are thinking how to handle this situation right now, so I think they are just preparing the next steps. I am not very sure what they will do to Hong Kong Protestors, but for us, we have been, I have never seen how determined Hong Kong people are. They are so creative and very innovative. We use different kind of tactics, strategies, deeper movements, more big scales to try to have our demands being heard and fulfilled by the government.

The determination of the Hong Kong people indicated that if—Many people are saying something: “it’s now or never.” A lot of people using endgame to describe the protests, to describe the movement because we have so many people come out already. And if we fail, what will be the next thing? Will there still be many people willing to come out if we all get suppressed after these movements? So it is really the biggest battle that we are going to fight, and if we fail, probably the society has to sacrifice a lot. Honestly, I myself worry that I don’t know when [inaudible] people are able to come out if we fail in this movement. I think that the central government, or the Hong Kong government, they will even have more surveillance or other restrictive or limitations in terms of freedom and autonomy that people are able to enjoy. Maybe we can’t even march in the future.

Recently a lot of people applying for the letter of no objection in different demonstrations, and they all failed. So you can imagine a year later or two years later if a normal citizen, they want to organize a march in front of the government headquarters, I think the difficulty will be not more compared to before. The freedom will be declining if we fail in these movements.

MARC STEINER: A couple of quick questions here. When you talk about all of the people arrested, A, how many people do you know have been arrested in Hong Kong in these demonstrations? Are they still in jail? Have they been released? What do we know about that?

ROSE: I don’t know the exact figures right now, but so far from what I have heard and saw in the news, more than 400 people have been arrested, and some are still in the police station, but I think most of them are released and on bail right now. So more than a thousand are actually injured according to the local news reports

MARC STEINER: Tell all the viewers and the folks who are watching this across the globe, what is it exactly the protestors, in the largest sense, want? What is the endgame here? What is it you’re expecting, if you could win this, if you do win this, what is it you’re exactly winning? What are you looking to do?

ROSE: We need to reform the government because the government is not accountable to Hong Kong people. Because the government is just responding to the central government in Beijing, so whenever there are one million, two million, three million people marching on the street, the government still ignores the general demands of Hong Kong people, general and reasonable demands of Hong Kong people. So, one of the important demands of this movement is general universal suffrage. We need to vote for the chief executive and the legislative council in a democratic way that everyone is able to participate in the political system in a fair manner. I think the endgame is saying that the government has to be reformed so that it is democratic, transparent, and accountable to the Hong Kong people, but not to the central government.

MARC STEINER: I think, there’s something as you were speaking, it made me think about this, Carrie Lam, who is the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. The way it runs in Hong Kong now, is that she is not elected by all the people, is that correct?

ROSE: Yes.

MARC STEINER: So the people of Hong Kong have a narrow group, a smaller group of people that they can vote for who can sit on the council, but the rest of them are appointed by the people in Beijing? Or am I wrong? Explain how that works.

ROSE: She was elected by a small group of people. About 1,200 people is the election committee, and they were representing different sectors, but most of them are from the business corporations and in the professional field, so a lot of Hong Kong people are not included and not represented by this group of election committees. She got 777 votes in last election and then she became our chief executive, representing nearly 7 million Hong Kong people, so you see how democratic our government is because she is responding to the 777 people instead of the real 7 million people in Hong Kong.

MARC STEINER: So, if the 7 million people of Hong Kong, the ones who have the right could vote, if they voted, you’re saying that somebody like most people don’t know, let’s say Claudia Mo, who is one of the leaders of the Civic Party who sits on the council. In essence you’re saying, you’d like to see a free and fair election so that people like Claudia Mo or anybody else who is running has a chance to become the leader of Hong Kong, and not somebody who is appointed by corporate and party leaders?

ROSE: Yes, I think according to international human rights law and our basic law, and our bill of rights ordinance in Hong Kong, every citizen deserves the right to vote and the rights to running for candidate, so I think everyone who can fulfill the criteria to run for chief executive, they can, they can. I think that everyone can, not just Claudia Mo, but maybe everyone, if they want to be chief executive and they fulfill their requirement, they should be able to be elected and run for the election.

MARC STEINER: Finally, before we end, this is not really a funny note, but it is interesting. For people in the West especially watching this, when you have two major Hollywood stars, Jackie Chan and Liu Yifei— is it Liu Yifei who played Mulan— both came out in support of the police. It is kind of a strange note to end on, but I’m very curious about what your reaction is to that, what the people of Hong Kong’s reaction is to that, and what you make of that?

ROSE: Well, I think a lot of people are disgusted about what Jackie Chan doing, and whether they are a star, a Hollywood star, or they are celebrities, a lot of Hong Kong people, especially young Hong Kong women and men, we don’t think Jackie Chan represents Hong Kong anymore. Jackie Chan lives in the dreams of Western people, but not Hong Kong people. We feel, of course we feel disappointed, but honestly speaking, we don’t care. We don’t care about how they post to their own social media because they just not representing Hong Kong, especially Jackie Chan. For young people like us, how many people will see him as an idol anymore? I think he is not in our generation. He is the history.

MARC STEINER: Well, let’s hope your future generation really takes hold. And Rose, as we’re calling you for this day, I deeply appreciate you taking the time with us. We look forward, with any luck, to talk with you again. Please stay safe and we’ll see what happens in the next few days.

ROSE: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: Thank you very much. And as I’ve said, we’ve been talking to Rose. We did not use her real name, nor her clear image because we do not want to take a chance that she or any of the other people we may be interviewing will be arrested or be seen doing this. I want to thank all of the people watching. Please let us know what you think, and then we can work with that in terms of our next broadcast about Hong Kong. We want to know what you think. Let us know.

I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us, take care.