Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement survives, despite Beijing’s grip on the city’s autonomy. In part thanks to the tireless communities in exile, especially in Taipei and London, where regular demonstrations are organized in front of the Chinese Embassy. And in part due to the other great anti-government mobilizations during these months: the tactics of the anti-extradition movement have reached Thailand, Belarus, and also the U.S.
In Portland, protesters have learned from videos shot in Hong Kong how to use road cones to cover and neutralize smoke bombs fired by the police. In both Seattle and Washington, the protesters have equipped themselves with umbrellas, a symbol of the Hong Kong movement, to protect themselves against tear gas. Not to mention that even a movement like Black Lives Matter, heir to charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, has embraced the motto “be water,” and—following the prescription to avoid having easy targets for repressive power—has neither a spokesperson nor unified leadership.
This knowledge exchange was possible also thanks to the open dialogue between BLM and Lausan, a radical left-wing collective that promotes the intersectionality of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy struggle with anti-racist and anti-capitalist ethics. According to Lausan, the dialogue has benefited both sides. On the one hand, African American activists were able to borrow the repertoire of tactics tested in Hong Kong during the previous year. On the other hand, the dialogue with protests of a strongly anti-racist nature forced the Hong Kongers to reckon with the political-social horizons of their movement. “Many wanted to emphasize the non-ideological nature of the protests, but it is important to ask ourselves where our struggle is positioned,” Lausan’s activists explain, “with respect to the same liberal democratic paradigm that legitimizes imperialist and anti-democratic policies, both American and Chinese.”
The answer is not an obvious one. Among the many currents of the Hong Kong movement, there are extremist and xenophobic fringes—the same ones who, seeing Trump as the last bulwark against Chinese interference, were waving flags with stars and stripes. “The problem is that the traditional faces of the Hong Kong struggle lack the language and resources to make sense of a battle like the one for the liberation of Black people. For this reason, the push for international awareness of the Hong Kong issue has been aimed at the U.S. institutions as its main goal, instead of activism from the grassroots,” the spokesperson of the collective tells us.
Similarly, many of the major protests after Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997 were politicized and interpreted only as criticism of the Chinese Communist Party. “Instead, the analysis should include class struggle and socio-economic claims,” the activists explain. “Part of our work is to try to broaden the discourse beyond anti-authoritarianism, with analyses that target the economic elites as well as the political elites.” Last summer, Lausan brought together trade unions of doctors and nurses from Hong Kong and the United States for an exchange of perspectives. They talked about the potential inherent in the intersection of different struggles and the promising increase in unionization, stimulated by the pandemic and the strong protest movements in the two countries.
For Hong Kong, however, it is essential to continue to reflect on relations with the Mainland. Au Loong-Yu, the author of Hong Kong in Revolt: The Protest Movement and The Future of China, had already spoken out about the lack of inclusiveness of the anti-extradition movement towards Chinese workers. This is a mistake that may be due not only to notions of identity (according to The Economist, in 2019, almost no one under 30 in Hong Kong considered themselves Chinese), but also to the fear that joining the struggles on the mainland could justify even greater repression from Beijing. “Strikes in China are frequent, and there have been episodes of solidarity with Chinese workers,” the Lausan activists explain, “but the authorities have always prevented the groups from forming an alliance as part of a real movement.”
The anti-extradition protests have given rise to positive phenomena, such as the growth of trade unions. According to the Hong Kong Labour Department, 25 new unions were registered in 2019—almost double the 13 unions registered in 2018. This is an encouraging figure, according to Lausan, which is hoping for new forms of organization and collaboration with mainland activists. “In a post-National Security Law Hong Kong, more similar to the rest of China than ever, cross-border solidarity will be indispensable for any hope of collective liberation. But translating this solidarity into concrete action will be more and more difficult.”
This is why it’s important for those abroad to start to understand how political conflict works in China today. “The international media is in solidarity with Hong Kong because they understand our way of expressing dissent, with rallies, marches, protests and, more recently, street fighting with the police,” the spokespersons of the collective tell us. “But the activism of the future will be completely different, in solidarity with the struggles on the continent, but also, necessarily, more quiet on both sides. The goal will be to go unnoticed, almost as if we did not exist.”
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