AN INTERVIEW WITH LAM CHI LEUNG
Hong Kong residents are now living under the new reality of China’s imposed “security law.” Revolutionary socialists find themselves in a difficult and dangerous situation, as do all social and democratic activists.
The Hong Kong Security Law is framed by a complex relationship between U.S. and Chinese imperialism. The trade war between the two nations has led to posturing that includes President Trump’s threatening to ban the Chinese social media platform TikTok while at the same time blaming the horrors of COVID-19 on China. Trump said in an interview with Gray Television, “It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”
The movement for democratic rights in Hong Kong can also be placed in the broader context of the fight against police brutality and in general state repression. The explosion of the movement against police brutality in the U.S. has similar parallel movements in many countries and places, including Hong Kong.
On May 29, Socialist Resurgence published an interview with Lam Chi Leung when the National Security Law was announced. This is a follow-up interview, published first by the South Korean organization Workers’ Solidarity. Socialist Resurgence has asked Lam to answer some additional questions to draw out more details.
The security law has finally been implemented. Would you briefly describe what the law is about, and what its impact could be on the movements in Hong Kong?
Lam: The Hong Kong National Security Law is very stringent, and the so-called subversion of state power covers a wide range of activities, such as openly calling for the independence of Hong Kong. The slogans for the downfall of the Hong Kong government and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led government, and even raising banners with these demands, are likely to be illegal.
Collusion between the people of Hong Kong and foreign political forces is forbidden by law, but there is no clear definition of collusion. At the same time, the National Security Law provides for the establishment of a special enforcement agency that consists of the national security authorities of the CCP government in Hong Kong. They can enter and search homes, delete internet messages, and request any information from an individual (there is no right to remain silent). And they can even freeze personal property without court approval. This special enforcement agency is basically not bound by the local laws of Hong Kong and can do whatever it wants.
Secondary schools and libraries have started to remove books that advocate Hong Kong independence or fierce resistance from the democratic opposition. The CCP plans to implement the so-called patriotic ideology and brainwashing education. All these measures have seriously curtailed the basic rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. The social and democratic movements will enter hard times.
We’ve heard that there was a large demonstration right after the law came into force. What is the general mood of participants of the movement, and how will the movement respond to the security law?
Lam: Overall, the scale of the July 1 demonstrations was not very large. The main reason was that the government was very tough on demonstrations and did not approve applications for legal processions. Secondly, since the fierce struggle of the anti-extradition demonstrators who occupied the Chinese University and the Polytechnic University in November last year failed, the struggle begins to go downhill. The mass movement is not heading for a climax.
The participants of the most recent demonstrations were mainly young people who were not afraid to break the law. They were in high spirits and were not afraid of making a sacrifice, but they lacked organization. It is very difficult to stop the passage of the National Security Law in the face of an unfavorable balance of power.
The U.S.-China tension has become more fierce than last year. How does this affect the movement in Hong Kong? What should be the movement’s stance on the seemingly supportive Western powers?
Lam: The Chinese Communist Party believes that the recent mass movement in Hong Kong is a “color revolution” manipulated behind the scenes by the United States. The Chinese regime does not admit that the fundamental reason the masses want to fight for democracy and autonomy in Hong Kong is the internal political and social conflicts that exist. It was not the intervention of the U.S. and Western imperialism (of course, it is one of the factors but not the main cause).
On the contrary, the CCP regime’s refusal to fulfill its promise of autonomy to Hong Kong, and its combination of mainland Chinese bureaucratic capital and Hong Kong’s monopoly capital to exploit the working masses, resulting in severe poverty and social inequality, were the root causes of several mass movements in 2003 (to oppose impose stringent internal-security laws), 2014 (the Umbrella Movement for genuine universal suffrage), and 2019 (the anti-extradition bill movement).
Some Hong Kong protesters want help from the U.S. Moreover, we should distinguish between two kinds of “calling for U.S. interference”: (1) calling for U.S. interference because we admire Trump and his beliefs; (2) calling for U.S. interference as a call for U.S. citizens to demand that their government stand up against an authoritarian regime instead of prioritizing trade.
However, both 1 and 2 will eventually be disappointed. The U.S. government will not support the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong sincerely. Trump is using Hong Kong’s national security laws to attack the Chinese Communist Party. Last year, Trump criticized the mass movement in Hong Kong. Like Xi Jinping, Trump has also described the democracy movement in Hong Kong as a riot. The U.S., of course, will be less critical of the CCP if China makes more concessions on trade issues.
The Hong Kong pro-British/American imperialism far right nativists, are turning to the US government for help or allowing other Western powers to intervene. They could easily turn Hong Kong into a pawn in a geopolitical tug-of-war.
How is the movement against police repression in the U.S. today viewed in Hong Kong?
Lam: Although Hong Kong is reputed to be an international city, we have to admit that the international vision of the people of Hong Kong is not broad enough and is deeply influenced by the mainstream media in Britain and the United States.
What is worrying is that, since the rise of the mass movement last year, the most radical youth in the streets are more influenced by the ideas of the far-right nativists. The far-right nativists are not interested in anti-racist struggles in the United States. They claim that anti-racist struggles will interfere with President Trump’s support for Hong Kong. They even smear Antifa as “Leftard” (dogma and stupid leftists) and “Baizuo” (white left). Precisely because of the right wing’s outrageousness, they were criticized by some supporters of the mass movement. Some of the activists have already reflected on the fact that the real allies of the people of Hong Kong are the ordinary anti-racist people in the U.S. Some activists are beginning to reassess what social class of foreign support the international front of the Hong Kong mass movement needs to win over, and whether it should also win over the people of mainland China.
It should be noted that the pro-American far-right Hong Kong nativists are only one wing of the mass movement and not the entire mass movement. Within the struggling masses, there are also supporters of the American mass movement, the Catalan autonomy movement in Spain, and attempts to link the mass struggle in mainland China. Socialists need to help this political tendency grow stronger.
What is the relationship between capitalists in Hong Kong and mainland China? How do Chinese capitalists view the opportunity to exploit workers in Hong Kong?
Lam: The Beijing government has promised to implement “a high degree of autonomy,” in other words, “the people of Hong Kong ruling Hong Kong.” Though in 1997, with the institutional design of the Basic Law this is not the case. The law acted to ensure the maintenance of the laissez-faire, low-tax, low-welfare capitalism after Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997. Universal suffrage is not in sight. Beijing’s so-called “the people of Hong Kong ruling Hong Kong” is in fact a joint dictatorship of Chinese bureaucratic capital and Hong Kong capital over the working masses in Hong Kong.
Earlier this year, some local critics argued that Beijing was trying to capitalize on Hong Kong’s status as China’s financial capital center (70% of China’s foreign investment was raised through Hong Kong last year), and concessions need to be made to the Western world to stop the political pressure on Hong Kong. I’m afraid that’s just wishful thinking. The passage of the National Security Law seems to prove that Beijing is confident that it can exercise tightened political control over Hong Kong on the one hand, and continue to attract foreign investment on the other. That is to say, Beijing needs Hong Kong to maintain its financial capitalist function, but does not need to allow the people of Hong Kong to have democratic autonomy.
Politically, this situation means that the Hong Kong government sides with the capitalist class and conservative forces, who are always hostile to labor rights, the rights of women, and LGBT rights as well as wealth distribution. Any social and economic reform has to confront the reality of authoritarian capitalism. In order to fight for democracy, we need to oppose capitalism both in Hong Kong and mainland China.
What do you think is the key to a breakthrough in this situation?
Lam: The present situation is very unfavorable to the democratic movement in Hong Kong. There are planned strikes, but strikes cannot be mobilized. I believe that since the people of Hong Kong have enjoyed freedom for 40 years and two generations, they will not succumb to dictatorship. When the time is right, mass struggles will rise again.
Hong Kong played an important role in the promotion of democracy and in the workers’ movement in China. As a large city in southern China, Hong Kong has a special feature: it is relatively free. The civil freedom of Hong Kong enables it to spread knowledge and literature of the labor movement and social movements to China, promote intellectual exchanges among mainland Chinese and Hong Kong activists, and organize solidarity for social resistance in mainland China.
Although labor groups and NGOs in China have almost been banned and many labor activists detained in the past five years, there are still some labor activists operating in difficult circumstances. And the number of workers’ spontaneously striking continues unabated. According to the China Labour Bulletin (CLB), a Hong Kong-based NGO, the number of workers who have gone on strike is still growing. The year 2019 recorded at least 1385 labor disputes last year—including teachers, taxi drivers, construction workers.
Many books, including a labor survey report, that contain news of workers’ strikes that could only be published in Hong Kong have been brought to mainland China. This includes writings by mainland Chinese authors. Discussions about the labor movement and social movements have also been carried out in Hong Kong via social media.
Many Chinese Trotskyists fled from China to Hong Kong in 1949, influencing the youth of Hong Kong to become radicalized. I am one of the beneficiaries; I could read many books that were not available in mainland China, which made me change from a Maoist to a supporter of socialist democracy.
With the passage of the National Security Law, Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms vis-à-vis mainland China are disappearing. In this sense, the people of Hong Kong and mainland China have become one community of destiny. The struggle against the National Security Law in Hong Kong is an integral part of the opposition to the Chinese bureaucratic capitalist regime. Our allies should be the people of every country, especially the people of mainland China.
Thus, the working masses of Hong Kong need to organize themselves, and unite with all forms of struggle and campaigns in defense of people’s rights in mainland China. Only in this way can political freedoms eventually be won throughout China, and Hong Kong’s democratic autonomy secured.
Lam Chi Leung is a revolutionary socialist based in Hong Kong. This interview is expanded from one that originally appeared in the South Korean Workers’ Solidarity website: https://wspaper.org/article/24179?fbclid=IwAR3xn0XQoKjbWg_rvUV3LUWKWV05Op2px9MCYY6qcC4lVmwkjraS-2P2eRk