Hong Kong: a personal and de-colonial perspective

During the Green Party of Canada leadership race the topic of how Canada interacts with China has come up a number of times. This has varied from peculiar assertions that had any of the candidates taken a stand on the rights of Hong Kong they could have easily won, to the wildly varying opinions on our relationship with China outlined in the foreign policy debate. I thought it would be a good idea to clear up the context around my stance, and why it is inextricable from who I am.

Seeing criticism of my support for Hong Kong being painted as anti-Asian racism was perhaps the most ironic thing I’ve heard so far. But I also find it a bit offensive for anyone to be using the well-being of what I consider my homeland, as a political pawn in any way, whether that be suggesting I could use it in Canadian politics, or that we should flat out accept what China does.

I am the kid of immigrants, my dad came from London, England, and my mother and her family immigrated from Hong Kong to Canada when she was 14. Her family had lost their apartment to a mudslide in Hong Kong a few years earlier, and settled in Canada seeking education for their kids and a new life. I grew up between cultures, and also steeped in them, though I never learned Cantonese as my mother didn’t want me to hear the things her family said about my dad’s whiteness.

In 1997 Hong Kong was “returned” to China, following the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984, which outlined that their relationship with Beijing would abide by the principle of “One Country, Two Systems.” This whole setup to me is re-colonization, a colonial solution determined between two colonial powers with no respect for self-determination. I remember this well, even though I was only six years old. I could feel around me in my family discussions a kind of long-awaited acceptance and dread. My grandfather held a deep skepticism of the relationship. He feared then, as it has been vindicated today, that Beijing would not respect Hong Kong’s freedoms, ever encroaching on their political, social, and economic affairs.

I didn’t know what it was that informed my grandfather’s mistrust of China at that point, but over the years I learned more of his stories. I found out he never knew his grandparents or any of his family history due to the communist revolution in China. All records were lost and his family had fled to Hong Kong. He also shared with me stories of Japanese occupation when he was a little kid. I remember when I was older my grandfather would lean over to me, watching the news in Cantonese, to say the elections in Hong Kong were fake. They were just re-installing a Beijing controlled politician as leader.

Over the past decade, Beijing’s intrusion into Hong Kong has been apparent, whether it be through rigging the electoral process which the world watched in 2014 with the Umbrella Revolution, the 2019 extradition bill, or the 2020 national security legislation, all of which have been met with constant resistance from local residents. It seems that this conflict has finally come to a head, evidenced by the recent and ongoing pro-democracy movements fighting against Chinese imperialism.

In changing the law, China is claiming overwhelming victory over the people of Hong Kong and democracy. Their direct assumption of full power endangers the lives of anybody who has spoken against it, in Hong Kong, within Canada and around the world. We need to step up and provide support because of this.

My personal belief, intrinsically and inseparably linked to my identity and my family, is that we must stand with Hong Kong by supporting Hong Kong’s civil society, supporting pro-democracy activists, offering them asylum here in Canada, condemning Beijing for their actions on the international stage, and considering targeted sanctions. It is a privileged belief to be able to observe the genocide and torture, and arguing for the respect of China’s sovereignty while ignoring so many communities’ suffering. Without a doubt we have to be consistent, but we have to stand up for the rights of all.

This is also not an issue that only pertains to foreign affairs. Earlier this year the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China released a report outlining the threats that Canadian human rights activists are facing for the work that they are doing to expose the abuses being committed by Beijing, stating that “[a]dvocates across Canada are increasingly facing threats, intimidation, and harassment for sounding the alarm on serious human rights concerns in China.” Worryingly, these threats have gone as far as attacking our highschool and university students, places that we have long considered to be pillars of freedom of expression. Alex Neve, the secretary general for Amnesty International, went on to say that “This deeply worrying trend is clearly part of a longstanding and systematic campaign to silence public debate on serious human rights concerns in China which increasingly extends far beyond China’s borders.” We can not bow down in the face of the coercive pressures being placed upon us by Beijing. The intimidation of our citizens at home and the political detention of our citizens abroad can not be allowed to be used as leverage for our silence against the ongoing atrocities being committed by the CCP. As proposed by Amnesty International we need to oppose these human rights violations as standard diplomatic practice and work with international governments to put pressure on the government of China.

In this Green Party of Canada leadership race, we have heard some candidates suggest that we must respect Chinese sovereignty, but ignore the sovereignty of Hong Kong, Tibet, East Turkestan, South Mongolia and other territories under the domination of Beijing. Should we sit back and watch as oppressed peoples are silenced, imprisoned, beaten, and disappeared? This is not about imposing an outside system of governance, but supporting our fellow humans in determining and expressing their own wishes, and guaranteeing rights and freedoms for all. It has also been suggested, by pointing to our own legacy of colonialism, our relationship with the United States, and our ongoing international arms deals with Saudi Arabia that we have no right to shame a tyrannical government for its tyrannical actions. This is wrong. Our bloodied history does not bar us from fighting against a bloody future, but rather, it should motivate us to right past injustices and ensure that they do not happen ever again.

We must take a principled approach to our diplomatic relationship with China. We must deepen our ties and form allied bonds with other countries who hold similar values, or who wish to decolonize and support self-determination globally. Different forms of interaction are suited to different situations, we must always choose diplomacy, but with the clear awareness of our own leverage and position, and the attitudes of other governments.