Jun 24, 2019
This article is translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the French revolutionary workers group of that name.
On Sunday, June 12, 2 million out of 7.4 million people in Hong Kong came out in the streets. They demanded the withdrawal of a proposed law that would allow the extradition of people living in Hong Kong.
The demonstrators demanded first of all the resignation of Carrie Lam, head of the government body of this special administrative region, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997 with a special legal code.
Carrie Lam’s announcement on June 15 that she was suspending this law, after a first massive demonstration on June 9, and then conflicts between demonstrators and the police on June 12 leading to 32 arrests, only reinforced the determination of her opponents. People on the street forced Carrie Lam to apologize for the arrests, and probably to definitively abandon the legal project.
Hong Kong’s middle class has mobilized a number of times since 1997, like in 2014 in the “umbrella movement,” to fight the interference of China and to defend the particular legal status of the city, but also to defend its privileged material situation vis-a-vis the rest of China.
It is certainly true that Carrie Lam is under the guidance of Xi Jinping, China’s leader, and that the Chinese state is a dictatorship with no pity for its opponents. But Hong Kong has little to offer in the way of democracy, no more when it was a British colony than since it has returned to China. It is run by a legislative council where only half the members are elected by universal suffrage, and the others are appointed by organizations of the bosses and professionals. Hong Kong is marked by profound social inequalities, the rich classes rule semi-officially, and not only because of their capital but also their political privileges; privileges that the democratic current mobilized these last days doesn’t even talk about contesting.
As for the law on extraditions, Hong Kong is regularly invoked by the World Bank and the IMF as a center of financial crimes and money laundering. On the other hand, the special legal system of Hong Kong, along with the maintenance of British rights, its role in the international financial system with its particular money, the Hong Kong dollar, and the great freedom it offers for the circulation of capital, serve the Chinese rulers well. Hong Kong serves as an entry point for foreign capital into China, and for Chinese capital to access the international financial markets. Two-thirds of the foreign investments in China pass through Hong Kong, while many Chinese businesses are listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, where they can absorb capital. The Chinese government has no interest in weakening or destabilizing this financial center.
It is legitimate that the Hong Kong population, including its privileged layers, mobilize to defend their democratic rights. But the Hong Kong population’s lot is directly linked with that of the Chinese population, and especially its millions of harshly exploited workers. No democratic right can be solid for the people of Hong Kong as long as the immense Chinese working class remains deprived of all rights.