Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The brave protestors in Hong Kong deserve our unequivocal support.

When I arrived in Hong Kong in 1986 for what would turn out to be a four year stay I was told that Hong Kongers had no interest in politics. The conventional wisdom was that money, family and food (with a sprinkle of sex) were the drivers of the lives of the 5m locals! Certainly the twin Gods of mammon and ancestor worship drove Hong Kong's people and the temples were Happy Valley racecourse and the Stock Market (the two strongly resembled one another). And the fast ferry to Macau with its casinos were always busy. Family life was also strong. Elderly parents were looked after as a matter of course - and children spoilt and a bit indulged! It was for most a happy fulfilled life and there seemed no real need for politics.

The approach of the handover to Communist China in 1997 was, however, focusing a few minds. Those who could afford to sought a foreign passport as an insurance policy against trouble post handover. (Canada and Australia were popular destinations as Britain pretty much abandoned its HK Chinese citizens). And a nascent pro democracy movement, driven by the splendid QC Martin Lee, gathered some support. When he arrived as the Last Governor in 1992 Chris Patten did try, with some success, to establish some democratic processes. But it was really too little and too late. The terrible events in Tiananmen Square in 1989 had concentrated minds and made one realise that Margaret Thatcher's "Joint Declaration" with the People's Republic was a bit of a sell-out.

In June 1989 the Chinese dictatorship had brutally suppressed the peaceful protests of (mostly) students and other young people in Peking. I had around 30 HK Chinese staff, mostly graduates in their twenties. They came to see me and asked whether I would mind if they joined the march through Central District that was planned to protest against the Tiananmen Square massacre. I of course gave them my blessing and full support. They saw the Mainland protestors as kindred spirits - part of the same Chinese family of which they were members. I watched the march from my office - the young people had turned out in their hundreds of thousands. 

So when I look at the new generation of protestors in Hong Kong today I am reminded that there is more to politics than political parties and political processes. There is more to it than endless bickering on the margins. At its rawest and most important politics is about freedom of expression and about the most basic liberties. It is about the premise that we all, as individuals, have inalienable rights. The men in power in Peking and elsewhere may have the might to suppress these freedoms if they choose to use it - which in the past they have. But right is not on their side. It's on the side of the brave young people who once again gather in Central to protest. They deserve our unequivocal support. 


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