Will Hong Kong break China?
Can the protest movement threaten the Chinese ruling class?
We are witnessing some truly remarkable defiance in Hong Kong, where the authority of one of the world’s strongest superpowers is being challenged, tested and withstood. On the seventieth anniversary of China’s people’s revolution, the events in Hong Kong convey some very illuminating lessons for those of us who reap hope from defiance and for whom rebellion can be the only justified response to a world rife with inequality and barbarism. It is not just Hong Kong that is burning, people are lining the streets from Equador to Iraq, to the more familiar protests against climate change and the Extinction Rebellion which will shake London this month.
Let’s make something clear. These protests have been led and sustained by students and workers, who are demanding both more economic equality as well as political freedom.
The protests are not, as the Chinese government would very much like us to believe, orchestrated by international forces hostile to China. This, of course, is the cliche explanation most governments seek, when they are the target of mass popular unrest. But like most protest movements we have seen in the 21st century, Hong Kong’s rebels are driven by a desire for more economic justice and political freedom, a goal eloquently expressed by student group Demosisto: “(…) we push for the city’s political and economic autonomy from the oppression of the Communist Party of China and capitalist hegemony.”
In spite of Hong Kong’s international reputation as a wealthy financial centre, over 1.3 million people live beneath the poverty line. The city attracts billions in foreign direct investment, but this is mainly down to massive levels of exploitation of its working population. In recent years, Hong Kong has increasingly been sucked into China’s hyper-capitalist initiative of creating economic zones that are equivalent to globalisation at micro-level, relying on cheap land, labour and minimal regulation, resulting in massive wealth creation, but leaving a wasteland of exploitation, inequality and environmental destruction in its wake.
In a way, China’s development in the last decades resembles the experiences of Europe’s industrial revolution, with millions of rural dwellers…