UPDATE: Jimmy Lai was arrested earlier today (August 10, 2020) and charger with collusion with foreign powers and conspiracy to defraud, according to the Associated Press, as reported by CBCNews.
When people take to the streets in protest against a draconian law usurping the fifty-year treaty granting Hong Kong national autonomous status, free to govern its own people, many in the rest of the world notice briefly, and then turn to their daily tasks.
Not so with Nathan Law or Jimmy Lai*, two protesters, the former now having sought exile in Great Britain, the latter continuing to protest, in spite of the obvious risk of potentially twenty-five years in prison.
According to Mr. Lai, the future of Hong Kong is at stake. Does this potential fate disturb, or provoke or embolden the rest of the world? In an expansive interview with CBC The National’s Adrienne Arsenault, cautioned international business entrepreneurs to be very cautious if they intend to do business in Hong Kong.
According to the Bangkok Post, in an article entitled, Hong Kong’s ‘rebel’ tycoon Jimmy Lai has no regrets, June 18, 2020:
“For many residents of the restless semi-autonomous city, Lai is an unlikely hero—a pugnacious, self-made tabloid owner and the only tycoon willing to criticise Beijing. But in China’s state media he is a ‘traitor,’ the biggest ‘black
hand’ behind last year’s huge rallies and the head of the ‘Gang of Four’ conspiring with foreign nations to undermine the motherland. (And quoting him, “Maybe I’m a born rebel, maybe I’m someone who needs a lot of meaning to live my life beside money…..I’m a troublemaker. I came here with nothing, the freedom of this place has given me everything. Maybe it’s time I paid back for that freedom by fighting for it….’The communists, when they are in a crisis internally, they need to create external enemies to unite the people,’ he said.
The United States has recently paid tribute to another ‘trouble-maker’ who also risked his life in a cause worthy of his total and unequivocal commitment, Congressman John Robert Lewis. And in this space we humbly honour men like Lewis and Lai whose lives symbolize and even incarnate a depth and a reservoir of both courage and spirit that defies wrong, whenever they encounter it.
Certainly not all or even most of those history records as “troublemakers” have been honoured, elevated or even accepted. Many find themselves in the black pages of both the history books and in public opinion, long after their lives have ended. Names like Billy the Kid, Cesar Chavez, Guy Fawkes, Che Guevara and Edward VIII fall into that category. On the other hand, names like Anita Hill and Rosa Parks, have risen to the top of the public opinion polls for their courage and independent stamina in standing up for their civil rights.
Encouraging his various audiences, especially the young, to “make good trouble” in an ironic response to his mother’s admonition “don’t make trouble” Lewis’s life casts a new light on the meaning and purpose and even the need for troublemakers today.
There is a strong theme in public life in far too many quarters to impose serious and unjust and constricting rules, regulations and penalties for infractions. Recently, under the distorted and dissembling rationale of “protecting government buildings” from anarchists and rioters in Portland Oregon, the U.S. administration sent in vaguely identifiable troops with the word ‘police” emblazoned on their backs, to arrest and detain peacefully protesting citizens of that city, and shoving them into unmarked vehicles and driving them to some unknown and unnamed place of detention. Naturally, the mayor and the governor objected to this federal intervention of forces both unnecessary and uninvited. Eventually, the feds withdrew after having generated considerable push-back from other mayors and governors who rightly anticipated a similar unwanted and unwarranted invasion.
While observing and marvelling at the courage and the commitment of men like Lai and Lewis, we are also taking note of the abysmal silent sycophancy of the mostly white men in the Republican Party in the Senate of the U.S. Congress, whose apparent strategy to maintain their hold on power is to follow blindly, (or at least dumbly) the wishes of their self-appointed leader in the Oval Office. Just as his record is replete with acts of demeaning and emasculating and even potentially destroying the institutions of government, bending the rules to suit his own personal ambitions, needs and ego-gratifications, sewing hate, division and utterly frozen insouciance for the millions suffering from the multiple plagues of poverty, racial injustice, the pandemic and ultimately loss of millions of jobs, their silence in the midst of this multilayered abuse of power only attests to their complicity, their insecurity and their ultimate worthlessness to themselves and to their constituents.
There is not likely to be any public ceremony honouring the “troublemaker” Jimmy Lai in Hong Kong, for that would invoke even more stringent measures of law enforcement from the Beijing authorities. And there is also little likelihood that the people of Hong Kong, nor the people of Great Britain will publicly honour Nathan Law, the 26-year-old activist now in exile.
From the CBC, July 8, 2020, we read in an article by Don Murray, these words from Mr. Law:
‘As a global-facing activist, the choices I have are stark; to stay silent from now on or to keep engaging in private diplomacy so I can warn the world of the threat of Chinese authoritarian expansion.’ (from Law’s Facebook page) The CBC story continues: The trigger for his decision was the new security law passed by the Chinese National Congress, which sweeps Hong Kong under Beijing’s iron umbrella…Already, the law is having an effect, with hundreds arrested after protests against it…The draconian law make subversion, collusion with foreign forces and preaching secession punishable with sentences up to life in prison….
Murray’s piece details the choice of hundreds of others, including Jews who fled Hitler’s Germany, Czechs and Slovaks fleeing the Soviets, Hungarians and Czechs and Slovaks who came to Canada as immigrants as the Soviet empire fell apart. Names like Solzhenitsyn come to mind as a prominent exile from the Soviet Union, who later received a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970.
Regimes that deploy exile as a method of attempting to maintain control provoke the anger and the rebuke of governments seeking to sustain basic elements of democratic freedoms. However, as we have seen over the past several months, quiet diplomacy has not worked in the case of the two Canadian men held in prison in China, over the diplomatic protests of the Canadian government. And, doubtless, the majority of the Canadian population, while aware and interested in the fate of the two Michaels, would undertake to make personal sacrifice in order to work toward their release.
Hostage taking, and exile-provoking measures are both anathema to the ordinary citizen living in a so-called developed, democratic country. In Canada, we have witnessed hostage-taking as a tactic of the former F.LQ. the sovereignist movement in Quebec. And, with the 24-7-365 distribution of news from all corners of the globe, everyone everywhere can become aware of the human rights abuses that are plaguing many.
“Not being willing to negotiate with hostage takers” is the moniker that many governments, including Canada, hold to with vehemence. And, it is a position designed to prevent repeat occurrences, once having ‘given in’ to the hostage takers. Somewhat under the radar, however, we are noticing a rise in the hacking of corporate and government offices, in which the hackers are demanding payment in order to have “order” and the confidential information stolen returned. And those payments have been made in many instances. Is this a shift in the traditional position of democratic governments away from refusing to pay hostage takers, if and when they are identified as “hackers” and not hostage-takers?
Following the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and the assault by the Chinese forces against the protesters, estimates of several hundred to several thousand were killed. That movement sought the end of corruption within the Communist Party, along with freedoms of the press, speech and association. Martial law was imposed for a period of some 7 months, from May 1989 to January 1990.
It would seem that, following a previously imposed law back then, the Bejing government is likely to take similar steps to stamp out the Hong Kong protest, without the rest of the world taking steps that would impede any attempts by Beijing to take control of Hong Kong, formerly under British rule.
Not to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign country, is a cardinal rule of international relationships. And yet, those same nations seeking to deny civil liberties, human rights, and unimpeded civic freedoms for their people want a prominent place at the table of world governance. They resist all attempts to negotiate with countries like Canada, whose citizens are in prison in China, for dubious if not downright deniable offences and they continue to proclaim their right to charge, arrest, imprison and then deny even the most basic of human resources, like legal counsel, and Canadian counsellor visits to the imprisoned men.
At what point does the phrase “internal affairs” of a country spill over into the legitimate concerns of other nations whose citizens’ lives are in danger? At what point does the international community find the spine, and then the leverage to confront those nations like China, the former Soviet Union, and more recently Russia, whose public record of abusing human rights gushes like a river through the annals of both diplomatic briefcases and the front and back pages of respected news outlets?
One of the central themes of the current presidential election is how Biden and Trump ‘see’ China, with the latter painting the former as ‘soft’ on China. Undoubtedly, that theme will have resonance among the trump thugs, and Biden’s campaign strategists will have to counter its impact with rhetoric and muscle of their own. Removing the extradition treaty with Hong Kong, as several countries have done, including the U.S. and U.K., will not, however, have any perceptible impact on the will and the decision of the Chinese government, vis a vis Hong Kong, nor in the cases of the two Canadians or the case of Huawei CFO, Meng Wanzhou, now detained in Canada, under an extradiction treaty with then U.S. for allegedly lying to U.S. authorities about having traded with Iran, while under U.S. sanctions.
Human beings, caught in the maelstrom of international, national, digital, corporate and international law complexes, at a time when ordinary people everywhere are seeking legitimate freedoms of expression, association, and freedom from illegal and unjustified arrest, seizure and detainment only exacerbate the need for greater co-operation on so many files.
And while heroes like Nathan Law and Jimmy Lai will continue to attract cudo’s from supporters and arrows from the Chinese authorities, the game of international geopolitical power-brokering will grind on relentlessly without regard to the individuals ensnared in its grip.
What, after all, is a human life worth, in a world in which those for whom it has literally no value have so much inordinate power? And how might it be feasible to resist the deployment of such illegitimate and abusive power? Cheer-leading for Jimmy Lai and Nathan Law, and reminding the world of imprisoned Canadian men for the vengeful pleasure of the Chinese government seems rather shallow, hollow and ineffectual.
Amnesty International, of course, champions these cases. And what kind of traction does that agency have in a world tormented by existential threats?