‘The Revolution of Our Times’: The Core Issue in Need of Resolution

Wang Dan, September 8, 2019

On July 7, 230,000 Hong Kong protesters marched to the West Kowloon rail station to “spread the message to mainland tourists.” Photo: HKFP

In Hong Kong, social resistance against the “China extradition” law has entered the stage of protracted conflict, with various forms of protests taking place every weekend. Hongkongers’ courageous efforts to defend their freedom have won them respect worldwide. Meanwhile, with regard to the goals they are striving for, the views of Hongkongers have steadily shifted in the course of their resistance. Of particular note is the fact that, on July 7, 230,000 Hongkongers staged protests and parades in the areas where mainland Chinese are most common. Speaking Mandarin, the demonstrators spoke out about the issues facing Hong Kong, exposed the dark reality of Chinese politics, and shouted slogans of “exporting revolution” to mainland China.

The focus of my discussion today isn’t about what means Hong Kong can use to “export the revolution” to China, or if this is technically feasible. The focus is on the subtle, yet significant change that has occurred in how the people of Hong Kong who seek democracy and freedom now regard the Chinese issue.

Why do I say this? Before the Hong Kong Occupy Central Movement, there was a strong trend among young Hongkongers calling for “Hong Kong independence.” One of the main aspects of this proposal was to keep a distance from China, as its proponents believe that democracy in China has nothing to do with Hong Kong and that China’s issues are irrelevant to Hong Kong. This trend was once quite popular, but today, the driving force behind this idea of “exporting revolution” to mainland China are also young people. Though I believe that many of them still have a pro-independence mentality, they have revised their thinking as they recognize how changes in China are intertwined with and have an impact on Hong Kong.

As I see it, this kind of judgement is the correct judgment, since the current resistance against the extradition law is in reality an act of resistance against the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). Were it not for the CCP’s one-party dictatorship rendering the Chinese judicial system a lawless and untrustworthy institution, why would the Hong Kong people be so worried about the Chinese judiciary getting involved in Hong Kong’s political affairs? In fact, many of China’s problems are related to the CCP. We can say that issues relating to China can only be solved  by solving the issue of the CCP. By extension, many of the problems facing the world today, especially in countries and regions bordering China, are related to China. If the issue of China is resolved, these tangential issues will be resolved as well. Without addressing the core issue, these complicated and interwoven problems are impossible to address. It’s something not difficult to grasp.

But for a long time, many people, including those in Western countries, have not realized, or have been unwilling, to face this fact. Western countries have paid great attention to human rights issues in China such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and religious rights. This is of course imperative as the situation in those areas has deteriorated to the point that the world cannot afford to ignore. However, once you mention the issue of ending the CCP’s one-party dictatorship, directly challenging, or confronting the CCP’s leadership in China, many people are reluctant to continue the discussion. There are misassumptions in the formulation of strategic policy, according to which the CCP’s rule is strictly inviolate, and, instead of challenging such a powerful regime, it is better to promote its change through engagement.

Recently, 100 American China hands co-signed an open letter titled “China is not an enemy.” The China they are talking about here is actually the CCP. This open letter is a typical reflection of the above ideas. There are other people, including the Hong Kong people of an earlier time, and the current Taiwanese people, who believe that there is no way to solve the fundamental problem of the CCP, so they adopt an evasive attitude. Both forms of misconception have made it impossible to effectively solve any of the China-related problems. The reason is also very clear; that is, nobody is willing to think in the direction of promoting China’s democratic revolution.

Now, the people of Hong Kong have finally realized that if the problem of China’s one-party totalitarian system is not resolved, Hong Kong will never have a day of peace, and that the Hong Kong issue is actually a China issue. I hope that this development in their mental journey can bring about similar reflections and thinking in others.

This RFA Chinese commentary was published on July, 8, 2019.

Wang Dan (王丹) is a leader of the Chinese democracy movement, and was one of the most visible student leaders during the Tiananmen protests in 1989. He holds a Ph.D. in history from Harvard University and now heads Dialogue in China, a think tank, in Washington, DC.

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