Labour must stand with Hongkongers

by Gray Sergeant

Tom Watson is right the United Kingdom must not sit idly by while Hongkongers lose their rights and freedoms – and neither should the Labour Party

On 16 August the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party addressed, via video, thousands of pro-democracy protesters who had gathered at the Charter Garden in Hong Kong. The desire of those attending the Power to the People rally was a simple one, to have a government which was accountable to them, the citizens. Watson offered his solidarity and called on the British government to give “direct moral support for the people of Hong Kong”.

The UK has a unique responsibility to the people in Hong Kong. Not only was the territory a British colony, until it was given to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997, but London co-signed with Beijing the Joint Declaration which promises to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047. This means allowing the city to maintain its freedoms and rule of law, as well as develop its partially-democratic political system.

Yet the PRC, and its appointees who run the Hong Kong government, have repeatedly undermined this arrangement. Most notable has been their failure to deliver on the promise given to the Hong Kong people that they would be able to elect their own Chief Executive by universal suffrage. This is what led to the mass occupation of the city’s streets in 2014. However, the situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated even further since the Umbrella movement with; booksellers being abducted to Mainland China, political parties and candidates being banned from running for office, and democratically elected lawmakers being thrown out of the city’s legislature.

The above incidents are just a few examples of how Hong Kong is losing its autonomy. Another challenge to the city’s freedoms is the proposed extradition bill, yet to be formally withdrawn, which would expose Hongkongers to the danger of ending up in a human-rights-free Chinese prison. This, alongside police brutality and a lack of government accountability, has driven people onto the streets over the past few weeks.

So the UK government clearly should care more – but so too should the British left, and the Labour Party who remain somewhat muted on the subject.

There are some notable exceptions. Catherine West, who is one of the Deputy Chairs for the All Party Parliamentary China Group, has, in the chamber, been stalwart in her championing of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. More recently, upon joining the shadow foreign affairs team, Helen Goodman has repeatedly spoken out against the extradition bill and police brutality. As too has the Rotherham MP, Sarah Champion.

Yet for a long time now the Conservatives, and their members of parliament, have been far more vocal in their support for rights and freedoms in Hong Kong. To some extent this is a hangover from the 1980s and 1990s when the Joint Declaration and plans for the handover of the colony were made under Conservative rule. And of course, the last British Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten was, prior to taking up the role, the Tory party chairman. These personal links matter but cannot entirely explain some of the silence on the Labour benches, including the front-bench.

The fact that Hong Kong is a former colony, and a highly successful free-market economy, undoubtedly makes some on the Left squeamish. After all, why should you stand with a city which symbolises some of the worst excesses of capitalism? Moreover a smaller number within this group of people will be the sort who are remarkably sanguine about terror and tyranny as long as its done in the name of anti-western anti-imperialism in say Cuba or Iran, or indeed the PRC.

No doubt realpolitik lines can be deployed, by such people, about needing Beijing to counteract the United States (the ultimate source of human misery in their minds). They may even trot out the line that China (by which they mean the Communist Party) “has lifted X number of people out of poverty/illiteracy/hunger”, an argument open to much criticism the most obvious of which is its failure to acknowledge the denial of political and civic freedoms. More sinister still, as promoted by the likes of George Galloway, is the idea that these pro-democracy protesters are pawns of Washington. This is a smear. Exactly the same sort of smear used against democrats and progressives in Venezuela earlier this year.

The calls for democracy in Hong Kong are genuine ones and it is the duty of any left-winger, worthy of calling themselves one, to stand in solidarity with them. On the left, democracy as well as the right to speak, write, and associate freely should be seen as good ends in themselves. Above all, uncompromising support for people’s civic and political rights should not be dependent on the country they reside in. That’s why the UK Labour Party should stand resolutely behind the Hong Kong protesters.

Party members and elected officials alike should also remember that there are many leftist within Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp including, but by no means limited to, the city’s own Labour Party, and the League of Social Democrats.

In the final seconds of his solidarity video, Watson asks; “will we [our country] be a bastion for human rights or will we let down those who are crying out for support?”. The same can be asked of Labour Party members: will you stand with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement?

Gray Sergeant is a writer currently based in Taipei, and from 2010-2017 was a Labour Party activist in South Essex

7 Responses to “Labour must stand with Hongkongers”

  1. Alf says:

    Thank heavens. I thought Tory-lite Tom had passed away. He’s still with us. And he’s still up for a bit of Blairite war-mongering!

    A thought. Why doesn’t he test his mandate within the Party and call a deputy leadership election?

  2. Greggo says:

    Watson….The man is toxic. He should do the decent thing for once and resign.

  3. Gavin Gerard says:

    Tom Watson is not the problem.

    Everything I outlined last month is falling in to place:

    Johnson would unite the leave vote as Brexit party support ebbed away.
    Johnson’s strategy is a no deal to neuter Brexit party support
    and an early general election.
    A snap general election by early November with the majority of Brexit
    Party supporters returning to the Tories.

    The media have been very slow in seeing this, however at last
    the penny has started to drop.

    What is still to come is … A huge electoral shock for Labour,
    which I also mentioned previously.

    Corbyn thinks he is fighting a rerun of 2017, he and his leadership clique
    are completely misreading the changed electoral landscape.
    This is going to be brutal for Labour.

    There is one proviso to the above -Jeremy does not need to agree to an election,
    he could wait another 6 months and let the no deal economic impact hit hard,
    giving Labour a far better opportunity.

    Without being intentionally disrespectful to the man and his leadership circle,
    I don’t think they are clever enough to see that waiting is for now the better strategy.

    They will instead play right in to Dominic Cummings’s hands.

    Prepare for Tory shock and awe. The end of the Corbyn project looms large.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Thank heavens I thought Greggo and Alf had disappeared , it’s good their opposition to democracy and support for Maoist, Stalinism is still about why don’t they do the honorable think join the SWP

  5. Greggo says:

    Corbyn has been democratically elected twice. Under NL this party was heading for the abyss . Its only thanks to Corbyn and McDonnell that it hasn’t gone the way of its European counterparts. Bring on the GE, I’m eagerly awaiting Atul’s predictions.
    Many labour voters that voted leave , would never entertain voting for a Tory. The labour manifesto will be eye-catching and bold , far more appealing than some neo liberal Tory lite crumbs off the plate sh*te that would be dished up by the likes of progress….Bring it on

  6. Matt O'Halloran says:

    Well, I thought Labour Uncut had disappeared. Welcome back to the land of the living after three months’ unexplained inactivity.

  7. Tafia says:

    -So what exactly are you going to do? Stop buying electrical and electronic goods? Scrap the electric cars (they require batteries containing lithium)? Stop buying cheap consumer goods? Because if you aren’t prepared to do that, you are talking complete and utter rubbinsh.

    The Chinese will do whatever they feel like doing with Hong Kong and there is nothing we can do about it unless we are prepared to go to war against them.

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