Coverage about the protests in Hong Kong has been sparse compared to the aftermath of the Muller report, women’s soccer, and the weather.
Most of the Hong Kong coverage focuses on the protestors’ demands that the Hong Kong government withdraw a bill that would allow for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China.
The deep-rooted issue here is China’s complete violation of its promise that it would refrain from interfering in Hong Kong’s domestic and legal affairs for 50 years, by respecting Hong Kong’s Basic Law. This means that until 2047, Hong Kong should have been untouchable in these areas. In practical terms, this means that in subjects such as freedom of the press, expression, assembly, and religion, as well as external relations in trade, communications, tourism, and culture, Hong Kong should be left well alone.
Beijing would dominate defense and foreign policy issues only. Politics in Hong Kong are divided between those that want to push for greater independence and democracy and those who side with China and, in effect, embrace Hong Kong as a Chinese colony.
In the 1990s, the happy phrase one heard all over Hong Kong was “One country, two systems.” This author was in Hong Kong in 1997 and remembered immediately thinking that there would be no chance that China would keep its word. But many pundits and apologists were ready to pounce on anyone suggesting that realism would dictate China’s politics.
There have been many protests in Hong Kong over this relationship: 2003, over anti-subversion legislation; 2012, over China’s attempt to influence education; 2014, over universal suffrage and the requirement for candidates for office to get approved by the Chinese Communist Party. The current protest over extradition ignited a firestorm when Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam (the first woman to hold that position) tried to shove the bill through without significant debate. Pro-democracy activists fear that Beijing will simply use this as a tool to silence freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.
Lam retreated on June 15 by suspending the bill and issuing an apology due to “errors of communication,” though still defending the actual bill. Many of the protestors want Lam to resign and withdrawal the bill permanently.
Great Britain bears much of the responsibility for its poorly conceived handover in 1997. President Trump has sympathy for the protestors but would not commit to raising the issue with China at the G-20 summit. Senators Marco Rubio and Jim McGovern have sponsored the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy act which reaffirms the U.S commitment to rights in Hong Kong which among other things would require certification by the Secretary of State that Hong Kong continues to enjoy its promised autonomy.
As deep-rooted as this issue is, it does not compare to the least reported aspect of the protests, that of the role of Christian faith. Hong Kong was ground zero for Christian missionaries in East Asia and as a result the Christian population of Hong Kong is 850,000 out of 7,000,000, with over 1,500 churches, providing 25% of Hong Kong’s educational needs.
It was the Christian faith and church leadership that was the focal point of the current protests with the unofficial anthem of the protests being “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord.” Christians feel the law is unjust and fear that the new law could be used to punish believers and churches.
The Chinese Communist Party fears true Christianity to its core. The Communist Party continually persecutes Christians and demolishes churches that are not members of the various “patriotic Christian” churches sanctioned by the atheist government. It is predicted that if current trends continue, China will have over 247 million Christians by 2030. The greatest proliferation of Christians is in “house” churches, which the Chinese government considers illegal. Much of the growth of Christians in China comes from Hong Kong, with missionaries and Bibles entering China from and through Hong Kong. The CCP rightly knows that Christianity poses the greatest threat to its continued oppression and corrupt rule and some have suggested that the real goal of the bill in Hong Kong is to eventually create a quasi “legal” pathway for China to crack down on the faithful.
Hong Kong churches provide shelter, water, and food to the protestors and create an atmosphere that pushes for non-violent and orderly resistance to the bill. It adds a sense of legitimacy that no other institution could to both Christian and non-Christian Hong Kongers who view the faith and the Church with great admiration. Further, there are attempts to sway Carrie Lam by appealing to her devotion to the Catholic Church. A joint statement asking to withdraw the bill was made by Cardinal John Tong Hon and Reverend Eric So Shing-Yit.
American religious and political values are merged over the issue of Hong Kong autonomy. This is a golden moment for American diplomacy to be forcefully used for both.