Communist Party emerges from the shadows during crackdown on Hong Kong – opinion


China’s Communist Party has given up its tradition of working from the shadows in Hong Kong as the authorities crack down on critics and transform the financial center into the authoritarian image of the mainland.

While Hong Kong was returned by colonial Britain in 1997, Beijing has historically been skeptical about exposing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a city where many come from families who have fled the worst excesses of their rule.

“There were several reasons why the CCP had to be kept out of sight,” political scientist Willy Lam told AFP. “The CCP has been linked to a number of terrible mistakes, including the Cultural Revolution, the three-year famine, and so on.”

Beijing’s silent support for left-wing unrest that killed around 50 Hong Kong residents in 1967 – and Beijing’s 1989 raid on Tiananmen Square – also left many residents with a deeply rooted distrust of the party.

Before the handover, former Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping – creator of the “one country, two systems” model in which Hong Kong could retain important freedoms and autonomy – calmed nerves by assuring residents that they didn’t have to love the party to be considered patriots.

“We are not asking them to be for China’s socialist system; we are just asking them to love the motherland and Hong Kong,” he said.

With 90 million members, the party is ubiquitous on the mainland, but was almost invisible in Hong Kong.

The party itself has never officially registered, and the city’s proxy leaders have always denied their membership – at least during their tenure.

But the CCP has taken center stage in recent years, and culminates most prominently in the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party this month.

Hammer and sickle flags have popped up across town in the past few weeks, along with giant billboards announcing the anniversary.

The local government held an exhibition entitled “A Hundred Years of Prosperity and Greatness,” while Beijing’s four government agencies also hosted a prominent symposium with a series of keynote speeches.

It was the first time that high-profile events were held in Hong Kong to mark a party anniversary, and it was a vivid demonstration of how much Deng’s definition of patriotism had changed under President Xi Jinping.

“Protecting the CCP’s leadership means protecting ‘one country, two systems’,” said Luo Huining, director of the Beijing Liaison Office, in his speech at the symposium.

“Those who shout loudly to end one-party rule … are the real enemies of Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” he added.

The party’s increased visibility comes from the fact that the authorities, in response to the huge and often violent democracy protests two years ago, enforced a political orthodoxy against the once so outspoken city.

Beijing has passed a comprehensive national security law criminalizing many dissenting opinions and has launched a campaign called “Patriots Rule Hong Kong” to scrutinize people’s political views.

Protests have been all but banned with anti-coronavirus measures, and most of the city’s pro-democracy opposition leaders are now in jail, facing prosecution, or have fled overseas.

“Beijing has turned to direct government through Hong Kong,” veteran journalist and political scientist Johnny Lau told AFP.

“The representatives of the central government don’t mind stepping on the stage and showing their presence and leadership.

“With the ‘Patriots Rule Hong Kong’ and the new security law …

implies that people have to love the country and the party now, “he added.

Hong Kongers with ties to Beijing authorities have suggested the same thing.

In an interview published Wednesday by mainland ultra-nationalist media company, Lau Siu-kai, a former chief adviser to Hong Kong’s Central Political Unit, said the Chinese Communist Party was once considered a “sensitive phrase” in the city. As a result, the party decided not to conduct its activities publicly.

But that approach, Lau said, is now “obsolete” as democracy protests sought to turn Hong Kong into “an infiltration base that opposition forces could use to challenge the CCP’s rule,” he said.

Now that Hong Kong’s opposition to democracy is “completely defeated and dispersed,” it is time to “seize the power of discourse.”

Hong Kong officials have embraced this idea.

After new laws were passed requiring all public officials to take the oath of allegiance, Erick Tsang – secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs – said there was now no room for political ambiguity.

“You can’t say you are patriotic, but you don’t love or respect the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.” – AFP

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