Hosting an informative exhibition at Bush House, King’s College on Monday, Hong Kong students living in London warned their peers of China’s ambitions to frustrate liberal values at a global level.
Displaying posters and video content direct from Hong Kong, organiser and King’s graduate Jesse Chung hoped to combat misinformation and attract fresh interest in the Hong Kong protest movement.
“While I’m aware that Western media has paid attention to the crisis, I wanted to convey the feeling of Hong Kong people directly themselves,” said Chung.
Through five months of continuing protests, millions have taken to the streets to defend the fragile ‘One Country, Two Systems’ arrangement in Hong Kong that provides liberal freedoms alien to mainland China. Despite the movement’s popular weight, locals are concerned about ailing international attention.
“The world needs to reflect on how deeply it values the liberal international order,” said Chung. “Western countries have to redeclare how important liberal values are and take action in places like Hong Kong if they want to balance China.”
Another of the exhibition’s contributors, who wanted to remain anonymous, echoed Chung’s sentiments; “Hong Kong is one of the last gateways to confront China’s ideology and stop its influence in the internal affairs of other countries.”
China’s president Xi Jinping has been blatant in his ambition to restore his nation’s regional hegemony and global prestige. His ‘China Dream’ manifesto describes a new powerful China buoyed by the total authority of its governing Communist Party.
“Hong Kong is an important lesson for the world in what it is going to be like to live with a powerful China,” warned Chung. “We need to accept how China works and protect our values (in that setting).”
This reflects a refutation of the late 20th century thesis that with economic growth, China would inevitably liberalise. Most scholars and political commentators now accept that to be fiction.
The students behind the exhibition also expressed their concern about the role of Chinese state media in distorting the protests to its mainland audience. Mainland Chinese students were noticeably hostile as they walked past or stopped at the display and were seen taking photographs of the Hong Kongers who were in attendance.
One Hong Kong citizen who took part in protests during July, recalled how the police force had manipulated protesters to create scenes of violence and chaos. She described how police responded to “massive peaceful gatherings where mothers joined with their babies, bringing food and water” with indiscriminate pepper spray attacks that intentionally caused panic and scattered crowds.
“The central government is framing the protest as a violent independence movement, but this is not the case,” said Chung. He points to the movement’s five key demands which are all aimed only at maintaining the existing arrangement between Hong Kong and China.
With protests continuing unabated in Hong Kong, the decisive moment may only arrive in some contribution from the central government or its rival liberal powers. Hong Kongers are determined to maintain international attention so that their liberal allies step to the mantel first.