Colonial flags raise Britain's attention to upholding democratic values

Local | 5 Jul 2019 7:42 pm

Many in Hong Kong see police violence against protesters in recent weeks as marking a new low for a government seen to be oblivious to residents’ rights.

“At least one million people have taken to the streets but they keep refusing to listen,” said Lam Yin Pong, a Hong Kong journalist. “Never mind the British — any rational, civilized government would have backed off.”

Some say the protesters’ raising of the colonial-era and Union flags was a deliberate message for the world — especially Britain — to do more to uphold the democratic values they symbolize. [Chris] Patten recently called for Britain to fulfil its “duty to help Hong Kong out of this dark moment.”

Both of Britain’s two leading prime ministerial candidates have made a point of stressing solidarity with Hong Kong’s protesters, and British media have featured the news prominently. Benedict Rogers, a human rights activist who heads the group Hong Kong Watch, said he’s been encouraged that the Hong Kong question is receiving much more attention in the British Parliament.

“We need to sustain this,” Rogers said. “Britain must take a lead in the international community and mobilize other countries to send a strong united message to allow Hong Kong’s freedoms to be preserved.”

It’s not clear, however, if the country has the appetite to take steps beyond offering words of concern and condemnation — or if the flags have had the opposite effect of hardening Beijing’s stance against the city.

In an escalating war of words, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in the running to be Britain’s next leader, has warned China not to use the Hong Kong protests as a “pretext for repression.” He threatened “serious consequences” if China failed to honor the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy — though he stopped short of spelling out any measures.

The Chinese foreign ministry shot back, dismissing Hunt’s comments as “shameless” posturing and meddling and mocked him for “basking in the faded glory of British colonialism.”

Kerry Brown, director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College London, said the question now is what America and Europe will do.

“Right now it’s mostly just rhetoric and it’s not likely to get to the situation where the U.K. can unilaterally do anything beyond the symbolic,” he said.

Certainly not everyone in Hong Kong sees things as better in the colonial days — though some believe that the more widespread political apathy back then is no bad thing compared to the turmoil today.

“Back in the day, there was no one involved in political issues, everyone was politically apathetic. ... I don’t understand the reason why there are so many political demands after the handover,” said a Chinese medicine shop owner who gave only his surname, Chan. “Everyone can say anything now. I don’t see there is no freedom. The time when our government was British, I think we didn’t have that much autonomy.”-AP


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