China’s Growing Dominance, Hong Kong’s Resistance…What Sense of Crisis Should the Japanese Have?Interviewed and written by Michihiro Ikeda (freelance writer), Leung Lee (director), and Yukari Tsuruta (interpreter).
On May 28, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) decided to introduce “national security legislation” to restrict freedom of speech and other rights in Hong Kong. On June 4, the 31st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests in which students calling for democracy were suppressed, the Hong Kong Legislative Council passed the National Anthem Ordinance, which prohibits insulting the Chinese national anthem. Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading economic cities, is about to lose its “freedom.
Of particular concern is the National Security Law, which is expected to take effect as early as June. When the law goes into effect, China will set up a branch of its state security department in Hong Kong, which will be able to directly crack down on matters related to “national security,” such as state division, regime overthrow, and subversive activities. This will allow the Chinese government to legally monitor Hong Kong citizens, and there are fears that demonstrations and gatherings that disagree with the Hong Kong and Chinese governments will be banned, making the one-country, two-state system that has been in place since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 into a fait accompli.
“I didn’t think Hong Kong would become China so quickly,” said Tomoko Ako, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, who studied at the University of Hong Kong from 1996 to 2000 and experienced the freedom and openness of Hong Kong.
There is a fear that the authorities will be able to arbitrarily arrest and detain Hong Kong citizens based on a vague notion of ‘national security. In China, about 300 human rights lawyers and activists were taken away for questioning in July 2015, and more than 30 of them were detained and found guilty on charges of “overthrowing the state regime” and “incitement to overthrow the state regime. If the Hong Kong National Security Law is passed, Hong Kong will be swallowed up by China in no time, freedom of speech will disappear, and democracy activists and intellectuals will be detained one after another. In order to survive, people and capital will flow overseas, and the glittering Hong Kong will disappear.
In 2015, the owners of the Tong Lu Wan Bookstore, which sold banned books critical of Chinese President Xi Jinping, were taken to mainland China and handed over to the security authorities. If the Hong Kong National Security Law is passed, Hong Kong citizens who do not agree with the Chinese government will not only be taken into legal custody, but may also be brought to the mainland and detained for a long time.
Agnes Chow, a leader of the Hong Kong democracy movement and known as the “Goddess of Democracy” for her indomitable will, expressed her fears in an interview after the decision to enact the law.
When I think about the future, I’m really scared. If the National Security Law is enacted, even if I am in Hong Kong, I may be arrested by the Chinese police and sent to China. If that happens, I’m finished.
Photo is an image (Getty Images)
Rule by fear is the usual method of the Chinese government. Professor Ako, who was taken into custody by the public security authorities while conducting fieldwork in a rural village in China, pointed out that, “Even if a law is passed, it will be a big deal.
There are people who say, ‘Even if a law is passed, it won’t be a big deal,’ but only those who have experienced it can understand the fear of having one’s freedom taken away. In China, where politics takes precedence over law, lawyers and university professors who support civic activities have been detained one after another, depriving them of the opportunity to speak out. In addition, China has established a thorough surveillance system using the Internet and surveillance cameras, and is promoting a politics of fear. Chinese students studying in Japan are hesitant to talk about politics, and Japanese researchers and journalists also tend to avoid making statements critical of China because they are disciplined, thinking that they will be detained locally if they go against China or that they will lose their visas if they are not careful about what they say.
The film “Letters from the Three Wise Men,” which is now being released nationwide, allows viewers to simulate the horrors of the crackdown by the Chinese authorities that Professor Ako experienced there from the perspective of those who are being cracked down on. The film is a documentary about Sun Yi, an ardent practitioner of Falun Gong, who is being monitored and suppressed by the Chinese authorities. Sun Yi, who lives in Beijing, and Leon Lee, a filmmaker living in Canada, communicated with each other via Skype under the watchful eyes of the authorities, and Sun Yi himself rolled the camera in China to shoot the film. The hidden footage of the crackdown by the Chinese authorities was a huge hit around the world.
Mr. Sun Yi’s life has been a dramatic one. He was captured as a political prisoner for his Falun Gong activities, and from 2008 to 2010, he was detained at the Ma San Jia Labor Training Center (closed in 2013) in northeastern China, where he was subjected to forced labor, and sometimes torture and brainwashing. At that time, she secretly wrote a letter denouncing the authorities’ suppression of human rights and tucked it into the export decorations she made for her labor, and the letter later reached Julie Keith, a housewife in Oregon, 8,000 kilometers away. This “letter from the three horse families” was sensationalized in the Western media.
Sun Yi, who came to know Director Lee after his release from the sanatorium, began filming the film to tell the world about the current situation in China, as mentioned above, but was later arrested by the Chinese authorities. His health deteriorated and he was released, but he decided that it would be dangerous to remain in China, so in December of the same year, Sun Yi escaped from the watchful eyes of the authorities and fled to Jakarta, Indonesia, where he was granted asylum.
At the climax of the film, Sun Yi meets Julie, an Oregon housewife who found the letter, in Jakarta (spring 2017). Even though they have never met before, the interaction between the two strikes a chord with the audience, as if they were a family that has been together for many years, but soon after the ending, a shocking fact is revealed. However, the ending of the film reveals a shocking fact: Mr. Sun Yi died suddenly and mysteriously in Jakarta after the shooting of the film was completed.
I have strong suspicions about Sun Yi’s death,” said Lee.
I have strong suspicions about Sun Yi’s death,” Lee pointed out, “The local hospital diagnosed acute kidney failure, but he didn’t have any kidney disease. Two months before his death, Sun Yi was visited by Chinese public security officials in Jakarta, who advised him to stay away from Leon Lee, which he refused to do. I heard that story from Mr. Sun Yi himself. Then he died suddenly.” (Director Lee)
Director Lee has a strong suspicion that the Chinese authorities were involved in Sun Yi’s death. Having been impressed by Sun Yi’s warm personality, Lee was in the middle of editing “Letters from the Three Families of Ma” when he received the news that Sun Yi had been hospitalized.
I contacted him immediately, but he was in a state of confusion and didn’t even know who I was. He had left China to come to a third country to plan for the future, so why was this happening to him? I myself was very confused. It is difficult for me to describe the loss of Sun Yi because I respected him and was encouraged by his words and actions. It was a very painful experience and it took me a long time to accept it.” (Director Lee)
Born in Dalian, China, Director Lee moved to Canada after graduating from high school and exposed the illegal organ trade in China in his debut film. When I asked him what he wanted to say to the Chinese government after the loss of his ally Sun Yi, his expression did not change and he mumbled, “I have nothing to expect from the Chinese Communist Party.
I have nothing to say to the Chinese Communist Party. I don’t have anything to say to the CCP, because nothing I say will change that. I have been speechless for quite some time now. It doesn’t matter what I say to them.” (Director Lee)
Professor Ako, who has interacted with many human rights lawyers and university professors who have been detained by the Chinese government, is fearful but courageous enough to speak out against the unjust behavior of the Chinese government. Wary of what the authorities are doing, she says, “I don’t plan to go to China for a while,” but what she wants from the Japanese is to have a sense of urgency about what the neighboring superpower is doing.
As you can see from the World Health Organization’s move on the new corona and the One Belt, One Road initiative, China is increasing its voice in the international community by contributing large sums of money. Japan is no stranger to China, and should not underestimate its overwhelming power in numbers. If we are deprived of the ability to think for ourselves through the politics of fear, we will be deprived of our happiness as human beings. Japanese people need to pay more attention to human rights and learn more about what is happening in China and Hong Kong, and I hope that the Japanese government will cooperate with the international community as much as possible and support the young people of Hong Kong who are continuing their desperate resistance.
People who summon up the courage to criticize the Chinese government are disappearing one after another. We must stop this cycle.
Interviewed and written by Michihiro Ikeda (freelance writer), Leung Lee (director), and Yukari Tsuruta (interpreter).