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Hong Kong Youth Face Military Crackdown While Fighting “One of the Most Unequal Societies Anywhere”

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China held its largest military parades ever in Beijing this week to mark 70 years of Communist rule. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, police escalated violence Tuesday by firing live ammunition at demonstrators for the first time in the months-long protests. In a widely viewed video posted online, a riot police officer is seen firing his gun into the chest of 18-year-old protester Tsang Chi-kin. The teenager is reportedly in stable condition. Police also fired tear gas and water cannons, while protesters were seen throwing Molotov cocktails. Ninety-six protesters were arrested on Tuesday on rioting charges.
 For more on the Hong Kong protests, we speak with Kevin Lin, China Program officer at the International Labor Rights Forum. He was born and raised in Beijing, and has spent years researching the labor movement and civil society in China. His recent piece for Jacobin is headlined “Four Points on the Hong Kong Protests.” He is also the author of “How Should the U.S. Left Think About China?” in the journal New Politics.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. As China holds the largest military parades ever in Beijing to mark 70 years of the People’s Republic of China, we turn to Hong Kong, where police escalated violence against protests Tuesday by firing live ammunition at demonstrators.

In a video of the police shooting posted online, an 18-year-old protester named Tony Tsang is seen in a group of people who are chasing a riot police officer. They tackle him to the ground, appear to beat him. Then another riot officer approaches with his gun drawn. The teen appears to try to hit him, and the officer fires at him at point-blank range, shooting him in the chest. Police also fired tear gas and water cannons, while protesters were seen throwing Molotov cocktails. The teen is reportedly in stable condition. The Hong Kong police commissioner said he has been arrested, but they’ll decide later whether to press charges. Hong Kong officials defended the use of live ammunition, saying the police officer feared for his life.

Ninety-six protesters were arrested Tuesday on rioting charges. The Hong Kong Public Doctors’ Association spoke out against the police for failing to use less lethal weapons such as beanbag rounds. The principal at the teen’s school said he would not be punished and would keep his place in the school. His schoolmates denounced the police actions Wednesday during a sit-in of hundreds of protesters outside his school.

MR. WONG: [translated] He often said that he would rather die than be arrested, because those police officers are inhuman. After the arrest, they would beat you with no reason. Unfortunately, it happened to him. He has sacrificed a lot for Hong Kong, but we cannot reach our aim. As his schoolmates and brothers, we are very proud of him. But we should think: Even when secondary school students start to come out and fight against unfairness in this society, isn’t there a serious problem in this society?

AMY GOODMAN: Protesters vowed Wednesday to continue demonstrations. A new focus of the protests has been Chinese businesses and those with pro-Beijing links. Demonstrators have also targeted Starbucks, after the daughter of the local company that operates the coffee chain’s stores condemned protesters at the U.N. Human Rights Council. At least 96 protesters were arrested on Tuesday on rioting charges. This comes as Reuters reports there are now up to 12,000 Chinese troops in Hong Kong, twice as many as when the protests began.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Kevin Lin, China Program officer at the International Labor Rights Forum, was born and raised in Beijing, has spent years researching the labor movement and civil society in China. His most piece is for Jacobin. It’s headlined “Four Points on the Hong Kong Protests. He’s also author of “How Should the U.S. Left Think About China.”

Welcome to Democracy Now! Kevin, start off by responding to what’s happening right now in Hong Kong, the shooting of the protester, and what all this means now, on the 70th anniversary of China.

KEVIN LIN: Thanks, Amy. I think the shooting, as you mentioned, is the first time the Hong Kong police used live ammunition against a — directly shooting at a protester for the first time since the start of these protests back in June. And they really represent a huge escalation of violence. However, we have seen, in the last several weeks, the escalation of police violence are really pointing towards, you know, a huge increase in the use of coercive forces by the police. The Amnesty International has done a really good investigation documenting an alarming pattern of arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture of protesters in detention centers. And we have also seen a really good report by The New York Times pointing to the fact that there are police officers, undercover, posing as protesters in order to arrest and beat protesters. So we have really begun to see a huge escalation of police violence against the protesters. And it’s hugely symbolic that this happened at a time of the military parades that commemorate the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

AMY GOODMAN: Reuters is reporting that China recently doubled its troop presence in Hong Kong. The significance of this, Kevin?

KEVIN LIN: I think this is what a lot of people have been really fearing, that there will be a Tiananmen-style crackdown, even though I think our analysis is that this is very unlikely, because any military crackdown in Hong Kong would really lead to huge casualties, civilian casualties in Hong Kong, but it also will basically end Hong Kong as we know it, as semiautonomous and a region with, relatively, political freedom. So, you know, even though we do not think or we do not anticipate a huge military crackdown by the Chinese government, the doubling of the troops and also all the threats issued by the Chinese government are hugely concerning.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Lin, you grew up in China. Can you talk about, on mainland China — in mainland China, the response to the Hong Kong protests? You’ve written a piece, “Four Points on the Hong Kong Protests,” and talked about how the left should think about what’s happening right now. Can you expand on that?

KEVIN LIN: Sure. I think two things. On the response and the perspective of people in mainland China, what we see over the last few months is an attempt by the Chinese government to control the narrative of what’s happening in Hong Kong. Basically, independent reporting is almost not possible in mainland China on Hong Kong, so there’s only one really major source of news, which is the state-owned media. So that means the Hong Kong protest is portrayed almost exclusively as this senseless mob violence, without understanding — without providing the context and understanding of the reasons why there’s such a huge, mass-based protest movement, that at one point involved 1 million to 2 million demonstrators on the streets, back in July. So, the result of that is there’s an increase in nationalistic sentiment in China right now and a lot of hostility in mainland China toward the Hong Kong protest.

In terms of what the left should approach this issue, I think there is a legitimate concern about U.S. or U.K. influence. There’s a concern about counterrevolution or foreign interference. But I think — even though I think that is a legitimate concern, we cannot ignore the fact this is a huge, massive social movement that goes beyond — you know, there could elements, people in the movement, that look to the U.S. and U.K. for support, but the movement, as a whole, has very legitimate concerns that are found — to be found in the political dynamics and development in Hong Kong itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Lin, you’ve written that Xi Jinping has gained a lot of legitimacy in mainland China by cracking down on government corruption. What’s the role of Hong Kong in corruption in mainland China, specifically in the banking sector?

KEVIN LIN: Absolutely. I think one of the intentions and one of the justifications that the extradition bill, which sparked the protest — the reason it was introduced, at least the justification of that, was there will be criminals fleeing from mainland China to Hong Kong, and there needs to be a law that allows, that enables the Chinese government, mainland Chinese government, to extradite criminals, especially corrupt officials from Hong Kong.

And what we see right now is, as you pointed out, that Xi Jinping has been a pretty popular leader within China because of the corruption campaign — anti-corruption campaign, but also because he has been adopting a much more assertive leadership style, which, at least on the surface, tried to sort of promote nationalism and tried to assert China’s influence both in the region and globally. And I think that has been an issue that kind of colors how Chinese — mainland Chinese population, public looks at Hong Kong, because they see Hong Kong as this kind of troublemaker that is being manipulated by the West against China.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about the inequality in Hong Kong and whether that has anything to do with the intensity and the duration of the protests? According to Oxfam, inequality in Hong Kong is the highest it’s been in some 45 years, almost half a century. And what is the reason for that?

KEVIN LIN: Absolutely. So, Hong Kong is one of the most unequal societies anywhere. And this is not accidental. Hong Kong, which was a British colony a hundred years, was set up exactly as a trading port, and as a financial center later on. So, inequality is almost built into the system, in the sense that the financial capital and property owners are very, very powerful. And as a result of that, the population — there is a lot of wealth, but there is a huge amount of inequality, as well, and inequality coupling with, for example, housing issues, that there is almost a housing crisis, especially for young people who really couldn’t afford owning their own houses, apartments, and as well as a fairly poor job prospect for young people. I think those factors do have a huge influence in creating discontent in Hong Kong society, which fueled this protest.

AMY GOODMAN: So, some have suggested that the Hong Kong protests have been spurred by U.S. support. Some protesters have been carrying the U.S. flag, the British Union Jack, have met with Trump administration officials, come to Washington. What’s your response to that, Kevin?

KEVIN LIN: I think there are two points to be made. The first is that there are — we should recognize there are certainly individuals, activists and groups in the movement, which is, again, very massive, that look to the U.S. and U.K. for international support. I think, in the long term, from a progressive perspective, it’s not going to help Hong Kong in the long term. But we can also understand, in the short term, this is kind of driven by desperation, when they confront very powerful Hong Kong and Chinese authority.

But I think we should also recognize the people that come to the U.S. to look for support, both the so-called pan-democrats — those are the democratic parties and oppositions in Hong Kong — as well as the youth leadership that came out of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, they are no longer the leaders in the current protest movement. They themselves recognize and have acknowledged they are no longer the leaders. So, even though there could be support from the U.S. government or U.K. government, they are really — the people that they are supporting are really no longer the leaders.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about where you see this all headed, Kevin Lin. And has anything surprised you in your years of work on issues in China and Hong Kong?

KEVIN LIN: I think there are — what is not surprising I should start with, is the increased repression. And that started — well, at least this escalated since the ascendance of Xi Jinping, the administration, in 2013. We have seen a huge increase in state repression against social movements. And that includes labor, feminists, people who work on anti-discrimination, human rights lawyers, religious freedom. It’s across-the-board repression against social movement activists in mainland China. And so, what we see in Hong Kong is that repression kind of coming over the border, if you will, to Hong Kong. So, in that sense, we are now surprised.

What we are surprised is more by the response of the Hong Kong public, because, for many years, we — a lot of people in Hong Kong believed that the new generation, the younger generation, in Hong Kong are apolitical, they don’t care about politics. But what we have seen in this last few months is a very involved, very engaged public that tries to push back against illegitimate state actions.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Lin, we want to thank so you much for being with us, China Program officer at the International Labor Rights Forum, born and raised in Beijing, has spent years researching the labor movement and civil society in China. His recent piece for Jacobin is headlined “Four Points on the Hong Kong Protests.” Also, we will link to your piece, “How Should the U.S. Left Think About China?”

When we come back, we turn to Haiti, where massive anti-government protests calling for the resignation of U.S.-backed President Jovenel Moïse continue to escalate. Stay with us.

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