It’s lonely on the Left in Hong Kong
It’s lonely on the Left in Hong Kong
With mass protests in Hong Kong, Bennett Murray speaks to Avery Ng, the leader of the city’s most leftwing party in the democracy movement.
Avery Ng does not seem like an anti-establishment socialist party leader between periods in prison. He is polite and speaks softly. He fits easily into the crowd in Starbucks when we meet in Hong Kong’s Admiralty business district. It is the second day of a city-wide strike in early September 2019. Only his black t-shirt with a red rose and wheat stalk gives us an idea of what he supports. Ng is chairperson of Hong Kong’s League of Social Democrats (LSD). LSD is the furthest left in the democracy movement.
Our meeting for coffee was in the thirteenth week of mass protests in Hong Kong. It is a fight between a mass movement protesting against mainland China’s increasing control of Hong Kong and the city’s pro-Beijing government. Most of the government is not elected. The protests began over a bill, withdrawn on 4 September. The bill was to allow extradition of Hongkongers to the mainland. The protests are now a general movement against the territory’s ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement with the rest of China. People say it is Beijing’s biggest domestic political challenge since 1989’s Tiananmen Square protests.
On weekend nights since June there have been violent clashes between riot police and protesters. The police arrested or injured thousands, sometimes seriously. Even when the city is quiet, we see new graffiti such as ‘If we burn, you burn with us’ and ‘Chinazi’.
In Hong Kong the Left is associated with the oppressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and so Ng says the situation gets lonely for democratic socialists. Ng thinks the CCP is now far-right.
‘I think in the West people think that the Communist Party still has some communism in it. It does not.’ Avery Ng. Photo: Bennett Murray
‘When you say “leftist movement”, they think of the 1967 riots,’ he says about the riots by Hong Kong communists after the Cultural Revolution across the border when Hong Kong was a British colony.
LSD has always had trouble with its ideas in a city that Milton Friedman said was a ‘laboratory experiment’ in pure capitalism. Ng says universal healthcare and housing are popular but Hongkongers usually go back to the political centre when there is a problem.
‘There is not much political awareness, and because of the neoliberal ideas in Hong Kong for so long, people believe in ideas which are opposite,’ he says. But LSD has important members leading the protest movement. Jimmy Sham, of the Civil Human Rights Front, is a member and the activist Leung Kwok-hung was the leader of LSD before Ng.
When in LSD Ng has had many problems with the law. In June, after the beginning of the protests, he was put in prison. This was after he lost an appeal against a conviction of leaking information about a corruption investigation. He was in prison for one month before he was released on bail. But he thinks that he will lose his appeal.
Ng was also found not guilty of assault in 2017 – he threw a tuna sandwich at the Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung in 2016 but hit a policeman.
For the protests Ng says LSD does not want street clashes but prefers mass labour strikes.
‘You are having clashes after clashes with no real message, so that’s why we don’t agree with that,’ he says. He also says he is not worried about frontline protesters. ‘Don’t get me wrong, LSD has for many years had clashes with police.’
Ng is also worried that far-right activists are now in the frontline. He says most of the protesters in clashes with the police are not rightwing and many are leftist friends of LSD. But there are some activists who Ng says are like Britain’s UKIP and this worries him. These rightwingers, he says, are against mainland Chinese immigration to the city, something that LSD supports.
There is also some overseas support for Hong Kong mostly from conservatives. Ng thinks this is because Western leftists know very little about China issues. He worries that in the US it is usually people like Senator Marco Rubio or Vice President Mike Pence who have the most to say about Hong Kong.
‘These guys are speaking in support of Hong Kong, and I keep thinking, “But, where’s Bernie? Where’s AOC?”’ he says, talking about US Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Ng says some of the messages from Hongkongers can be confusing for leftists. Western media have shown pictures of protesters with American flags and appeals to Trump to ‘free’ Hong Kong, and pictures of protesters with flags from colonial times.
‘The American flag guys want Donald Trump or the Americans to help and to fight China to free Hong Kong,’ says Ng. He thinks that it is just a false hope and not the same as support for rightwing politics.
Ng says he would like to burn the imperial flags. They are the result of some young people looking back to Hong Kong under British rule but with no memory of it.
‘The colonial days were just as bad as today, if not worse,’ he says.
‘I think in the West there is still the wrong idea that the Communist Party still has some communism in it. It does not,’ he says. ‘The Communist Party is the most rightwing, state-capitalist power in the history of the world.’
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(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)