The fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, which killed ten people in confinement, started a wave of protests against anti-Covid policies in China. To PLATAFORMA, young people and political scientists explain the reasons for the silence in Macau and Hong Kong: fears of the National Security Law and the feeling of not belonging to the Mainland.
China has been applying a strict policy of epidemic prevention for the past three years. Due to the restriction of speech on the Internet, it is almost impossible for Mainland authorities to capture public sentiment regarding epidemic prevention policy. However, on the night of November 26, a residential fire in Urumqi changed this mood.
People in major Mainland cities took to the streets in protest, holding up white A4 sheets of paper and shouting political slogans in a rare spectacle.
“SIDE EFFECTS” OF THE MOVEMENT TO CHANGE THE EXTRADITION LAW
In Hong Kong, some people also held up blank sheets of paper in support of the protest. However, Jacky, who was born in the 1970s, maintains that the city’s response was quite calm compared to previous years when the Hong Kong community took sides on Mainland issues.
“It’s not that I don’t feel anything [regarding the protests in the Mainland], but these days I think it’s all going to come to the same thing whether we do something or not.”
Jacky says he felt that Hong Kong was the only place in China where the media had freedom. As a citizen of the autonomous region, he always felt a duty to fight for the people against injustice. “However, under the National Security Law, there are red lines everywhere, so who dares to do it?” he throws in.
He used to take candles every year to Victoria Park in Hong Kong to participate in the annual memorial ceremony for the victims of June 4. In the past, he was concerned with China’s Mainland issues.
But he admits that in the past two years, Hong Kong people are tired of running after the anti-China and anti-Pandemic movement, so they have become increasingly “insensitive” to what is going on in the Mainland. This year, it has already started planning its exit from Hong Kong.
In contrast to active participation in the past, the lukewarm response of the Hong Kong community not only shows the alienation of the relationship between the Mainland and Hong Kong, but also the generation gap.
Born in the 1990s, John says he doesn’t care about current affairs in China. He maintains that Hong Kong is Hong Kong and the Mainland is the Mainland. “A few years ago, when people took to the streets of Hong Kong, what did these little pinkies say?” He asks sarcastically.
“Little Pink” is a popular Internet term used in Hong Kong and Macau in recent years, referring to young Chinese nationalist jingoists.
Former assistant professor of cultural studies at Lingnan University, Yip Yam-chung, points out to PLATFORM that the distinguishing characteristic of localism is the rejection of China as an identity trait, so there is naturally less interest in the so-called “White Paper Revolution.” He also adds that the cynical attitude of Hong Kong people was to be expected.
“The most significant thing is that many Hong Kong people think that Mainland youth are not interested in politics or have accepted the official line. This incident proves that this view may not be so accurate.”
In contrast to previous political protest movements in Hong Kong, Macau has always adopted a less forceful stance. But has the “White Paper Revolution” not caused any spark in Macau society? Sam, a university student in Macau, was deeply moved by the image of mainland students taking to the streets.
“In such a closed information environment, it’s not easy for students to go out. It’s ironic because in Macau we live outside the cyber firewall and are exposed to the world, yet we are pleased with the information released by the government.”
A colleague of Sam’s, Orange, describes himself as “politically apathetic,” but points out that the incident reminded him of the movement to change the extradition law in Hong Kong, especially the image of students at Nanjing Communication University holding up cardboard signs and chanting slogans.
“I didn’t think this could happen on the Mainland,” he confesses, adding that most of his friends in Macau are not too worried about the incident.
“In Hong Kong and Macau, there was little media coverage [of the protests], resulting in little discussion between the two cities,” says Eilo Yu, an associate professor in the Department of Public and Government Administration at the University of Macau.
The academic says there have not been many concrete actions in Hong Kong in response to the protests on the mainland, although there have been small movements organized by mainland students in Hong Kong.
As for Macau, he pointed out that the local media did not report on the protests, and that the local population rarely has access to information from abroad, meaning that most do not really understand what happened.
The academic, who specializes in Macau’s political development, pointed out in an interview that, more importantly, no local democrats organized activities to follow up on the incident.
And under the pressure of the change in the National Security Law, “there is no civil society in Macau that can organize activities to follow and support the movement on the mainland.”
Former Macau MP Antonio Ng Kuok Cheong states that Hong Kong and Macau residents who still offer some resistance can certainly understand that there is a real need and reason for Chinese nationals to venture against the restrictions.
“The government’s national security policy has made it difficult to provide concrete support, and most Macau residents are careful to protect their own political security. In this context, the Communist Party rulers are confident that they have the resources to control the situation overall and ease public discontent with small measures,” he explains.
“In the overall political framework, the people can only mix with the masses to fight for small changes when necessary, rather than participating in rational civic action to promote social progress,” he concludes.
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