Julie Tang

Julie Tang is a retired judge of the San Francisco Superior Court. She is a co-founder of the “Comfort Women Justice Coalition” and “Pivot to Peace,” both American organizations dedicated to peace and social justice.  She was born and raised in Hong Kong prior to immigrating to the United States, and has maintained continuous contact with friends and family in Hong Kong as well as visited there often. Here she tells the story of the 2019 Hong Kong protests from the viewpoint of ordinary Hong Kong people. 

The Western Media vs the Peoples’ Experience.

It has been almost 5 years since the Oct 2019 riots in Hong Kong.  The Western media continues to talk about the protests as peaceful demonstrations for democracy.  But the facts – seldom covered by the Western mainstream media – don’t seem to support the image of peaceful protests.  Hong Kong is my original hometown, and having visited it since the protests, I found a very different story told by friends and family, ordinary people from taxi drivers to working professionals, and news reports written and videotaped in a wide range of Chinese language media.  

Contrary to the image portrayed by the Western mainstream media, in 2019-2020, Hong Kong suffered one of the most violent and destructive riots in its history, from British colonization to returning to China’s sovereignty. From the perspective of a majority of Hong Kong residents, the riots were a direct US interference in Hong Kong politics, when a group of leaders of the Hong Kong independence movement were videotaped strategizing with a top diplomat from the US embassy.  The rhetoric and conduct of the demonstrators failed to make a legitimate case for democracy and freedom. They gave confusing and contradictory messages shouting slogans that ranged from “Trump, please help us” to demanding Great Britain to recolonize Hong Kong again.  The Western media, however, recast the riots in the form of peaceful demonstrations and covered up the real purpose of these riots, which was understood by many ,to foment separatism from and create regime changes in China.

What started the riots.

The lightning rod for the demonstration was the Fugitive Act the Hong Kong government tried to enact.  At issue is a young Hong Kong man by the name of Chan Tong-Kai  who had gone to Taiwan with his pregnant girlfriend.  He  murdered her in Taiwan, chopped her body up into pieces and hid them in a suitcase, then fled Taiwan and went back to Hong Kong.  There, he was arrested pending extradition back to Taiwan to face murder trial.  There was a problem.  When Hong Kong returned back to China, Britain, its former colonizer, left out a very important law, an extradition law that would allow Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan to extract and receive alleged criminals from each other to be prosecuted in the venue where the crime was committed. Without such a law, Hong Kong   could not extradite Mr. Chan back to Taiwan where he would face trial.

The rioters claimed this extradition law would allow China to kidnap anyone from Hong Kong into mainland China, where they claimed they would not receive a fair trial. From a legal perspective, this is far-fetched.  The Hong Kong Extradition law replicates extradition laws in the US and other Western countries. It would facilitate the administration of justice and fill a void left by the former British colonialist.  As a result of the riots, the Chief Excutive of Hong Kong gave up on trying to pass the fugitive act..  Mr. Chan who admitted to murdering his pregnant girlfriend walks as a free man in Hong Kong, never having to face a court of law for the heinous crime he allegedly committed.

Oddly enough, during the riots, the loudest voice heard from the demonstrators/rioters was not about the validity or actual application of this law but to take down Communist China, something echoed by Western reporters.  On the ground, rationality was officially dead, says Nury Vittachi, a Siri Lanken Journalist living in Hong Kong.  In his book, The Other Side of the Story: A Secret War in Hong Kong, he said that the fight on the ground was more about fighting communism and panning to the interests of the US. Vittachi also said, it is clear that the invisible hand behind the riots was not fighting to save Hong Kong, but to destroy it. And we have to wonder: how do freedom and democracy factor into this vortex of destruction? 

How bad was the fight to destroy Hong Kong? 

A sizable group of the demonstrators turned violent within a day of the demonstration. They killed a man who did not agree with them and set another on fire with gasoline, permanently disfiguring him.  In the name of “freedom and democracy,” they attacked and beat up anyone who did not agree with them. They bullied and picked on people from mainland China who could not speak the local Hong Kong dialect, which is Cantonese.  In one case, they hog-tied a Chinese reporter from the mainland at the airport for hours, physically abusing him.  This same reporter, who was in his 20s, committed suicide a year later after he returned to China, having suffered from deep depression.  The rioters ransacked Hong Kong’s legislative Chambers. They vandalized Hong Kong’s subway network on a daily basis including setting fires in the stations, to disrupt people from going to work and school.  They trashed colleges and universities and turned the Polytechnical College of Hong Kong into a bomb-making factory. They threw petrol bombs also known as Molotov cocktails at police officers, and bullied the police officers’ family and children.   They used all sorts of weapons that would hurt or even kill people, including bows and arrows, small missiles, and corrosive liquids against the police and people who disagreed with them. 

Here from the South China Morning Post (a Hong Kong newspaper founded in 1903 under the British) is a video record of the riots that I am referring to. You can see for yourself, was this peaceful or violent? 

The Hong Kong police exercised great restraint. No one was killed by any Hong Kong Police actions, and eventually the demonstrators/rioters lost support from the populace.  And the Hong Kong police were then able to restore Hong Kong from the melee created by the rioters.  At no time did China intervene militarily, even though much of what the rioters were doing – including throwing Molotov cocktails at the entrance to the army base – was to lure China into doing so. With China intervening, they could have declared the “One country, Two systems” policy had failed, and then claim that the only alternative would be separatism and independence.   But China maintained its patience, and it paid off. 

The West’s role in these riots.

The website of the US’ National Endowment for Democracy (NED, a CIA offshoot) shows millions of US dollars were sent to Hong Kong protest groups before and during the riots. The people who participated in the riots later made admissions about how they had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash from outside sources. The money was distributed with the top leaders getting the big cuts and smaller amounts, for example, to those who threw petrol bombs. There were also many accounts of young people earning up to $40 US a day for wearing black and participating in the demonstrations. There were videotapes showing they opened up boxes of brand-new helmets and had unlimited access to petrol bombs.  Some were very professional in how to detonate tear gas bombs and repacked them up to throw back at the police. The Oslo Freedom Forum had been training young people in Hong Kong to conduct demonstrations and use advanced technology to create a desired perception of what was happening on the ground. Serbian and Ukraine individuals were seen leading the demonstration riots. The Western media was uniformly biased in their reporting. And reported none of what I am telling you.  

The National Security Act and US Sanctions.

After the riots, The US sanctioned Hong Kong for its National Security Act (NSL), which is downright hypocrisy.  Hong Kong’s NSL was written to target exactly what the rioters were doing – promoting separatism, secession and terrorism.  This is something no country or state would tolerate. In the US we passed NSLs almost daily during this cold war climate.  The  National Security Act passed in Hong Kong in 2020 set a guideline for Hong Kong against sedition, secession, and terrorism.  Hong Kong’s Basic Law, a mini-constitution specifically provides that a national security law be implemented. 

The main thrust of the NSL law is to stop foreign intervention and ban foreign money from going into Hong Kong to influence its governance and to foment color revolutions and regime changes.  However, the US and UK enacted heavy trade sanctions against Hong Kong and personal sanctions against the leadership of Hong Kong simply because Hong Kong wanted to protect itself from foreign intervention . 

 Ian Grenville, a British barrister who was the Director of Public Prosecution of Hong Kong from Oct 1997 to Oct 2009, said in a letter in Feb of 2024 to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sulak saying, “Everybody who loves Hong Kong breathed a sigh of relief with the passage of the NSL, And It was only those who wished Hong Kong ill who had anything to fear from the NSL”.

Peace is precious.

We in America live in a war-mongering country.  We create misery and suffering by waging wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and, at present, Ukraine and Gaza . 

Our political leaders are now openly talking about China as an “existential threat” and our next war target.  Yet China has never threatened us.  China is also a nuclear power and an all out war between us would destroy the planet. Yet our mainstream media and our Washington politicians continue to cast China as an enemy in order to manufacture consent to war with China. Peace is precious, and we must protect it.  

How safe is Hong Kong from future foreign interference?

As long as the US is engaging in a cold war with China, Hong Kong is not safe even with the NSL. US politicians continue to attack Hong Kong for its alleged “lack of freedom” at every turn, and make up lies about how Hong Kong people are being oppressed.  Oddly, in 2019 when the riots ensued, the Fraser Institute rated Hong Kong Number 1 among 163 countries in the world in economic freedom and Number 3, after New Zealand and Switzerland for comprehensive (overall) freedom. The United States was rated Number 15 for comprehensive freedom in their index. 

When I visited Hong Kong in October 2023, Hong Kong had been restored back to a peaceful city.  But I got the sense that the Hong Kong people are cautiously optimistic. Given the horrific experience thrust upon them in 2019, and the violence that shook up the entire city, even those who stood on the fence before the riots would not want those anti-China movement leaders doing their thing again. Hong Kong people are practical and resilient.  They knew a good government that cares for its people and provides a quality life for them is an even better democracy than one heavily reliant on elections.  They knew the Hong Kong demonstration/riots benefited another country’s agenda, not theirs.  Unfortunately, there is still a lot of Western effort to subvert Hong Kong; Hong Kong could easily become a pawn again in the US-China Cold War.  But Hong Kong folks are learning to be vigilant and not let 2019 repeat itself.  

You see, the Hong Kong people knew there is much to lose when Hong Kong succumbs to outside political interference.  Hong Kong is one of the safest and richest cities in the world.  It has one of the most respected police forces in all of Asia, and possibly the world. In the United States, if someone were to throw a Molotov cocktail at a police officer, they would shoot the person right then and there. Not so in Hong Kong.  It has a population of 7 million people and a GDP of $369.2 billion US dollars, and $49,800 GDP per capita which puts it as the  8th richest city in Asia.  It ranks 6th in the world with the most billionaires. It is a very livable city with a low inflation rate of 1.88% in 2022, but not as low as China’s 1.75%.  

Hong Kong, however,  has many social problems; there is a great disparity between the rich and poor, a lack of affordable housing, and a lack of coordinated education to overcome years of British colonial indoctrination. This phenomenon was especially prevalent during the riots when the rioters bullied and picked on people from the mainland.  It actually showed more of their inferiority in self-concept after years of subjugation to British rule than a false perception that they were better than the mainland Chinese. Peace is precious, and I hope Hong Kong people will strive to achieve peace and harmony among themselves and work closely with  their mother country, China . And I hope our country, the US, will see the benefit of promoting peace, and not war,  for its citizens and for the global community.   



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