We interviewed Dr. Mankei Tam (MK), director of Amnesty International Hong Kong about the recent protests against the extradition bill in China: what are the requests of the protestors, what are the political consequences of the demonstrations, what will happen in the near future.
Since 2005, Dr. Mankei Tam (MK) has held leadership roles at international environmental organizations Greenpeace and Earthwatch.
He joined Amnesty International to become the director of the Hong Kong Section in November 2018.
MK gained his Ph.D. in anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, with a focus on citizenship and rebuilding livelihoods after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.
– Do you think China is happy with Carrie Lam’s handling of the situation in Hong Kong? What will China do?
It was her own initiative in pushing the legislation ahead. But during the whole process, we saw Chinese authorities and their agents everywhere.
For example, we saw the foreign ministry and also other major Chinese officials responding to Hong Kong affairs.
They openly came out and responded to the media and they tried very hard to solicit support from the pro-establishment camp in Hong Kong, and some of the agents of the Chinese government in Hong Kong, for example in the people’s Congress.
They talk a lot about and show a lot of support to Carrie Lam’s pushing forward of the legislation.
So we can see that.
The Chinese authorities were everywhere despite Carrie Lam said that it is only her initiated.
– Will Carrie Lam resign?
Well, this is obviously a people’s request because throughout the whole process I think she has already put herself and also the whole government into a legitimacy crisis and it also creates a level of moral crisis for her leadership so this is probably the motivation for these protests of the last days.
One of the major requests is to have somebody have being held accountable.
And Carol Lam and his office were obviously one of the targets, but not only Carrie Lam, but also the major office responding for the legislation which includes the secretary of justice and the secretary of security.
And last Wednesday because of the police unnecessary and excessive use of force against peaceful protesters and they added also people at the command of the commission of the police into these lists of being held accountable or being asked to step down.
– What will be the consequences of the protests in Hong Kong? What the Hong Kong government will do next?
Well, the whole situation is still unfolding.
So I think what we cannot predict what the government will do but obviously, there is the voice of the people to ask to call for Carol Lam to withdraw that bill and to withdraw to claim that last Wednesday’s protest was a riot.
But with reference to the past we saw since the Umbrella Movement, the government selectively persecute some of the political activists and also people in opposition using arbitrary and vaguely defined law, for example, using alleging them committing riots or public nuisance and these are all very vague charges, and the government has succeeded to put some of the major activists and major movement leaders into jail or at least have them sentenced.
So, for example, Benny Tai and also some pro-independence advocates so this also might be a possibility that the government will start targeting some of the activists involved in the protests.
So that’s why I think one of the people’s call is to protect the protesters, those students, mainly young people.
So this is a big ask from last Sunday’s peaceful protests.
– Do we need to expect more protest on 1 July, the anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule?
I think first of all it depends really on Carrie Lam’s response to the people’s demands and also on her response to how to define, how to frame last Wednesday’s clashes between the police and protesters.
So if they still say it was a riot and try to shift the focus from the police excessive use of force to naming and blaming some of the people as rioters., if they do not face these challenges directly and give the people a satisfactory answer, I think people will still come out to retake the street in the coming two weeks.
The government is suffering right now a big legitimacy crisis. And one of the uncertainties that trigger such a huge turnout on the street is the people’s uncertainty on the “one country two systems”.
And so in the mid-long term, the government has to do something to make the people feel that.
Both the Chinese and Hong Kong governments are delivering the promise of “one country, two systems” and it has to be seen to be done just like justice to the students and other peaceful protesters involved in the whole process.
– “One Country, Two Systems” will Survive? 2047, the year in which Hong Kong will officially return to China, is no longer far away. What will happen after 2047 to Hong Kong and Macau (2049)?
The bigger context of “one country two systems” is an experiment created by Deng Xiaoping so that Hong Kong could become part of China again, and it is an evolving process.
The idea and the goal are to make Hong Kong a unique city in mainland China. So after 2017, I think right now lots of people still want to see Hong Kong as a unique city in China. As you said 2047 is still far but is less than 30 years, it’s still some time.
So it really depends on both sides, Hong Kong and the Chinese government, and also on the people of Hong Kong, how they interact with each other to create the future.
– How many Hong Kong citizens really support Hong Kong government policies?
I think that after the extradition bill, both Carrie Lam and the Hong Kong government came out defeated in terms of legitimacy.
So the government has the fear they will suffer a landslide defeat in the coming elections because of this extradition saga. While there is a lot to do by the Hong Kong government but I think in the immediate term they need to address the people’s very clear and very consistent demand which is the withdrawal of the bill and also the withdrawal of the statement saying some of the protesters were rioters.
– How the news about the protests in Hong Kong was handled in China? What do Chinese netizens think?
I’m not sure where heard how many people in mainland China know about what’s happening in Hong Kong and also whether their understanding will be distorted by the state media, I really don’t know, but what I observe in Hong Kong during the protests is that there were mainland people joining the protest and some of them wore a mask so that they can escape from being recognized.
Whether it is true or not that Chinese surveillance has already extended to Hong Kong, I don’t know. But obviously, this is there is a chilling effect there.
CHINA-UNDERGROUND. Matteo Damiani is an Italian sinologist, photographer, author and motion designer. Matteo lived and worked for ten years in China. Founder of CinaOggi.it and China-underground.com.