Yesterday, I received a message from a young Catholic in Hong Kong, after I posted something on social media about their current plight.
“I am a Hongkonger,” he said, “and thank you for your recent post on Hong Kong. There is much I would like to say but I am too grieved to find words in the midst of all the worsening brutality and utter heartlessness of those in power.”
If you haven’t been following it — and perhaps even if you have — the situation in Hong Kong right now is complex, and it is quickly becoming dangerous.
For those unfamiliar with the region, some background is in order.
Nearly two centuries ago, during the Opium Wars between China and Great Britain (1839-1860), the city of Hong Kong was ceded to the British Empire. In 1898, Britain wanted to significantly expand its colony in China, and as part of the negotiations, signed a century-long lease agreement with the Chinese government. A lease that would expire in 1997.
At the time, few knew what the newly-devised socio-political ideology called Communism was, let alone that it would become a major global power, and the iron fist around the heart of an ancient people.
And so, in 1997, as the contract came due, the so-called “Special Administrative Region” of Hong Kong — which had become a stunning, modern metropolis known globally as a powerhouse of business and finance — was returned to a very different China than the one that had handed it over in the 19th century as a spoil of war.
The Communist People’s Republic of China (PRC), which has proven far more resilient than its Russian counterpart — largely through a certain permissiveness in the economic realm — has walked a careful line with Hong Kong over the past two decades. China took back Hong Kong under a policy known as “one country, two systems.” Hong Kong retained partial self-governance and relative independence — with the exception of a standing military, and its lack of independent international standing — and was promised that these conditions would continue for 50 years.
But it appears that all of this is beginning to unravel, and fast.
Earlier this year, protests broke out in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition law. The bill would have allowed the Hong Kong authorities to not only detain, but extradite persons who are wanted in nations or territories with which Hong Kong has no extradition treaties — including mainland China. This encroachment on the rights of Hong Kong set off massive demonstrations, and in June, Hongkongers marched in the streets, with some estimates saying as many as 2 million people joined the protest.
As time went on, some of these demonstrations grew into violent clashes, and police cracked down with tear gas and rubber bullets. International concern about police brutality has been raised, and even some members of the pro-Beijing Triads — the Chinese equivalent of the Mafia — have been said to have become involved.
Some Chinese protesters have even been filmed flying American flags, and singing our anthem.
Protesters in Hong Kong waving the American flag and singing the American National anthem as they advocate for democracy. Wow! pic.twitter.com/CKyFstud22
— Kaya Jones (@KayaJones) August 12, 2019
As the demonstrations grew, so did violent conflicts between activists and police. The protesters are now advocating democracy for Hong Kong — one US General compared what is happening to the Boston Tea Party — and as the situation continues to escalate, Chinese troops are now massing on the border of Hong Kong.
“The protests in Hong Kong,” writes Chinese-born Helen Raleigh for National Review, “have been going on for more than four months now, and no matter how the current crisis concludes in the coming days or weeks, it will mark the end of Hong Kong as we know it.”
Referencing the extradition bill, Raleigh says that Hongkongers “rightfully feared” that if the bill were passed into law, “the city would be forced to turn over to China anyone President Xi Jinping’s regime deems a ‘criminal,’ including human-rights activists, political dissidents, and others who pose a threat to the Communist party,” leading them to protest.
“In short,” Raleigh writes, “Beijing is no longer committed to the “One Country, Two Systems” framework. The extradition bill was a trigger and a final wake up call for Hong Kongers.” She continues that once Hong Kong’s government:
showed that it had no interest in defending residents’ cherished political freedoms and independent judicial system, they knew that they had to act. What started as an effort to defeat the extradition bill has since turned into a broader anti-government protest movement that demands more political freedom, including universal suffrage. In a way, this is the protesters’ Alamo, their Battle of Thermopylae. They refuse to lose their freedom without a fight.
But, says Raleigh, “the situation in Hong Kong is quickly deteriorating, and it seems that every day the violence gets worse and bloodier.”
— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) August 13, 2019
“This is the city I was born and grow up in,” says our reader, who will be kept anonymous for his own safety. “We have had a lot of sleepless nights these two months watching the calamity unfold and fearing for the worst to come. We are exhausted and overwhelmed, we are already doing the best we can but there is a growing sense of desperation and how tiny Hong Kong can withstand the red dragon’s wrath?”
I asked him about his concerns. “Chinese troops,” he said, “are massing over our border. Once they come in, we can be cut off from the rest of the free world and it will be all over.”
China PLA is entering Hongkong from Shenzhen pic.twitter.com/70UcQZ94Pp
— Pangait (@cicitmatsalleh) August 13, 2019
Chinese media shows footage of military vehicles in Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong; one report says they’re preparing for “large-scale exercises” pic.twitter.com/5Wuf9DOjDe
— BNO News (@BNONews) August 12, 2019
“We are living increasingly under an Orwellian-style surveilance state,” he continued, “so if you see the news you see that’s why many protesters wear face masks.”
He tells me that in addition to troop activity across the border in Shenzen, there are fears that Hong Kong’s police have already been infiltrated by Chinese military forces. “Many are heard speaking Mandarin,” he tells me — Cantonese is the dialect spoken in Hong Kong; Mandarin is Beijing — “and do not have a police identification number.”
I wanted to know what would happen to Catholics if the PRC takes over the city.
“Our Diocese,” he explains, “is completely separate from the rest of the Chinese conference of bishops, and it’s administered directly from Rome, which appoints our bishop.”
So, a very different situation than the Vatican has negotiated with Beijing.
I asked him what would happen if the protests stopped. Would the PRC back down?
“It is widely believed,” he said, “that if the protests dwindle, the crackdown will follow.”
In other words, there appears to be no way out.
But as a young Catholic living in Hong Kong, he didn’t contact me to complain, but rather, to appeal to a higher power.
“In your kindness, would you please help us by appealing to your readers to dedicate one decade of the Rosary for Hong Kong and her people,” he requested, “on the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption? The fifth glorious mystery would be great, but any decade will do. Let’s pray that through her powerful intercession, our Lord will accomplish what we never dared to dream of.”
So, readers, I leave it to you. The PRC army is a fearsome thing, but Our Lady is the Queen of Heaven.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.