A Pathway to Peace

For nearly a year Hong Kong has been facing a growing number of seemingly insurmountable challenges. A U.S.- China trade war, an ongoing stream of anti-government protests, and a global pandemic have all pushed Hong Kong’s economy and political stability closer and closer to the cliff’s edge. Like many of you, I have grown rather pessimistic and can no longer state with absolute certainty that this will all pass, that our lives will soon get to catch even a glimpse of normality. However, I refuse to believe that there is no path forward, that Hong Kong will inevitably meet a disastrous end. There is a way out for Hong Kong; it all comes down to how willing people are to put their differences aside and compromise. In my view, Hong Kong will find the peace it desperately needs as long as the following conditions are met:

Anti-government movement

  1. They must cease all forms of violence at once. This approach is not only utterly anti-democratic, but it also polarizes a society whose divisions cannot be stretched any further.
  2. They must peacefully raise their concerns about Beijing’s policies, but never take their anger out on law-abiding Mainland citizens. Targeting mainlanders simply because of their origin will only perpetuate the conflict. We all become better citizens (and better people) when we embrace diversity.
  3. They must uphold true democratic values. In a democracy, factions cannot hope to impose their will at all costs. Virtually by definition, democracies strive to integrate different viewpoints. Protesters need to accept that there are people out there who don’t share their ideology.
  4. They must look into the future and never into the past. Reminiscing about Hong Kong’s colonial past is not only foolish but it also undermines the movement’s supposed democratic character; there is nothing democratic about being a colony. Hongkongers will prevail as long as they fight for what this city can be, not for what it once was.

Governments of Hong Kong and China

  1. They must actively listen to the people’s demands. Most observers will agree that the conflict’s origins largely emanate from a widespread lack of trust, and this lack of trust is nothing but the result of the city’s and China’s failure to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition. The government is not required to give in to every single demand, but it has the moral obligation to address the opposition’s anxieties for the sake of Hong Kong’s stability.
  2. Regarding the nation’s symbols and identity, they must educate, not impose. Under the “one country, two systems” framework, it is legitimate for the governments of Hong Kong and China to pursue any piece of legislation aimed at consolidating China’s national identity. However, punishing those who believe that the flag and anthem don’t represent them is an act of futility that will only drive people further away from China.
  3. They must offer solutions. Carrie Lam’s biggest failure has been her inability to propose a path forward for Hong Kong. After nearly a year of political instability and economic recession, the Chief Executive’s plan for the city remains unclear.
  4. They must be bold. As of today, the most unlikely solution to the conflict is also the most effective and politically powerful: China should commit to “one country, two systems” beyond the 2047 deadline or maybe even indefinitely. Unlike what many skeptics believe, this framework has brought much progress to both China and Hong Kong. The perceived inadequateness of the system is merely the result of its mistaken association with the opposition’s grievances. Although not completely unfounded, their fears have largely emerged as a result of not knowing what China has planned for Hong Kong beyond 2047. A written, legally-binding commitment on the part of Beijing to keeping the current system in place permanently would undoubtedly send a strong, positive message to the people of Hong Kong.

Western governments, media, and other foreign interests

  1. They must show respect for China’s political process. As a sovereign nation, China has the right to rule over its territory however it pleases. Foreign interference would only be appropriate if there was clear, tangible evidence that China’s policies towards Hong Kong were detrimental to human rights.
  2. They must steer away from misinformation. Western media outlets have spent nearly a year telling the world one side of the story. By ignoring street violence and the doxing many have suffered for speaking out against the anti-government movement, Western media outlets have whitewashed the movement’s most radical elements and deliberately constructed an image of Hong Kong that does not fully correspond to the city’s reality.
  3. They must stop viewing Hong Kong as simply a tool to gain political leverage. Today, the dreams and aspirations of millions of Hongkongers are being threatened as foreign actors consider targeting the city’s economic engines in order to pressure the central government. In doing so, however, they seem to ignore the sheer size of the Chinese economy and the fact that the only victims of a foreign crackdown on the city’s economy will be the people of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has proven to be quite resilient, but the city cannot be embroiled in a permanent state of crisis. The people of Hong Kong must band together for peace.

And the Old Empire Stood Up to the Tyrant

Recent developments at home and abroad have forced me to use the words “perplexed” and “unprecedented” an awful lot, lately. This time, however, the context is quite different. Today, in a sudden break from the constant stream of bad news inundating my newsfeed the British Parliament has announced that it won’t allow President Trump to address both houses of Parliament during his planned state visit to the United Kingdom. The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, announced today in response to a question from the opposition that he “would not wish to issue an invitation to President Trump to speak in the Royal Gallery”. Mr. Bercow’s remarks come as a surprise to many, and I would’ve paid anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to have seen Mr. Trump’s face following this historic announcement.

The British Parliament has never denied a foreign leader the honor of addressing Westminster, especially once the Prime Minister has issued an official invitation for a visit. This is anything but good news for the President of the United States. When the Parliament of one of your closest allies turns its back on you and in doing so effectively humiliates you in front of the whole world, you have no choice but to reexamine that relationship and deduce the causes of this unfortunate end result. Then of course, that is something only a normal leader would do. And Trump is anything but normal.

Here’s a transcript of Speaker Bercow’s remarks:

“An address by a foreign leader to both houses of Parliament is not an automatic right, it is an earned honor. Moreover, there are many precedents for state visits to take place to our country which do not include an address to both houses of Parliament. Now, in relation to Westminster Hall, there are three keyholders to Westminster Hall: The Speaker of the House of Commons, the Speaker of the House of Lords, and the Lord Great Chamberlain. Ordinarily, we are able to work by consensus and the hall would be used for a purpose such as an address or another purpose by agreement of the three keyholders. I must say that before the imposition of the migrant ban, I would myself have been strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall. After the imposition of the migrant ban by President Trump, I am even more strongly opposed to an address by President Trump in Westminster Hall. So far as the Royal Gallery is concerned, it is in another part of the building, although customarily an invitation to a visiting leader to deliver an address there would be issued in the names of the two Speakers. I would not wish to issue an invitation to President Trump to speak in the Royal Gallery“.

“We value our relationship with the United States. If a state visit takes place, that is way beyond and above the paygrade of the Speaker. However, as far as this place is concerned, I feel very strongly that our opposition to racism and to sexism and our support for equality before the law and an independent judiciary are hugely important considerations in the House of Commons”.

Before I continue, it would be worth noting that up until he became the Speaker of the House of Commons in 2009, Mr. Bercow was a fervent member of the Conservative Party, a reminder that this unprecedented move has nothing to do with politics. It’s simply about doing what’s right.

Mr. Bercow’s remarks echo what many in the UK and across Europe think and feel about this president. They don’t like him, and worst of all, they don’t seem to have any respect for him. And who could blame them? This man has singlehandedly alienated an entire nation and its closest allies. On top of that, he’s constantly reminding us that diplomacy, good manners, dignity and decency are values that no longer belong in the White House. The president reaches new lows every single day.

I would hope that today’s unusual announcement serves as a wake up call for a man who doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing or what his job truly entails. But then again, hope is for fools.

Watch the Speaker’s full remarks here.