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Internationalism amidst repression: Hong Kong students against the war in Ukraine

A response to the state’s reactionary attack against Hong Kong students’ solidarity with Ukraine.

Originally published by Lausan. Written by A group of Hong Kong University Students and Socialism Defender.

Editor’s note: On February 26, 2022, two days after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, a group of Hong Kong university students published a statement condemning the invasion and expressing their solidarity with Ukrainians and oppressed people around the world. As of March 15, the statement has garnered more than 1,000 signatures by individuals and student organizations in Hong Kong.

Their statement is radical, progressive and explicit in its anti-imperialist condemnation of Putin’s Russia as well as the United States and the expansionism of NATO. This is particularly significant in the context of Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy and self-determination, factions of which have often been characterized by uncritical support for Western governments as geopolitical rivals of the CCP.

Significant too is the internationalism of the statement. It calls for citizens to follow the example of Russian anti-war demonstrators in protesting not only against the war, but to pressure their governments and leaders to take action in aiding the struggle of the Ukrainian people against the Russian state.

On March 11 2022, the state-owned pro-Beijing Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po (文匯報) published a response to the statement entitled “As Disruptive Elements Cherry-Pick ‘Resistance’, the Political Sector Warns of Foreign Interference” (亂港分子圖挑「抗爭」政界警告提防外力). 

The article accused the students’ statement of stirring up the same kind of “anti-government” sentiment, premised off a false notion of “resistance,” that incited the uprising in 2019 against the Extradition Law Amendment Bill. Wen Wei Po interviewed three pro-Beijing lawmakers, who called on the government to suppress such “disruptive anti-state elements” (反中亂港分子) to prevent a resurgence of the civil unrest of 2019, and for citizens to inform the authorities of such activities.

This is hardly the first time that Wen Wei Po, alongside its sister newspaper Ta Kung Pao, with which it was merged in 2016, has mounted attacks on individuals for promoting what they consider to be anti-government sentiment or for aiding the city’s democracy movement. These newspapers have named individuals such as Ching Kwan LeeLaw Wing SangJohannes ChanPaul Harris and Chris Chan, and singled them out for scrutiny and abuse by the pro-Beijing establishment, which exposed them to great personal risk. In recent years, these attacks—made by these mouthpieces of the pro-Beijing establishment in Hong Kong—have foreshadowed acts of repression, such as police raids or prosecution by the state, as well as by universities and corporations against their employees. That these tactics of public intimidation have been mobilized against organized groups of students is yet another example of the ongoing repression of student organizing in Hong Kong.

The article also took aim at the Public Opinion Research Institute (香港民意研究所), an independent pollster whose survey results have indicated widespread popular support for the 2019 protests and deep-seated discontent with the government. The article denounced the use of public opinion polling as a tool for manufacturing and inciting anti-government dissent under the guise of academic research.

The attack by Wen Wei Po demonstrates the Hong Kong government’s recognition of the threat posed by transnational solidarity between oppressed peoples to authoritarian regimes. The author of the article, as well as the interviewed lawmakers, repeatedly reference the uprising of 2019 in their singling-out of the university students’ statement for government repression. In their eyes, students’ petitions like this statement are a common “trick” used by “disruptive anti-state elements” to “awaken” feelings of “resistance” in young people. The language of popular self-organization, self-determination and liberation is painted as subversive rhetoric intended to “undermine national security and destroy the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong”. 

To the Hong Kong government, the university students’ statement on Ukraine symbolizes an attempt by individuals to come together to discuss and develop a political identity independent of the government’s control and approval. Attempts at building transnational solidarity are equated with collusion with foreign forces to undermine the national security of sovereign states, be it Russia or China.

For the Hong Kong government, the publication of the student statement also symbolizes how dangerous the Ukrainian example of resistance—being a popular, militant and self-organized movement for freedom and self-determination—is to the legitimacy of Hong Kong’s social order.

The many references made to the “dark (黑) violence” of militant protesters during the uprising of 2019 in the Wen Wei Po article show just how worried the pro-establishment media is—not so much about the use of violence against property and the police per se, but about the lessons Hongkongers may draw from the Ukrainian resistance. To Wen Wei Po and their allies, the Ukrainian resistance outlines the potential for Hong Kong’s democracy movement to develop into an internationalist and revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of the authoritarian, colonial, and crony-capitalist social order. The authoritarians have understood this threat—have Hongkongers? 

Below, we have published a translated version of the original solidarity statement.

Enough 14: We did not publish a marxist text on the case. You will find it below the statement by the students on Lausan (here).

Statement of Hong Kong University Students on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

With a Tsarist Russia dream and for the purpose of competing for global hegemony, Putin’s Kremlin officially launched an imperialist invasion of Ukraine on Thursday (February 24, 2022). For the first time since the revolutions of 1989 in Eastern Europe, the world has once again reached a crossroads: either the liberation of the oppressed, or the abyss of barbaric tyranny. As university students as in our position as Hongkongers, we have a duty to think globally. We would like to respond to the global crisis as follows: 

I. Insisting on an anti-war stance

Since the beginning of the war, different actors have taken varying approaches to the Russian invasion. Pro-Russia chauvinists have watched the escalation of the situation with glee, whereas Western and East Asian countries have refrained from taking substantial action. Ironically, the Taliban—which brutally and violently suppressed the Afghan people—has weighed in and called for negotiation on both sides. Provoking aggression, civil war, and subsequent chaos are the tools of imperialism. In the midst of this chaos, people who have been tormented by war and oppressed by different regimes need to unite once again, and rebuild the anti-war fronts that we previously saw in response to the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. 

We oppose not only the military aggression commanded by Putin, but also NATO provocation, which altogether has led to the crisis in Ukraine. We stand in solidarity with thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Russia to insist on an internationalist anti-war stance.

II. Opposing the hypocrisy of the United States

After the outbreak of the war, Western countries, led by the United States, have not attempted to de-escalate the conflict; instead, they have engaged in repeated provocative condemnations of Russia. Western countries have claimed that there will be serious consequences after Russia’s military invasion. These nonsensical condemnations have had little impact on Russia’s adventuristic decisions and do little to advance a political compromise. From 1945 to 1989, over 300 wars have taken place globally. The United States alone has launched 30 major military operations, with the Western-led United Nations expressing no strong opposition to these invasive operations. How many innocent and disenfranchised people have been sent to the battlefield? What have condemnations on the part of the West ever done to help resolve conflict? What Ukraine needs is definitively not the empty checks that Western society has been issuing since the last century. What Ukraine needs is substantial support that aims at an equal and sustainable political agreement that takes all Ukrainian citizens’ welfare into consideration.

III. Supporting the self-determination of Ukrainian people

Struggling between Russian chauvinism and NATO’s expansionist ambitions are the Ukrainian people and the divided and oppressed ethnic minorities of the region. The Soviet Republic established by Russia after the October Revolution in 1917 advocated the establishment of a voluntary national alliance. Ukraine, which had historically been oppressed by imperial Russia, was then freed from the shackles of being a subordinate nation and the grip of nationalism, and given the space to advance its own self-determination. However, under Stalin’s dictatorship, Ukraine fell into the hands of fascism and imperialism. In today’s post-Soviet era, Ukraine is still a battleground for Putin’s imperial Russia and NATO forces. It is clear that neither collusion with Russia nor reliance on Western powers can lead Ukraine out of its current predicament. Ukraine is not simply a pawn in a game between great powers. We firmly support the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people, just as the Ukrainian revolutionary government fought for “freedom of association”, “internationalism” and “national liberation” in the early 20th century. 

IV. What can the international community do? 

The best way for the international community to assist Ukraine while exerting pressure on Russia is: (i) to confiscate the property and assets of Russian oligarchs and officials; (ii) use the property and assets confiscated from Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs—that were accumulated through plunder and exploitation in the first place—to assist Ukraine in restoring war-affected areas and supporting the local population; and (iii) abolish Ukraine’s foreign debt and support the war-torn Ukrainian economy. Justice requires more than simple condemnation of the Russian government. People across the world must unite and put pressure on their governments to act, following the example of the thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Russia who took to the streets in protest against their autocratic government.

V. What can we do in Hong Kong?

While civil society in Hong Kong is also in retreat, there are still countless Hong Kong people concerned about the situation in Ukraine. Some courageous journalists have volunteered to go to Ukraine to document the truth, and others have donated to the Ukrainian government and companies, hoping to help Ukraine fight against Russia. While putting in the effort to help Ukraine, we should remember the causes and consequences of this war of aggression, and to probe deeper into the multi-ethnic history of Ukraine that has been intentionally distorted or even erased. We should also equip and empower ourselves, and forge connections with all the oppressed in the world. 

A group of Hong Kong university students
February 26, 2022

A piece from December 2021:

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