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Dictatorship and defiance, two sides of today's China

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The last week has seen two sides of today's China; the fake parliamentary facade of the CCP's dictatorship and the eloquent defiance of that dictatorship by the Hong Kong democracy activist, Chow Hang Tung, in her speech from the dock after sentencing, which we reproduce below.

In Beijing, the annual "Two Sessions" meeting, comprising 2,900 "delegates", every one handpicked by the Communist Party to maintain the myth of a democratic constitution, has drawn to a close. The Two Sessions, so called because it brings together the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference is, constitutionally, China's highest legislative body. The more elaborate the name, the more vacuous the actual body, it would seem, since the role of the meeting is simply to ratify the decisions already taken by the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, CCP.

This year was a little different in that last October the CCP held its five yearly Congress and appointed Xi Jinping its General Secretary for a third time. At the same time, it appointed new members of the Politburo and its Standing Committee, all of whom were recognised as supporters of Xi's faction within the CCP. As a result, last week's meeting was required to appoint the same people to those bodies, such as the State Council, that formally govern the country. All 2,900 delegates, therefore, dutifully voted for Xi as President - not that there were any alternative candidates.

Predictable as all such appointments were, professional China-watchers, today's equivalent of the "Kremlinologists" of the first Cold War, see some significance in the retention of Yi Gang as governor of the central bank. This is interpreted as a reassuring commitment to stability for big business interests worried by talk of major economic "reforms" that will increase state control. However, the appointment of He Lifeng, who was the head of the state planning department, as a vice-premier, suggests that changes are indeed on the agenda.

The rise of Li Qiang, Xi's number two in the CCP and now appointed China's premier, illustrates three key features of CCP policy; continued support for big capital, the unchallengeable power of the party and total subordination to Xi Jinping. Li was the Shanghai party chief who persuaded Elon Musk to build his mega Tesla factory in the city but also enforced the most complete, and often deadly, lockdown on China's commercial capital, as instructed by Xi.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the real meaning of "One Country, Two Systems", otherwise known as "Hong Kong Governs, Beijing Rules", was being demonstrated in the law courts and the streets. 47 members of opposition parties, many of them former members of the city's Legislative Council, are on trial for having the temerity to hold "primary elections" to choose their candidates for an election in September 2020, which was then postponed.

As the prosecution explained, the defendants had planned to maximise their voting support, thereby enhancing their chances of winning sufficient seats to block government supported legislation. This constituted a conspiracy under the terms of the National Security Law imposed on June 20, 2020!

On March 8, International Women's Day, members of the city's League of Social Democrats were threatened with arrest if they attended a women's rights march - and the march was abruptly cancelled. The same day, Elizabeth Tang, former leader of a Domestic Workers' Union and wife of Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the 47 and a former LegCo member, was arrested on suspicion of "foreign collusion".

On Saturday, March 11, three leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance that organised the huge 2019 Tiananmen Massacre memorial demonstration, having been found guilty of failing to respond to a request for data from the National Security Police, were sentenced to four and a half months in prison. The significance of the trial lies not so much in the sentence but in its potential use as preparation for a further prosecution for subversion and acting as agents of "a foreign power" - in which the guilty verdict will, no doubt, be presented as "evidence".

Refusing to be silenced by the presiding judge, one of the three, Chow Hang Tung, insisted on justifying their actions in a final speech from the dock. We reproduce that speech, both as a gesture of solidarity and as a tribute to her courage:

"Your worship, we know as a matter of fact that we are not foreign agents, and nothing has emerged in this year-long ordeal that proves otherwise. To sentence us in such circumstances is about punishing people for defending the truth.

The truth is that national security is being used as a hollow pretext to wage an all-out war on civil society. The truth is that our movement for human rights and democracy is home grown and not some sinister foreign implant. The truth is that people here have a voice of their own that will not be silenced.

The Alliance is no stranger to the cost of speaking truth to power. We should know as we have been guarding the truth of the Tiananmen Massacre for over 30 years and have campaigned for many of those gaoled and harassed and humiliated for telling that truth. We have long been prepared to pay the price.

With the notices and the degrading designation as foreign agents, the government was effectively saying to us, bend your knees, betray your friends, betray your cause, accept the state's absolute authority to know all and decide all, and you shall have peace.

What we are saying with our action is simply one word: NEVER. An unjust peace is no peace at all. Never will we surrender our independence from the state. Never will we help delegitimise our own movement by endorsing the government's false narrative. Never will we treat ourselves and our friends as potential criminals just because the government says we are.

Instead, we will continue doing what we have always done, that is, to fight falsehood with truth, indignity with dignity, secrecy with openness, madness with reason, division with solidarity. We will fight these injustices wherever we must, be it on the streets, in the courtroom, or from the prison cell. This battle, including what we have done in this case, is a battle we have to fight here, in this city we call home. For our freedom to be ourselves is at stake. For the future of our city, and even of the wider world, is at stake.

Your worship, today's hearing comes at an ironic time. While false people's representatives are having their grand gathering in Beijing, busy endorsing one man's wishes as those of the nation, genuine voices of the people are being denied that recognition in this courtroom. When the nation's interest is defined by one party, or indeed, one person, so-called “national security” would inevitably become a threat to the people's right and security, nationally and even globally, as demonstrated by Tiananmen, by Xinjiang, by Ukraine and, indeed, Hong Kong.

Compared with those imagined agents of unidentifiable foreign entities, surely the concrete but unaccountable state power is the more dangerous beast. The government always emphasises the priority of One Country, Two Systems, but that doesn't mean as citizens of this country, we bear the primary responsibility to rein in this beast that threatens the world. Which is why we did what we did, and why we can never give up.

Sir, sentence us for our insubordination if you must, but when the exercise of power is based on lies, being insubordinate is the only way to be human. This is my submission."