By Palden Sonam
The last day of Apple Daily looked surreal in a way –with hundreds of people queuing up outside its office as if they are attending a funeral ceremony in order to get a copy of the last issue of pro-democratic newspaper. This simple act of buying a copy of the newspaper symbolises an expression of grief over the death of the newspaper and also solidarity with the cause it represents. However, the harsh reality is that, the political assassination of newspaper by the Beijing regime is seen as one of the last nails on coffin of freedom of speech and free press in Hong Kong.
The series of events unfolding in Hong Kong in the recent past do not herald the approaching dawn of human freedom and dignity. Instead, some of the repressive tactics employed in China’s colonies like Tibet and East Turkistan (Xinjiang) have been exported to the city once deemed as the last beacon of hope for a democratic transition and basic human rights in China. However, that hope seems shattered –at least for the moment, and a dark cloud of totalitarianism looms large after the One Country, Two Systems was dismantled and a draconian National Security Law (NSL) was imposed followed by rounding up of dissidents and journalists.
The crushing of Apple Daily under the politically motivated NSL just barely a week away from the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CCP) has different symbolisms for different people. For the dictatorial regime, maybe it means a great political victory –an extra cherry on its 100th birthday cake, but for Hong Kong, it represents the transition from a relative autonomy to a repressive authoritarianism –an extra chain on Beijing’s fetters.
As the party celebrates its 100th anniversary, it goes on with a heavy dose of selective amnesia by emphasizing its revolutionary, reformative and now rejuvenating roles in the development and transformation of China into a global power. Indeed, the one-party state is powerful and pervasive –transforming itself into a more intrusive avatar of the Orwellian Big Brother.
However, the people in whose name it has been ruling, are yet to get what they deserve –their basic civil and political liberties and human rights. They have been reduced to cogs in the totalitarian machine and denied them the agency and choice as human beings. The party decides almost everything for them including their truth and enemy. However, more than self-praising, the party needs some serious introspections and honest confessions.
As a part of its centenary celebration, CCP launched massive propaganda campaign to study the party’s history highlighting its achievements. However, what is more interesting is not what the party prefers to remember but what it fears to be remembered by its own people. The Great leap-forward famine, the destruction and mayhem of Cultural Revolution and the most important –the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 are only conspicuous by their omission as if these political disasters did not happen under the party’s supervision.
Likewise, Beijing has been relentless not only in erasing public memory of its occupation and repression in Tibet and Xinjiang but also the systematic suppression of Tibetan and Uighur national identities and basic human rights. They are made to celebrate the occupation as liberation and cultural genocide as civilization and the prevailing structural violence as modernization and development.
Under the reign of terror and intimidation, the Tibetan and Uyghur people are forced to accept these humiliations. For Chinese people, the party have been feeding them the happy pill of a coming super power but what it holds for them if it means more repression at home and more tension and conflicts abroad.
The current party boss Xi Jinping has peddled the idea of China Dream of national rejuvenation but what he has been doing is the consolidation of the party’s power and privileges in a way that solidifies his position and that of his Gang. Like Mao’s Cultural Revolution, his anti-corruption campaign turned out be a political strategy to purge the members of his rival factions.
With his factional politics and ideological orthodoxy, instead of rejuvenating China, Xi has it regressed back into the Maoist era of ideological intolerance and repression rooted in a pathological paranoia induced by regime insecurity as well as his own. The more he consolidates power, the more he behaves as if he is possessed by the ghost of Mao whose misrule killed more than 45 million Chinese people and cause unimaginable suffering and catastrophe to the people. If anything, instead of emulating Mao, Xi needs to inoculate himself against Maoist tendencies and temperaments. This is not a question of allegiance but urgency, not conviction but courage.
Speaking of courage, the party has never shown once, it neither has the moral courage to admit it’s wrongdoings nor it has the political courage to correct its totalitarian system. However, as an irony of different kind, Xi has asked the Chinese people to have at least four confidences but at the same time, his regime has gone on a banning spree –banning books, thoughts and even cartoon characters and rounding up human rights lawyers and intellectuals and incarcerating more than a million Uyghurs in re-education concentration camps. Where is the confidence then?
Nevertheless, like a mouse has a hole to hide, the regime has always found a pretext to hide its dirty politics. And the issue of national security and social stability has been its political safe havens. Time and again, it finds an imaginary external enemy and alerts vigilance against it ensued by a political witch-hunt. It always declares that the sword of the party has aimed at the external enemy. But it has always been smashing the same head –the heads of Chinese people in general and particularly the heads of Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians and now Hong Kongers.
Similarly, with Hong Kong and its Apple Daily, in the name of national security, the Beijing regime has reduced a global city that was source of dreams and inspirations for many people to a source of political refugees. Again with Apple Daily, China declared that it is going to chop the hands of some foreign devils, but in reality, it is voice of the Hong Kong people that has been throttled to silence. After passing the NSL, Beijing declared that it has put Hong Kong in the hands of patriots but in reality the city has fallen into hands of some parrots who are eager to wet their beaks in Beijing’s Mao-tai.
However, what it remains true is, if People’s Daily of CCP represents the poverty of one truth and voice, the Apple Daily represents the possibility and celebration of more than one truth and one voice. On the party’s founding day, Xi and his acolytes may make a toast on the death of Apple Daily, but the spirit of the pro-democratic newspaper will live on with the people. Will Xi and his Gang have the courage to make another toast for that spirit too?
(Views expressed are his own)
The author is a visiting fellow at Tibet Policy Institute, a think tank under the Central Tibetan Administration.