Note: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the authors.
Our demand for democracy in Hong Kong has not died, despite the growing risks of raising them in the former British colony since the Chinese government imposed the draconian “National Security Law” in 2020. The law followed crackdowns on dissidents in relation to the mass protests against a controversial extradition bill in 2019, and a primary election among pro-democracy politicians and activists. Hundreds of politicians and activists have been detained on trumped up charges like “subversion.” The battlefield has now expanded overseas with the movement blossoming around the world, with solidarity initiatives to support Hongkongers in Europe, North America and Australia. Now, we also hope to see more solidarity efforts here in Japan.
While most Hong Kong activists who fled overseas have moved to the traditional safe havens of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States, a sizable number, around 30,000-40,000, have set up home in Japan. The country has always been popular among Hongkongers, thanks to its popular culture, food and other attractions, and some Hongkongers even amusingly regard Japan as their “home country.”
Now, some of us have established the “Japan Hong Kong Democracy Alliance,” to amplify the voice of Hong Kongers and become a platform for pro-democracy groups to fight the rising threat of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) repression. Our emphasis is on the human rights crisis in Hong Kong but we want to encourage collaborations among different democratic camps across Asia and the world. We are open to all forms of cooperation on non-violent actions, including through art, cultural and creative activities.
Through the Alliance, we aim to build a stronger solidarity network in the region to continue the fight for democracy, not just for Hong Kong, but to work together with others in the fight against all the tyrannies in the region. For instance, the military junta in Myanmar and Thailand, the crackdown on journalists in the Philippines, and the repression of minorities and political dissidents in China and Vietnam might seem remote to Hongkongers, but we should also be aware of how the legitimacy of dictatorship and undemocratic regimes need to be questioned, otherwise democracy and the rule of law will never authentically happen in our societies.
Solidarity efforts like the Milk Tea Alliance, an online-based, informal network of youth-led pro-democracy movements in Asia, are thus more important than ever to ensure that democracy remains a mainstream,universal value, one that should be high on the agenda for international relations in Asia. In addition to calling for continuous international attention to Hong Kong’s situation, we also believe that solidarity with other Asian activists is the key to achieve our common goal – to build genuine democratic societies in the region. We want to be part of these solidarity networks and share our experiences of applying creative activities to promote democracy. We hope to show that while we Hongkongers are asking others to support our cause, we can also contribute to the growing ripples of support for other Asians in their struggle for democracy and human rights.
This year, Japan will host the G7 in Hiroshima, a place of huge significance. Unfortunately, while most other G7 countries have already either imposed sanctions on China for human rights violations or provided visa schemes for activists facing prosecutions, Japan has been slow to hold China accountable for the repression of human rights and geopolitical stability in the region. There has been no parliamentary agenda to discuss sanctioning Hong Kong and Chinese officials or entities for violating Hong Kong’s autonomy, nor has there been any initiative in providing special refugee protection or residence status for Hong Kong activists in Japan.
Thus, one of our first projects will be coordinating a campaign with other Hong Kong activist groups around the world to urge the G7 countries to set up a common standard for sanctions against China and other authoritarian regimes. When public statements and diplomatic meetings become less effective against regimes like China, we believe that sanctions are a measure that can show some real impact and put pressure on countries that do not follow international norms and violate human rights and democracy.
We should not turn a blind eye and accept how the Chinese government repeatedly accuses other countries of “interfering with domestic affairs” whenever their human rights records are questioned. The deterioration of civil liberties and human rights in one country could lead to political and economic instability in the whole region. We believe Japan has the chance and capacity to act as a bridgehead in encouraging, consolidating and amplifying pro-democracy voices in Asia.
To maximize and enrich the impact made by the campaign, an art exhibition will be held in parallel, to inform the Japanese public of human rights issues in Hong Kong through storytelling. The aim is to foster a favorable public opinion foundation and to allow pro-democracy ideas from Hong Kong to continue to be produced and disseminated, safely, overseas. It will also provide a unique opportunity for artistic exchange between Hongkongers,Japanese, Asian and international artists and activists.
The geopolitical situation in the region means many of us, including Hongkongers, face the same challenge imposed by rising China. China’s threat of aggression against democratic Taiwan in the name of “unification,” not only puts the island state at risk, but it also exposes Japan and South Korea to economic and security risks. If autocracy prevails over democracy, there will be serious implications for all of us, not only in East Asia, but in every corner of the world.