When James To's mother was persecuted by Mao Zedong's soldiers,
his father swam to Hong Kong to establish a new family home. For Mr.
To, a youthful and bespectacled Hong Kong legislator, the story is
burned deeply in family memory, and adds to the collective identity
of Hong Kong as a place of escape, transit, and refuge for people
That identity, and the strong East-meets-West contrasts that
still exist between an open Hong Kong and an opening China, has been
put to the test in recent weeks over a "national security bill" that
protesters feel could threaten the civil liberties of the commercial
"Hong Kong is a place where people have always thought
differently," says To, a Democratic Party member and core supporter
of three major protests since July 1 that have caught the leaders of
China by surprise. "Deng Xiaoping once said that Hong Kong is a
'base of subversion.' In some ways he was right."
Tensions over Hong Kong's feisty season of protests were raised a
discernable notch by Beijing this week. An editorial in the Monday
Hong Kong edition of China Daily, a top Party news organ, condemned
democrats like To for turning the protests "into a vehicle for
subverting the political system in Hong Kong [and] undermining the
authority of the chief executive."
The people of Hong Kong should "pull themselves together," and
"think carefully what they should do next," the editorial stated.
Though the editorial did not appear in the mainland China edition of
the paper, it represents the first official statement by Beijing,
nearly two weeks after some 500,000 people marched to protest what
is called here the "draconian" Article 23.
Two smaller protests ensued, on July 9 and July 13, as lawyers,
legislators, civic activists, and church leaders have decided to
channel widespread public anger over the Beijing-backed chief
executive Tung Che Hwa into a more affirmative desire for what is
known as "full democracy." That means the initiation of moves toward
direct elections for Hong Kong's top leader and 60-seat legislature.
Since July 1, Mr. Tung has said nothing about the "universal
suffrage" asked for by the protesters - though it is an eventuality
promised in the Basic Law that governs Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Article
23 is seen as a means for Beijing to target groups like the Falun
Gong spiritual movement, some fundamentalist Christian sects, and
pro-Tibet or Taiwan groups. (Most Hong Kong-nese support the concept
of a national security bill, but not the version that the government
here tried to pass.)
The origins of the controversial law date to the 1989 Tiananmen
Squareepisode in Beijing, when students chanting democratic slogans
were shot at by Chinese soldiers called in to restore order.
Many of those student protesters fled to Hong Kong - a
traditional haven for social and political activists in Chinese
history. At that time, negotiations between Britain and China over
Hong Kong's return were well underway. After Tiananmen, Beijing
insisted that Article 23 be included in the Basic Law as a means of
curbing "anti- revolutionary" behavior, or subversion. …