Rebecca Karl, Thoughts from afar on Hong Kong, 1 January 2020

“Tout ce qui bouge n’est pas rouge” (“All that moves is not red”) 
Alain Badiou (speaking of the Yellow Vests in France)

The Hong Kong Basic Law (1997) was intended, among other things, to lock Hong Kongers into being cogs in the wheel of economic production, China’s in this case. Their political role, by Chinese-UK design, was to be constrained, and their obligations towards the Chinese State were neither to serve in the People’s Liberation Army military nor to participate centrally in the implementation of State or Party authority over political, ideological, or social life in general. There were certain political participatory measures granted by the Law, but these were minimal concessions wrung from both the British colonial government and the Chinese State by incipient HK activists at the time. Mostly, Hong Kongers were to be declared autonomous only in a very particular way: they were to be left to labor freely in the manufacturing and service sectors; to assist freely in the local, national, regional, and global accumulations of capital; and to enhance freely China’s then-emerging and now rigid nationalist project. At the same time, Hong Kongers were expected—along with albeit differently from regular PRC citizens—to suffer freely but in relative silence the depredations of the rapid and vast wealth and power polarizations manifested in the process of Hong Kong’s integration with the mainland. Maintaining a HK way of life was, from the Chinese State’s perspective, to uphold the State-imposed policed line between production (good and free) and politics (the preserve of the few). This was the premise and working practice of “one country two systems.”

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