Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Trudeau's near-silence on the Hong Kong protests has been deafening

Trudeau's near-silence on the Hong Kong protests has been deafening

Opinion: Perhaps motivated by electoral or trade concerns, the PM has been inconspicuously silent about the increasingly violent situation

Aug 13 2019

Riot police use pepper spray to disperse protesters during a mass demonstration at the Hong Kong international airport on Aug. 13, 2019.

Aside from the United Kingdom and China, no country has a greater stake in what happens in Hong Kong than Canada. As of 2014, approximately 300,000 Canadian citizens were residing in Hong Kong — the largest concentration of Canadians in Asia. The Canadian Consulate General in Hong Kong estimates there are about 500,000 Hongkongers who reside in Canada — more than there are in mainland China, the United States or the United Kingdom.
Hong Kong and its people have played a rich and vibrant role in Canadian culture, contributing to countless businesses and creative endeavours. From Denise Ho (who grew up in Montreal and attended Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf) and is now a popular Cantopop singer and pro-democracy activist based in Hong Kong, to students studying in Canada and expressing and developing their unique perspective on individual liberty in a Chinese context, both Hong Kong and Canada have been enriched significantly by the confluence and interactions between its two peoples and societies.
Hong Kong and its people have played a rich and vibrant role in Canada
Yet the public response from Canadian officials, faced with the scope and import of the recent surge in protests in Hong Kong, seems disproportionately lacking.
Outgoing British Prime Minister Theresa May has raised the issue of Hong Kong and the protests that have erupted over a proposed extradition law, several times with members of senior Chinese leadership in a public manner.
A search for her name and Hong Kong returns over 14 million results, with her pledging to raise the issue with Vice Premier Hu Chunhua and President Xi Jinping.
A spokesperson for May called on free speech and assembly rights in Hong Kong to be respected — and she made a public statement saying that “we have been unequivocal in our views, it is vital that those extradition arrangements are in line with the rights and freedoms that were set down in that … Joint Declaration.” Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, urged the Hong Kong government to “listen to the concerns of its people” and warned of “serious consequences” if China resorted to repression. “The United Kingdom views this situation very, very seriously.” he would add.
Pro-democracy protestors block an entrance at Hong Kong’s international airport after a scuffle with police on Aug. 13, 2019. 
Public searches for Justin Trudeau and Hong Kong return many fewer results, with about 1.8 million results on Google. While he has made strong statements of concern about Canadian citizens detained by mainland China, our prime minister has not made any strong public statements about Hong Kong. In fact, in 2016, when he visited Hong Kong, he reiterated that Canada “will work with whoever gets elected and forms government in foreign jurisdictions” and focused more on trade and the “revitalization” of the relationship between mainland China and Canada.
Yet, Trudeau has not been shy about publicly critiquing democratically elected governments across a spectrum of issues, from the Duterte government in the Philippines to Trump in the United States. This is without commenting on the particular brand of democracy in Hong Kong, a form of democracy that explicitly bans pro-independence views and which has mainland Chinese officials determine who can be elected to serve as chief executive of the territory. Current chief executive Carrie Lam, the target of Hong Kong’s anti-extradition protests, ascended to power only after being vetted by Beijing’s nominating committee.
Trudeau has not been shy about publicly critiquing democratically elected governments
Perhaps motivated by electoral or trade concerns, Prime Minister Trudeau has been inconspicuously silent about the state of affairs in Hong Kong. While Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland made a public statement on Hong Kong’s protests, it seemed a pale echo of May and Hunt’s mildest critiques and actions (since supplanted by their actions in the face of Chinese criticism, including summoning the Chinese ambassador for a dressing down), diluted by the silence from our own prime minister. After that June 12 statement by Freeland, which received a lashing response from the Chinese embassy, there has been no further public comment — even as the situation in Hong Kong has escalated dramatically.
Compare and contrast it with U.S. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement expanding on specific concerns with the extradition law, actual and tangible consequences in how Congress will view Hong Kong, proposed legislation to strengthen those consequences, and a strong statement of support for protesters — and it can be hard to interpret the echo of concern from Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department to be little more than a placeholder in the way of resolute support or consequences for repression.
A protester shows a placard to stranded travellers during a demonstration at Hong Kong’s international airport on Aug. 13, 2019.
As co-ordinated thugs beat Hongkongers for expressing themselves and protesting, and a wave of radicalism descends on both pro and anti-extradition protesters amid increasing despair over the Hong Kong government’s apathy, a tepid statement of concern and consensus-building from Foreign Affairs with no direct support from the prime minister is not sufficient for the persistent and conscience-driven protests in Hong Kong.
The scope of the protests have widened to fundamentally question Hong Kong’s view of China’s “One country, two systems” and its methods have expanded to incidents of violence, some of it explicitly co-ordinated. This is a changing and charged discussion that no matter what the Embassy of China says, very much remains in Canada’s purview as a host of the world’s largest Hongkonger expatriate community and as a steward and guarantor of the rights of 300,000 of its citizens residing in Hong Kong.
In Trudeau’s book Common Ground, he writes “My idea of freedom is that we should protect the rights of people to believe what their conscience dictates.” Hong Kong represents a tailor-made opportunity for him to display his leadership and put his words into practice.

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