Pro-democracy activists formed a human chain across Hong Kong, recreating a historic anti-Soviet demonstration known as the Baltic Way to denounce China’s infringement on the semi-autonomous city.
“The Baltic Way have shown the power of solidarity & non-violent movement,” Joshua Wong, a leading activist in the protests that have gripped the former British colony this summer, tweeted Friday. “We hope HK Way could let the world to see our demand in freedom and democracy. HKers are facing what Baltic were facing from USSR 30 yrs ago, we must win in this battle!”
The 30-mile human chain marks the second major peaceful assembly in the two weeks since Beijing accused the protesters of engaging in “terrorism,” following clashes at Hong Kong International Airport. The dramatic display undermines the mainland Communist regime’s denunciation of the protesters, though the homage to the dissidents who demanded freedom from the Soviet Union in 1989 is expected to stoke Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unease about protests.
“The Chinese Communist Party has always seen Hong Kong as a frontline battle between them and the West,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told the Washington Examiner.
Those suspicions have been on display for weeks, with China accusing the United States and the United Kingdom of fomenting the unrest.
The latest demonstration was modeled on the Baltic Way, a human chain of two million that was formed on Aug. 23, 1989, by Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians to protest the Soviet occupation.
“Today in many places around the world there were commemoration events, including Washington D.C. — around 800 people linked hands in front of the US Capitol,” a spokesman at Latvia’s embassy in Washington, D.C., told the Washington Examiner. “Our hope is that this nonviolent protest for freedom inspires all peoples anywhere in the world to achieve freedom in peaceful ways.”
Inspired by the Baltic Way demonstration on 23 Aug 1989, tens of thousands of #Hongkongers gathered in multiple districts in #HongKong to form a pro-democracy #HKWay human chain tonight, in hopes of raising international awareness of the current #antiELAB movement. #FreedomHK pic.twitter.com/PdBXpNoNgo— Freedom HK (@FreedomHKG) August 23, 2019
The Hong Kong protests began in early June, when the Beijing-backed local government tried to pass an extradition bill that would allow mainland Chinese authorities to take custody of Hong Kong residents based on flimsy evidence. Dissidents regarded the bill as little more than “legalized kidnapping.”
The three former Soviet vassal states declared independence seven months later, making Friday’s assembly a particularly daring display, and a troubling sight for the Communist leaders in Beijing.
“They're terrified of this spreading,” retired Air Force Gen. Robert Spalding, a China expert at the Hudson Institute in Washington, said Friday. "And drawing historical parallels to, particularly, nations that are now free? That's really problematic.”
Beijing seized on the airport clashes as examples of “terrorism” that would eventually necessitate a violent repression, if the protesters refused to stand down. Rubio, who sees that as a serious threat, plans to jump-start the effort to pass a bill that would give President Trump the ability to revoke Hong Kong’s special economic status under federal law if China stages a crackdown.
“Right now, commerce from Hong Kong is treated as distinct from whatever [policy] applies to commerce from China,” he said. “Our public policy, in my view, would have to be immediately changed if in fact they move in.”
The persistence of the protests is a problem for an autocrat who has instructed the Chinese people to “cherish ethnic unity like cherishing our lives” — doubly embarrassing, Rubio suggested, given that Hong Kong issues fell within Xi’s portfolio prior to his ascension to the pinnacle of the Chinese Communist system.
“It's personal to Xi,” Rubio said. “I think it's a high priority. I think he's personally directing a lot of the response there.”
The formation of the Hong Kong Way took place just days after 1.7 million turned out for a peaceful denunciation of the extradition bill and the Beijing-backed government’s tolerance for police brutality.
“I think they're in the driver's seat now,” Spalding said. “They've basically demonstrated that they're not going to rise to the baiting.”