Prospects for democracy and dissent are getting grimmer in Hong Kong. As China threatens to crack down hard on soft resistance too, panic is gripping dissenters of all hues in Hong Kong. Though the threats are vague and only suggestive, Hong Kongers are bracing for a winter of limitless censoring by their political bosses in the mainland. By soft resistance, China is hinting at spread of any information that defies its deputed central authorities in the island.

Facing Trials in the Courts

Broadly, soft resistance refers to protests registered through ideological works. Chinese officials say soft resistance includes “disseminating disinformation, creating panic, maliciously attacking the Special Administrative Region’s government, the central authorities, and distorting the Basic Law.” China insists the term includes the activities of various arms of the media that engage in “opinion manipulation” and spreading hatred. The term has been given a sweeping definition.

For Hong Kongers, who continue to dread the 2019 draconian security law, this is quite alarming. Chinese officials are making serious efforts to allay such fears. They are trying to convince the islanders that Hong Kong has moved from chaos to order. But, the reality on the ground disproves them. Anti-government discontent continues to explode on Hong Kong’s streets, countless protesters are still being arrested and facing trials in the nation’s courts. national-security-law-10-things-you-need-to-know/

Video Courtesy: Hong Kong Free Press

Doggedness Causing Headaches

As if these ominous signs are not enough, fresh warnings of soft resistance continue to emanate from the mainland. This points towards high possibility of fresh cycles of protests beginning soon. Despite the harsh security law, discontent is showing no signs of dying down. So delicate is the situation that even a minor provocation can explode into a massive showdown. Despite waves of emigration and unabating labour drain tormenting the region since 2019, Hong Kongers are determined to prove the Chinese bosses wrong.

This doggedness is causing big headaches for Chinese officials, who are losing no time in convincing Hong Kongers that information controls on the island are less stifling compared to the mainland. This claim is bound to fall flat soon. Chinese officials continue to argue that the internet in Hong Kong is not as extensively firewalled as in China. They persuade Hong Kongers to believe that popular social media platforms are not banned and blocked, as they are done in the mainland. Hong Kongers are not listening. Worse, their protests are poised for escalation. touted-rule-of-law-now-it-wont-say-what-the-law-is

Video Courtesy: Hong Kong Free Press

Stifling is Becoming Easier

The islanders are even made to appreciate that Hong Kong does not have the overpowering presence of the Chinese Communist Party. This is not true. Though the Party is not openly visible in the island, Hong Kongers can feel the prying eyes of the Big Brother watching their every move. Freedom of speech has always been under threat in Hong Kong, will be more so now. democracy/

The proof is in the consequences which have begun to show up. Unbiased independent analysts and commentators are vanishing fast. Negative comments on China are fading out from media in Hong Kong. As freewheeling sinocritical platforms become a rarity, Hong Kongers are alarmed at how fast these repressive measures on soft resistance are stifling their cause. Such stifling is becoming easier now as soft resistance was already a target in the island. kong-china-crackdown-democracy/

Not Bothering About Niceties

Then, what is it that the Chinese Communist Party is aiming to crack down on? What is left of the freedom of expression to curtail? Narcissistic China is sure to find newer areas for inclusion under soft resistance. The curtailing mind of China is so creative, it will find new areas for control soon. Like China made a plea in July asking the Hong Kong High Court to ban the Glory to Hong Kong song, the protest tune of the island’s freedom fighters.

Though the plea was rejected by the court, China is undeterred. As the Court saw no logic in banning the song, it delivered a stinker saying banning the song would mean a travesty of the freedom of speech. China is not the one to bother about democratic niceties like freedom of expression. Naturally, out of sheer desperation, authoritarian mainland is attempting to crack down on soft resistance of all hues and shades.

The Term Hangs So Loosely

The court verdict shows how the mainland and the island are poles apart. Such an order is impossible on the mainland. Time and again, Hong Kong has proved it is different from mainland China. The island provides access to the public, foreign visitors included, to witness Hong Kong’s national-security trials, which is not the case in China. That is why the world is able to know that most trials in Hong Kong are jokes, reflecting poorly on its justice system.

How long can Hong Kong go on like this? Not long, as the renewed crackdown on soft resistance suggests. The term is so vague that it can be interpreted to include every protest and every show of opposition, minor or major and regardless of its form. The term can be defined in every case to include that very case. The term hangs so loosely that it goes beyond usual crimes of secession and subversion. Without doubt, controls and crackdowns on soft resistance promise to go well beyond Hong Kong’s draconian national-security act. resistance/

Singing the Tune Nonstop

The Party has been using the term ‘soft resistance’ in media organs under its control. From the context in which the term is used, it is easy to understand the mindset of the Chinese authorities. The Party has misappropriated the prerogative of interpreting the term. It defines the term so widely that it includes any political activity that the authority does not like. For confirmation, ask Luo Hui-ning, the mainland official who came up with the idea of cracking down on soft resistance.

Mr Hui-ning had made a case in 2021 proving soft resistance is growing stronger in Hong Kong and needs curbing. China was quick to latch on to that suggestion. Since then, China has been gradually raising the heat on soft resistance in Hong Kong. This is evident in the zeal shown by Chinese officials in Hong Kong, who are now singing this soft-resistance tune nonstop. As the tune gets more strident by the day, it spells fresh threat for Hong Kong’s dissidents. is-soft-resistance-hong-kong-officials-vow-to-take-a-hard-line- against-it-but-provide-no-definition/

The Crackdown Has Begun to Work

In such a scenario, the Hong Kong High Court’s decision not to ban the Glory to Hong Kong protest song is a big dampener for China. Yet, China is treating it as a minor twitch in the muscle. Despite the court verdict, China is exploring avenues to restrict the spread of the song. This is where the new crackdown on soft resistance comes in handy. As China sees the song as subversive, the fear of a fresh crackdown is applying brakes on the song’s spread.

The fact that the song is not being played so enthusiastically as before proves fresh crackdowns have already begun to work. Anyway, for China, cracking down on soft resistance is not new. It has been playing this game for long in the mainland. The Chinese are not strangers to curtailment of freedom based on vague interpretations and loosely-worded statutes. China has tasted success in curtailing soft resistance at home and it is time to use the weapon in Hong Kong now. 28/debates/911DC7C5-1A33-447E-9FD913851FBC932/HongKongNationalSecurityLawAnniversary

Why Weaponise Soft Resistance

Mr John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong’s chief executive, exemplifies this thinking. Mr Lee is now singing China’s tune that ‘destructive forces’ in Hong Kong are engaging in soft resistance, not the mainland. The constant attempt to blur the boundaries of soft resistance is adding more firepower to Mr Lee’s elbows. Increasingly, the island’s two major Party-controlled newspapers, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po, reflect this phenomenon.

These newspapers toe the line of mainland officials unabashedly. As they act already as Party mouthpieces, the question is why this fresh crackdown on soft resistance. Why weaponise soft resistance when it is already a bottled genie in Hong Kong? The game plan is larger now to include even books, their publishing and distribution. to-curb-and-censor-rare-nationwide-protests-blames-forces-with- ulterior-motives/

Broadening the Definition

As the national security law already bans certain class of books, this signifies China’s unsatiated hunger for stifling soft resistance. This hunger is leading to the spread of self-censorship. Many libraries are throwing out books which they feel are sure to displease Chinese officials. Books glorifying the pro-democracy movement are given the boot from the shelves. Expect books on Tiananmen Square protests to vanish from book shelves soon. Liberal thinkers are viewing this development with concern.

China is making every effort to broaden the definition of soft resistance to include even dissent generated away from front lines. Consider the case of newspapers publishing stories on activists fighting for the rights of residents of subdivided flats, which are converted into multiple dwellings. Anyone complaining about government’s efforts to build subsidised flats is in serious trouble. Simply, housing cannot be used as a trigger for protests. Doing so is soft resistance that deserves punitive action. Instances like these are many. val-hong-kong-subsidised-homes-scheme-puts-onus-developers

The crackdown on soft resistance has reached the doorsteps of even film studios. Film-makers are feeling the heat of the new crackdown on soft resistance. Even harmless jokes and unoffending lines in a movie can invite the wrath of local administrators, who will apply the draconian rules mercilessly on such soft resistance. This is sending producers, investors, distributors and actors running for cover to safer climes outside Hong Kong.

The Poliphoon’s Last Word

The mindless crackdown on soft resistance will hit Hong Kong’s economy the hardest. The curbs are sure to threaten Hong Kong’s status as a global financial centre. With the administration reserving the right to proceed against anyone who is seen as a law-breaker anywhere in the world, liberal thinkers, creative minds and expat professionals are thinking twice about continuing to live and work in Hong Kong. Viewed from this perspective, fresh crackdowns on soft resistance are sure to prove counterproductive.