HKCTU addressed the political situation in Hong Kong in a Swedish seminar

At 18:30 (HKT) on 17 June, a webinar was launched by Olof Palme International Center and ABF Stockholm to discuss the recent political situation in Hong Kong. Lee Cheuk Yan, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), was a guest in the webinar.

According to Lee, the political rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong have undergone serious challenges over the past year. Rallies were massively joined in June 2019 at first in opposition to the extradition bill legislation but subsequently banned as the campaign in Hong Kong could pose a threat to the political stability of labour and society in mainland China. The use of police baton, tear gas and even lethal guns shifted the public focus to anti-police brutality. Nonetheless, the government remained oppressive, arresting 9000, prosecuting 2000, some of whom are youngsters charged with rioting and even Lee himself with 7 charges, mainly on inciting people to join unauthorized assemblies.

Lee described the suppression as multi-level and revengeful towards the protests, in the way that a motion was passed in Beijing in May to launch a national security law without any public consultation. Under the new law it is an offense to collaborate with foreign powers, but the definition and criteria of collaboration are ambiguous; it is possible for international solidarity to be deemed as already foreign intervention. The bill is also flawed with the proposal of transferring the trials to China. The bill on national security is merely a pretense to deprive people of free speech, as in the case of Liu Xiaobo. The enactment implies the end of One Country, Two Systems as guaranteed in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, and puts every free union at the risk of transforming into state union.

Despite the threat from the national security law, Lee is excited to witness the union movement in Hong Kong modernizing itself, as numerous new unions emerged last year and engage HKCTU in staging a strike against the law. The new union movement manages to think out of the box of unfair elections and recurring police brutality when voicing out inside and outside the institutional structure respectively. HKCTU is aware, however, that struggles for workplace rights are also fundamental to sustaining these unions in the long run.

To Lee, this national security law embodies the Chinese authoritarian rule, which many countries still want to impress for trade and profits. The current COVID-19 pandemic gives the lesson that reliance on authoritarianism brings consequences to suffer. Countries should consider instead of embracing authoritarianism as the universal value in the long run, they should put people before profit, stand together against China, and show that the world is watching.

Eva Guovelin, chairperson of the Food Workers’ Union in Sweden, also agreed on the need for economic resistance against China, since it is double standard of the countries to maintain trade with China while hoping for political reform in China. She appreciated Lee’s presence at the recent congress of the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), which addressed and condemned China’s recent repressions. It is naive to keep working with the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. Alternatively, LO has managed close contacts with the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Chinese ambassadors regarding the situation in Hong Kong.

It is the consensus of the speakers that the international community should join forces in solidarity against the authoritarian threat from China.