Back in early August, notes supporting the “freedom” movement in Hong Kong started to disappear from a public display called “the Lennon Wall” at the University of Sydney in Australia. Then, the whole wall space and another one similar to it were torn down, according to the student newspaper, by Mandarin-speaking students.
For many, this action and the people suspected of responsibility for it, sum up the divisions at this, and other university campuses in Australia, where the New York Times estimates some 150,000 students from China are enrolled, not to mention “tens of thousands” of Chinese-Australians.
The broad-brush analysis is that this is typical of the divisions the Hong King crisis has brought to these campuses, where most students from China oppose the Hong Kong independence movement, while most students of Chinese background, but Australian citizenship, strongly support it.
But many observers say, this easy division over-simplifies a much more complex set of issues, including who actually lines up on which side of the Hong Kong issue and why.
Two things students supporting Beijing and students supporting Hong Kong agree on: the issue has made people on both sides feel vulnerable and fearful, and made most wish there was more room for civil discussion on campus, and in the wider Australian society, of the Hong Kong crisis.
Many in Hong Kong; students, workers and elders echo that last aspiration. But between the time when we are recording this conversation and the time it will be broadcast, a weekend will intervene, and chances are incivility and violence will add to that same burden so many in Hong Kong share with the students in Australia – feelings of vulnerability and fear.
Last weekend 18 people were injured during violence linked to demonstrations against ever-growing Chinese control of Hong Kong, at least three were seriously hurt. 89 people were arrested, bringing to 1,500 the number of Hong Kongers jailed for their actions in behalf of a more independent government over more than three months of continued protests.
Globally, the mismatch between Hong Kong, with its population of about seven and one-half million, and China, population roughly one and a one-half billion, and the equally huge mismatch of moral imperatives, Hong Kong freedom and real autonomy, versus Chinese tyranny, has made Hong Kong the world’s sentimental favorite and the pragmatic “hopeless case.”
But with hope, as with baseball … in the immortal words of New York Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The dispute between rebellious citizens of Hong Kong and the rulers of both the local and the Chinese governments still seems far from ended.
Joseph Yi-Zheng Lian frequently offers op-ed comments on economic and political issues for the New York Times. He had been a regular columnist for the Hong Kong Economic Journal, but was fired after writing critically about the Beijing Government’s interference in Hong Kong local politics