Apple Daily Special Edition

The Uphill Battle for Freedom of Expression

By Finn Lau
The front page of Apple Daily in June 2021 after the arrest of its senior executives. The newspaper would be forced to shut down the same month. (Bloomberg)

Freedom of expression is not free. It never is. Whilst people enjoy freedom of expression in most developed countries nowadays, it was forged with tons of blood, toil and tears over many years. In some countries, like Hong Kong and Thailand, the fight continues in the 21st century before seeing any lights in the tunnel.

Back in 2019, upon the introduction of the extradition bill which sparked the most recent pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, the doctrine of “laam chau” has steered the movement throughout 2019-21. The doctrine and strategy of “Laam Chau” is a Cantonese slang term for the “If we burn, you burn with us” sentiment which you might be familiar with from the Hunger Games. This slogan has echoed through the streets of Hong Kong and the Internet, reflecting and reinforcing Hongkongers’ determination and our “Give us liberty or death.” sentiment. Hongkongers willingly adopt the ‘laam chau’ strategy because we have come to terms with the idea that if our own demise is the only way to take down the CCP, then we are up for it — anyone who’s had a taste of the CCP’s oppression will be able to understand.

So, what’s the reason why Hongkongers are keen to burn with the CCP even when it implies self-destruction?

In essence, Hongkongers have been burned by the CCP since the 1960s. Whilst almost all former colonies around the world were granted the right of self-determination under the United Nations, Hongkongers were deprived of such a basic right and any comprehensive democratic reforms due to Beijing’s militant threats and pressure. Worse still, Britain was forced to hand over Hong Kong to China in 1997. Although Hong Kong should, in theory, be protected by the UN-lodged Sino-British Joint Declaration, for 50 years, we have instead witnessed the accelerating dismantlement of Hong Kong’s autonomy, democracy and its people’s civil liberties.

Whilst Jimmy Lai has been put into jail, a number of Apple Daily’s executive directors and journalists were arrested under the NSL. The assets of the media group have also been frozen without any trial to warrant the penalty. This cash flow cut-off resulted in the shutdown of the largest pro-democracy mass media and the last pro-democracy paper print in Hong Kong. In 2021, more than 50 civil society organisations have been forced directly or indirectly to disband in Hong Kong, with Amnesty International’s Hong Kong branch being added to the latest list.

But then many of you may ask: Is Hong Kong doomed for real? Is there anything that the international community could do to help?

Well, it may sound paradoxical, but many Hongkongers, including myself, believe Hong Kong can be reborn and rise again someday. And, we, the Hongkongers, are probably on the right path. Between the 1980s and 2019, all democracies in the world, especially the US, used to adopt the so-called “Engagement Policy” as the underpinning principle to their foreign policy towards China. However, it only ended up with the rise of a totalitarian giant who has mastered the dark art of infiltration and control of other countries. This regime has additionally been convicted the crime of genocide.

Today, following our final awakening to the CCP’s heavy hand in 2019, we continue on our journey outwards to pass on our hard-earned learnings to the world. Fortunately, the world seems to also be waking up after 2019 and the paradigm has gradually shifted from the Engagement Policy to a tough China policy, thereby starting to contain Beijing’s infiltration and regional hegemony. What the international community, including Switzerland, has to do is to continue moving away from feeding and over-relying on the bloodstained chinese moneys. Only by starving the CCP economically with measures such as collective sanctions, may we have a fair chance to prevent hot wars and encroachment by such an aggressive regime. Looking at the collapse of the USSR, history can repeat if we jointly adopt the right strategy. When the CCP collapses, Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang will be freed like the Baltic States.

Finn Lau is the founder of Hong Kong Liberty and Stand With Hong Kong. He is a guest editor at the Geneva Summit’s special edition of Apple Daily.