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Church must speak out to support Hong Kong’s last stand

By Tim Lam

Hong Kong is dying.

Every day, the city inches closer to becoming a police state. The shadow of Tiananmen Square looms over the horizon as the People’s Liberation Army assembles just across the border.

I travel to Hong Kong regularly, usually to visit relatives. I lived there as a young boy and went to kindergarten in Tsim Sha Tsui, a popular tourist district that’s a strange mix of high-end shopping malls, mosques and museums.

But in recent weeks, Tsim Sha Tsui has become one of many battlegrounds between police and protestors, with the usual throng of tourists replaced by riot police indiscriminately firing tear gas and rubber bullets.

Hong Kong citizens this week crowdfunded newspaper ads in 11 countries, calling on the international community to support Hong Kong in its “Last Stand for Freedom”.

Yet the church in Australia – and globally – has largely remained silent as the people of Hong Kong struggle against the ever-tightening noose of the Chinese Communist Party.

This silence is particularly striking given the central role of Christians in the Hong Kong protests.

Many of the leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement – which in many ways planted the seeds of the current protests – are Christian.

Church volunteers and pastors are a common sight at protests, often acting as mediators to alleviate tension and discourage violence. Some have stood and prayed in front of riot police, acting as shields to protect protestors.

One of the reasons why so many Christians in Hong Kong oppose the proposed extradition Bill (which kickstarted these protests) is the threat it poses to religious freedom.

As a semi-autonomous region, Hong Kong has freedom of religion. About 10 per cent of the population are Christians, but there are also Muslims, Buddhists and people of other faiths.

My grandmother fled from China to Hong Kong by boat to escape the CCP. She wanted to live in a place where she could practice her faith openly, without fear of persecution.

But if Hong Kong becomes just another Chinese state, as the CCP intends it to be, this freedom to worship will vanish.

The Chinese state is officially atheist, but in reality there is one religion: The Chinese Communist Party. And in the Church of CCP, President Xi Jinping is God.

The crackdown on underground churches across China has increased under Xi’s rule.

Even more terrifying is the horrific treatment of Uyghur Muslims in East Turkestan (known as Xinjiang in China), where more than a million people are detained in “re-education camps”.

The church cannot stay silent. To do so is to reinforce the CCP narrative that what’s happening in Hong Kong is “China’s affairs”.

The battle for Hong Kong is a struggle against a brutal, authoritarian regime, and the Hong Kong protestors are the frontline of this resistance.

The future may seem bleak. A population of 7 million civilians is facing the largest military in the world.

But despite China’s threats, police violence and torrential rain, 1.7 million people joined in a peaceful march on 18 August.

That’s almost one in four people in Hong Kong. But they can’t win this fight alone.

On 16 August, a global day of solidarity for Hong Kong was held in cities across Australia, USA, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, France, Germany and many other countries.

I attended the Melbourne protest. What started out as a peaceful rally quickly turned violent when pro-CCP nationalists attempted to harass and intimidate pro-democracy supporters.

In one encounter captured on video, a pro-CCP supporter can be seen chastising a pro-Hong Kong democracy supporter, telling her “you deserve whatever freedom we give you”.

At the same time, we must remember ultra-nationalists do not represent all Chinese people, and we should always distinguish the Chinese state from Chinese people.

Many mainland Chinese people support the protests but can’t speak up because of the fear of repercussions.

Even in Australia, Hong Kong students are now afraid of publicly showing support because of death threats and ‘doxxing’ (leaking someone’s person details on social media).

At the Melbourne rally, I spotted a masked photographer taking photos of individuals in the pro-Hong Kong crowd.

The CCP behaves like a bully. It silences dissent through fear and intimidation.

That’s why we need to use our freedom of speech to speak up for those who cannot.

Hong Kong may be dying, but it’s not giving up without a fight.

The Uniting Church has a proud history of advocating for the oppressed, so this is a fight it should join.

Tim Lam lived in Hong Kong from age two until five and is a former employee of UCA Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

Tim Lam

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