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On National Day, Xi calls for unity and protesters march overseas

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
October 05, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China marked National Day over the weekend with goose-stepping soldiers, calls for national unity and an army-produced anime film depicting ‘unification’ with the democratic island of Taiwan – as protesters against Communist Party rule took to the streets of cities around the world.

“Our future is bright, but the road ahead will not be smooth,” President Xi Jinping told hundreds of guests at a dinner reception in the Great Hall of the People ahead of Sunday’s anniversary.

“Unity is strength, and confidence is worth more than gold,” he said, in comments that were carried on the front page of the People’s Daily newspaper on Oct. 1, marking the 74th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s proclaiming of the People’s Republic from the rostrum of Tiananmen.

Meanwhile, in a cutesy anime film, the Eastern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army hinted at the army’s readiness to invade Taiwan. The movie depicted mythological characters yearning to reinhabit a famous landscape painting located in Taiwan.

“’Dreams Come True on the Fuchun River’ … incorporates elements such as aircraft carrier formations and J-20 fighter jets, highlighting the tremendous progress and ever-changing capabilities of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army,” the nationalistic Global Times tabloid reported about the film.

“It also demonstrates the PLA’s firm determination to safeguard national sovereignty and security,”  the paper said.

London protests

In London, hundreds of people took to the streets over the weekend with banners supporting Uyghurs, Mongolians, Tibetans and Hong Kongers, with some shouting “Hong Kong is not China!” They marched from Trafalgar Square to the Chinese Embassy, where some protesters tore up a Chinese national flag, letting it get run over by passing traffic.

The U.S.-based Campaign for Uyghurs called on people around the world to peacefully protest in front of Chinese embassies and consulates, demanding an end to the atrocities committed against the Uyghur people, to mark China’s National Day.

“China’s National Day is not a day of celebration for the Uyghur people,” the group’s executive director Rushan Abbas said in a statement. “It is a painful reminder of the 74 years of suffering we have endured due to China’s occupation of East Turkistan.” 

“By protesting peacefully in front of Chinese embassies and consulates around the world, we can collectively raise our voices and demand an immediate end to the genocidal policies and abuses against the Uyghur population.”

Tibetan groups around the world — including Students for a Free Tibet, the Tibetan Youth Congress, and the National Democratic Party of Tibet — also took part in a Global Day of Action against China’s Communist Party on Sunday for its repressive policies in Tibet.

Tsewang Dhondup, the vice president of Students for a Free Tibet in France, described the anniversary as “a black day for us,” although he was encouraged by what he said was the growing annual participation of younger Tibetans in the protest. Pasang, the president of the group’s India chapter, called on the international community to “put pressure on the Communist Chinese regime to stop their atrocities.”

Meanwhile, police in Hong Kong surrounded and detained a man holding a bunch of white mourning flowers outside the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay on Sunday, wearing the black colors of the 2019 protest movement and a banned slogan from the protests that read: “Go Hong Kong!”

The man was taken away and the area cordoned off by police, according to the City of Chaos Facebook page, which posted a video clip of the incident, while the authorities deployed around 7,000 police officers across the city, with the anti-terrorism squad and armored cars patrolling the busy pedestrian areas around Causeway Bay.

A Hong Kong protester in London who gave only the nickname Mavis for fear of reprisals said many people in Britain aren’t aware of the differences between her home city and China, which has rolled back the city’s promised freedoms in response to waves of popular pro-democracy movements, blaming interference by “hostile foreign forces.”

‘We have responsibilities’

A Hong Konger surnamed Ng said he goes to every Hong Kong protest, because he feels he has a responsibility.

“There are Hong Kong people wherever you go, and certain things need to be done,” Ng said. “As regular citizens, we have responsibilities.”

“If you care about a place, you will naturally want to do something to help it, and we still identify as Hong Kongers,” he said. “Even here in the U.K., we will always feel like we will one day go back there.”

A protester who gave only the initial J said he hails from the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, but feels he has more in common with Hong Kongers than with Chinese Communist Party propaganda.

“After I got to the U.K., I decided to connect with some of my brothers from Hong Kong, because we have a common enemy in the Chinese Communist Party,” J said. “They don’t just deprive Hong Kongers of their freedoms, they harm the rest of the country, too.”

Tokyo march

Similar protests were seen over the weekend in several British cities, while dozens of Uyghurs, Tibetans, Mongolians and Hong Kongers rallied outside the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo after marching through the downtown hub of Shibuya.

“We are strongly dissatisfied with the oppression of the Chinese Communist Party of the Chinese people and of all ethnic groups,” a speaker said at the start of the march. “We want to make our voices heard today!” 

“Give Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang and Hong Kong their freedom back!” chanted the protesters, who numbered nearly 100.

Sonam Dolker of the Japan Tibetan Association said she was part of the group of activists who protested outside of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.

“To see tourists and Japanese supporters expressing solidarity with us on the Global Day of Action against Chinese atrocities was very encouraging,” she said.

When the marchers arrived at the Chinese Embassy, Japanese police prevented more than five demonstrators from gathering outside at any time, sending them in to make their protests in groups by turn.

Sawut Muhammad, director of the Japan Uyghur Association, said Oct. 1 is a day of “national mourning” for Uyghurs, because their home country of East Turkestan was subsumed by the People’s Republic of China on that day.

“Some people have raised the issue of Uyghur forced labor,” he said. “Such products are also exported to Japan, and some products from Xinjiang can also be seen on sale in Japan.”

“So at this time, we would like to strongly appeal to democratic countries, including Japan, to pay attention to the Uyghur issue, and even more attention to the issue of Uyghur forced labor,” he said.

A protester from the southern province of Guangzhou who gave only the surname Chen said he had emigrated to Japan in recent years due to ever-widening authoritarian rule in China.

“China is becoming more and more authoritarian,” he said. “If you say something online that the government doesn’t want to hear, your account will be blocked and some netizens will report you.” 

‘We have to stand up’

On the democratic island of Taiwan, Hong Kongers braved heavy rain to warn people of Beijing’s attempts at influence and infiltration.

“Freedom and democracy collapsed in Hong Kong due to the infiltration of the Chinese Communist Party,” Taiwan-based activist Fu Tong told Radio Free Asia. “We don’t want other democratic countries to wind up like Hong Kong, so we have to stand up and tell everyone about our experience.”

“Democratic freedoms are easily harmed, and need protecting,” he said.

A Hong Konger who emigrated to Taiwan who gave only the initial A for fear of reprisals said Oct. 1 used to be a happy occasion for him, but since the 2019 protests and ensuing crackdown, he is reminded of how the city has changed.

“A lot of Hong Kongers turned out, despite the heavy rain,” A said. “Some didn’t show their faces, but stood at the back, keeping a low profile.”

Some protesters flew banners emblazoned with a slogan now banned back home, “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now!” while others brought along the yellow umbrellas symbolizing the pro-democracy movement.

Sky Fung, secretary-general of the Taiwan-based exile group Hong Kong Outlanders, said many more people were silent sympathizers.

“There were actually a lot of people all along the streets who silently took photos, [or who] showed their support,” Fung said. “It means we are still holding onto our beliefs, and we won’t give up until the day we achieve our goals.”

One participant who gave only the pseudonym Lam said she had flown in specially from Hong Kong.

“I was standing nearby to show support, because you can’t do something like this in Hong Kong any more,” she said. “Only if you come here.”

The rally ended with the singing of the banned protest anthem, “Glory to Hong Kong.”