A friend of mine showed me a shard of glass saying it was a souvenir from Hong Kong. My friend picked it up after students stormed Hong Kong's Legislative Council. It was "the spoils of war" for freedom and democracy, so to speak.
It is common knowledge that marches and protests have been continuing in Hong Kong since a so-called extradition bill was proposed. To the people of Hong Kong, the bill signifies the possibility of purported criminal suspects being transferred to mainland China.
In Hong Kong, which is governed under China's "one country, two systems" principle, the owner of a bookstore, said to have sold books critical of Beijing's leadership, is believed to have been abducted to the mainland and tortured, even before the bill was proposed.
The crackdowns were extensive and included everything from criticism of the regime -- which brings up issues of freedom of speech -- to corruption. This, coupled with growing societal and economic gloom, saw the rise of forces seeking freedom and democracy. Even usually apolitical citizens and those in business circles became increasingly unsatisfied and guarded.
As a result, opposition movements, which had lost steam since the Umbrella Movement of 2014 demanding universal suffrage, have seen a resurgence of widespread support. As authorities' response turned violent, students stormed the Legislative Council and some activists have even committed suicide in protest.
Even now, protests and clashes continue. Although it has not garnered much attention, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed his solidarity with the people of Hong Kong on his own Twitter account.
Resonance with Taiwan
Hong Kong's current state of affairs resonates with Taiwan. From the start, Taiwan has harbored strong doubts and opposition towards a "one country, two systems" principle with China, and those sentiments are now gradually rising. Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China, has already proposed unification with Taiwan under the principle in a speech in January and it has put Taiwan on alert.
On top of that, there is the course of events surrounding the extradition bill in Hong Kong. The tables have now turned in Taiwan, with support dropping for the pro-Beijing Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang, while support for Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party continues to rise.
Meanwhile, in the Xinjiang autonomous region, the oppression of the Uyghur people and their culture continues. According to media outlets, 1 million Uyghurs, equivalent to 10 percent of the Uyghur population living in the region, are currently detained without good reason.
Among them is Tashpulat Tiyip, former president of Xinjiang University who used to study in Japan, as well as numerous scholars, artists and athletes. They are put into concentration camps known as re-education centers, and forced to swear their loyalty to the Communist Party.
Lately, there have also been many cases of entire families of Uyghurs, including those with relatives living overseas, dying after being detained and tortured. It provides a note of cultural and ethnical obliteration. In response, strong opposition and solidarity among overseas Uyghurs is slowing spreading.
At the root of it all is Xi's administration, which enforces suppression and oppression even against the Han Chinese in the country. In 2014, the government, in one fell swoop, cracked down on intellectuals, lawyers and others who had gathered in a private space to mourn on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident.
Some were detained for a year and a half. The oppression continued the following year, with lawyers of human rights groups defending critics of the government detained one after another. Some even had their license to practice law revoked.
A lesson to learn
The movements of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Uyghurs are occurring against the backdrop of such suppression and oppression, projected to the surrounding areas and the outside world. In these regions, people detach themselves from Beijing. We can say they are working together, connected at the roots.
Turning to Japan, things have been largely quiet. That is, excluding Okinawa, where protests and movements opposing the buildup of a U.S. military base in the Henoko district, which Tokyo is pushing ahead with, continue.
Of course, this country is a democracy, as imperfect as it may be, and I do not intend in the least to liken Japan, where freedom of speech is guaranteed, to China, a one-party dictatorship. The two countries categorically differ from the standpoint of their political systems.
Still, a difference in severity does not change the fact that the central government is forcing through its policy regardless of the will of its citizens in surrounding areas. If this continues, and it doesn't matter where, it will encourage people to break away with the central government.
What has reared its head here is the abiding issue of how the central authorities will face the people in surrounding areas. It is right to criticize the oppression Beijing shows both within and outside its borders. I want Japan to be a country that demonstrates solidarity with movements that oppose China's oppression, while at the same time learning a lesson from it and constantly checking itself in the mirror to ensure it will not end up being a bird of a feather.
Ken Endo is the director of Hokkaido University Graduate School of Public Policy. Born in Tokyo 1966, he graduated from Hokkaido University and earned a Ph.D. in politics at the University of Oxford. He was a researcher at Harvard Law School, a research fellow supported by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a visiting professor at Institut d'etudes politiques de Paris. He is also the author of numerous books including "Togo No Shu-en" (The Demise of Integration) and "Oshu Fukugo Kiki" (Europe's Complex Crisis)).© KYODO