Beyond Races: Freedom Is Not Free – An Interview With NL4HK

Picture of By Justin Yeung

By Justin Yeung

No one can be uninvolved in transnational politics in such a globalised era – we all are intertwined and connected in the web of endless knots. As irresistible as it appears, a slight alteration in policy on the other side of the world will impose an immense change on this side of the world. Politics, thus, go beyond races and we must act together to withhold tyrannies. This article hopes to provide an overview of how societal unrest in Hong Kong will be a detriment to freedom in the Netherlands and how NL4HK is trying to help Hong Kong by spreading the cause through social media and rallies. 

A Little Move for a Big Cause  

Netherlands for Hong Kong (NL4HK) is the initiative a group of concerned citizens in the Netherlands have started to raise awareness about issues regarding the oppression in Hong Kong. The Umbrella Movement in 2014 had the members’ passion sparkled; thus, they decided to show solidarity by starting a Facebook page, which is the archetype of the current organization. 

In 2019, Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement (ANTIELAB) aroused great repercussions due to the two mega protests, involving more than a quarter of the population in June and the consequent extreme violent scenes in the front lines of the “battlefield”. NL4HK, as one of the very few relevant activist groups in the Netherlands, initiated a bundle of protests in the Netherlands intending to bring the agitation to the table. 

Apart from the social media posts on Instagram and Facebook, there have been a few rallies organized by NL4HK in pre-COVID times and starting from March 2021, NL4HK is releasing newsletters to the audience in the Netherlands. 

The Dutch Media versus Social Media

When asked about social media as the channel of dissemination, NL4HK admitted that they are still having a relatively small recognition in the Netherlands, having only approximately 2000 followers on Facebook and 300 on Instagram. 

Audiences on social media are indisputably more attracted to violent imageries than plain systematic violations, and, thus, less attention is given to Hong Kong at the moment. 

The question is – why is the exposure still below the par even though the issue came into existence in 2019? NL4HK supposes that the network and the community of Hongkongers are considerably tinier than those in the UK, Australia and Canada. The pandemic has further added insult to the injury as protests, in Hong Kong and well in the Netherlands, cease to exist due to Corona measurements. “It is less juicy right now,” added NL4HK, “we do not have physical protests anymore in Hong Kong like in 2019”. Audiences on social media are indisputably more attracted to violent imageries than plain systematic violations, and, thus, less attention is given to Hong Kong at the moment. 

It is not only the audiences who are undermining the effectiveness of the spread of the messages, but also the Dutch mass media. COVID-19 has stolen all the thunder since the pandemic started and other issues in society are by any means neglected. A biased source of information, another loophole of the Dutch media, has NL4HK worried as “most news pieces in the Netherlands are translated from SCMP, which is considered a pro-government news publisher”. They hence responded by providing extra sources to Dutch media outlets. “We are trying to compile alternative and credible sources, HKFP for example, and send them to the local media. This may be a way that the audiences in the Netherlands can take different perspectives on the issue.”

European approach to the China issue and the Dutch Election

NL4HK agreed that Rutte’s government was too soft on China, and this holds true for the EU as a whole. The EU style politics is the core contributor of such a stance towards China. The pet phrase of the EU has always been multilateral communication, which stems from its internal intricate political complex. “This is not a practical and useful way to deal with China,” NL4HK illustrated with the examples of previous historical incidents. “We have seen China not fulfilling promises, just like the Joint Declaration. We will be forced into compromise and China will just take the advantage to further their control.” 

Prior to the elections, NL4HK called on different Dutch parties to express their stance towards China. Some parties have responded with a rather tough stance, but others do not. One coincidence about the election is that D66, which is considered more vocal on the Chinese issue, has gained more seats in the latest election (D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoerdsma is listed on China’s sanction list). NL4HK did not speculate any outcome of the final composition of the coalition, however, they asserted that the corresponding party of the upcoming Foreign Minister would play an enormous role in shaping the future Sino-Dutch relations.

Where is the starting point?

Are the Netherlands and the EU able to withhold the threats imposed by China? We have yet the panacea, but there are some insights NL4HK shared that can perhaps pave the way for reaching a solution.

“This is a difficult question,” said NL4HK. “It is not quite possible to internally intervene in the system”. Along with the already reducing freedom in Hong Kong, Hongkongers deem to seek refuge from the international community. In addition to exposure and awareness for the public, business intervention and commercial awareness are considered a pivotal role in the Sino-European tension as in the case of transnational brands stop using Xinjiang cotton. The issue stretches way beyond a political realm as China’s influence is subtly permeating into our daily lives. “It is closer than you think,” NL4HK added, “An acquaintance of mine was prosecuted. Everything is in proximity to the tyranny.”

Is a Lifeboat Scheme feasible? NL4HK holds a fairly pessimistic view as measures like this may lead to suspects towards discrimination in policies. NL4HK reminded that, although a Lifeboat Scheme would fall short, there are still possibilities for Hongkongers to come to the Netherlands if they are willing to. “The Netherlands provide visas for studying, jobs, working holiday and partnerships, and also some designated visas for other purposes.” 

In addition to a Lifeboat Scheme, NL4HK raised a more viable yet impactful solution to resist China’s influence. “Universities can do more. University Leiden has already halted their cooperation with their corresponding Confucius Institute. We should also consider shutting down the Groningen Confucius Institute (GCI).” 

On a national level, NL4HK are currently working hard to arouse more backlash and noises and sincerely hope that more motions that favors the interests of the dissidents in the Greater China Region will be tabled by the upcoming term of the parliament. 

Future and Vision 

Reality seldom lives up to our expectations, but we shall often strive for a better future. NL4HK acknowledged the “generation gap” in core values between millennials and gen Z: “We see way more Hong Kong students here in the Netherlands protesting back in 2014 during the Umbrella Movement.” It may seem to be a strange phenomenon, yet NL4HK did recognize the difference between the two generations: “The younger generation wants to physically be there (Hong Kong), it is not the same as back then.”

We, regardless of ethnicity, religion, skin colour and nationality, will stand a chance against tyranny if we work together towards a utopian world. 

Although there are many obstacles, they are determined to continue their advocacy through social media and seminars among all other possibilities. NL4HK exhort that we all should make the right choice in the elections and what media we consume. We, regardless of ethnicity, religion, skin colour and nationality, will stand a chance against tyranny if we work together towards a utopian world. 


Cover: NL4HK Facebook

Edited by: Rajal Monga

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