Going Into Battle Lightly Equipped

Going Into Battle Lightly Equipped

| Ryan Ho Kilpatrick
“Going into battle lightly equipped” is a metaphor frequently employed by Hong Kong’s political leaders and state media in the lead-up to new national security legislation known as Article 23 in early 2024. It represents the promise that further curbs on local freedoms will empower authorities to revitalize the territory’s anemic economy, which has been on the ropes since the national security crackdown began in 2020.

Since its national security crackdown began in 2020, Hong Kong has been speaking a new language. Local officials now decry “soft resistance” against the state and exclusively refer to the pro-democracy protests that drew millions of mostly peaceful marchers to the streets as the “black riots” (黑爆) and an attempted “color revolution” (顏色革命) orchestrated by foreign “black hands” (黑手).

More recently, the campaign to push homegrown security legislation known as Article 23 has created a whole new set of vocabulary. When the law sailed through in a record-breaking 11 days, concerns that the city’s now opposition-less legislature hadn’t adequately scrutinized the bill were hand-waved — what we were witnessing, they said, was merely the kind of  “high quality, high efficiency” (高質高效) legislation possible in a “patriots-only” chamber. In fact, the law was passed “not too quickly but too slowly” (不是太快而是太慢), according to the Hong Kong Commercial Daily and others, since the previous attempt in 2003 had been derailed — when such things were possible — by massive public opposition.

Perhaps the most curious new addition to this dialect of officialese, however, has been “going into battle lightly equipped” (輕裝上陣). The four-character set phrase has been a favorite of Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu (李家超) when delivering promises about how the law will revitalize Hong Kong’s economy, which has been in the doldrums since the first national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020.

Digging Up

As far as metaphors go, it’s not the most intuitive. But the logic is something like this: Hong Kong has, hitherto, been weighed down by threats to its national security. This need to constantly be on guard against hostile foreign forces has distracted authorities from developing the economy and solving long-festering livelihood issues like unaffordable housing and an overtaxed healthcare system. When Article 23 was “debated” in the Legislative Council (an opportunity for “patriots-only” legislators to grandstand and theatrically perform loyalty to Beijing), every speaker repeated the promise that it would save the economy. The more national security laws they pass, in other words, the less they will have to think about national security.

“Logic” may we over-selling this line of thinking. Didn’t Hong Kong’s economy thrive for generations while it was supposedly beset by insidious foreign threats, and didn’t it begin its present freefall precisely when the national security crackdown began? How is digging further supposed to get them out of this hole?

“Going into battle lightly equipped” is that rare breed of political slogan that not only defies reality but flips it entirely on its head. As “Asia’s World City” decides to go to war against the outside world by making cooperation with “international organizations” a possible security infraction, it is doing so more tightly encumbered and heavily weighed down than ever before.

Ryan Ho Kilpatrick

CMP Managing Editor

The CMP Dictionary