Last weekend, protests in Hong Kong over a proposed law to extradite criminals to China sparked significant response from multiple Chinese officials. The protests have grown increasingly violent, and police officials are resorting to tactics such as tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue protestors. However, protestors continue to criticize Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and demand a replacement. On Monday, China restated its support for Lam, and Chinese government officials called for the punishment of “radicals involved in the turmoil,” according to The Washington Post. While condemning violence is an appropriate initial response to the situation, the Chinese and Hong Kong governments must do more to address the concerns of Hong Kong residents in order to reestablish stability.
In a news conference, Yang Guang, spokesperson for Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office stated that “the acts of violence by a small number of radical elements have seriously undermined the broad interests of Hong Kong for prosperity and stability…They pose a serious challenge to the rule of law and public order in Hong Kong, and the life and property of Hong Kong residents. They’ve also crossed the red line of the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ and by no means should be tolerated.” When asked if the Beijing government was considering sending in military, Yang responded by stating that “There is clear provision, but I will not go into details…The most pressing task for the moment is to punish violence and maintain order.” He also reiterated that the central Chinese government “firmly supports” Chief Executive Lam. The Chinese Defense Ministry suggested that they are open to using troops stationed in Hong Kong, as protests are “intolerable,” and the Chinese army is ready to mobilize upon request by the Hong Kong government. The Civil Human Rights Fund, the group behind the protests, believes that there will continue to be protests and turbulence until their demands are met. Adam Ni, a China security expert, in response to continued pressure from Civil Human Rights Fund, stated that “[Beijing doesn’t] have any short-term answers to the current impasse. If they go for a hard-line approach, it’s going to backfire. But if they are conciliatory, the protesters will think Beijing is showing weakness, and they will demand more.”
Hong Kong has been operating under the “one country, two systems” principle for the last two decades, which grants Hong Kong residents a high degree of autonomy and ensures them certain liberties, such as the right to protest, that the mainland Chinese population does not enjoy. This system will be in place until 2047, 50 years after the former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty. However, eight consecutive weeks of protests in Hong Kong reveal flaws in this system, as the protests have been triggered in response to actions by the Chinese government, which has subsequently also failed to find a middle ground or attempt to meet the protestors’ demands. The protests were sparked by plans to enact legislation that will allow Hong Kong to extradite suspected criminals to mainland China for trials. The events have grown increasingly violent and disruptive, with police using tear gas and rubber bullets on thousands of protestors; 60 people have been arrested after last weekend’s protests alone. Protesters are demanding Lam’s resignation, withdrawal of the extradition bill, and an investigation into police brutality and violence by pro-Beijing gangs. On Tuesday, Lam declared the legislation “dead,” but the bill has not officially been withdrawn.
After two consecutive months of protests, it is likely that disorder in Hong Kong will continue until the Chinese government actively responds to the root causes of the complaints. In order for these protests to be successful, violence must be avoided both by frustrated protestors and by retaliating police forces. It is unclear when and if the protestors’ demands will be met, and Chief Executive Lam must work hard to prove to Hong Kong residents that she is serving with their best interest in mind. The outcome of these protests may have a significant impact on the meaning of “one country two systems” and how that principle will operate for the next several decades.
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