Thousands of secondary students formed human chains in front of Hong Kong schools on Monday. Standing hand-in-hand in their uniforms, the students silently protested to express solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters in the Chinese-ruled city. The protest followed a weekend of unrest with clashes between activists and police, and is part of a larger continuation of discontent in the region for the past five months.
On Sunday, demonstrators took part in a peaceful march to the U.S. Consulate in the hopes of gaining Washington’s support. U.S. President Donald Trump has been called upon to “liberate” the semi-autonomous state. In response, the Chinese state media has asserted that Hong Kong is an impartible part of China and that it should be clear that “secessionism in any form will be crushed”. The Hong Kong government has warned the U.S. to stay out of the situation.
Later on, violence flared up in a business and retail district in Hong Kong. Protesters vandalized subway stations, causing them to close, and set fires and blocked roads. The police used tear gas on demonstrators in response.
The unrest in Hong Kong was initiated by June plans to produce a law that would have allowed extraditions from Hong Kong to mainland China. Since then, Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has withdrawn the bill. However, the protesters’ still have four demands: set up an independent inquiry to investigate police brutality; stop using the term “riots” to describe the protests; release protesters who have been arrested; and install universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
Understanding the full motivation behind the protests requires context. Hong Kong was a British colony for over 150 years. During this time, the colony became a busy trading port with a boosting economy and served as a refuge for migrants fleeing turbulence in China. In the 1980s, China and Britain made a formal agreed that Hong Kong would return to China while keeping a semi-autonomous state. Under these guidelines, Hong Kong has its own legal system and rights, some of which give the citizens of Hong Kong more freedoms than have the citizens in mainland China. However, according to the BBC, rights groups have expressed concern for undue meddling and restrictions by the Chinese government in Hong Kong affairs. The deal between China and Britain ends in 2047, and Hong Kong is likely to be adopted into China’s complete authority.
Young people in Hong Kong, especially students, have been the ones to take up the banner in the protests since they began this summer. According to CNN, 10 of the city’s 13 universities have partaken in class boycotts and more than 100 secondary schools have planned class strikes.
A 17-year-old student told CNN, “The city is dying. We cannot just sit here and read our books. That is no use. I think the city is more important than our academics”. CNN goes on to describe how Hong Kong students have become “seasoned protest veterans, strapping on gas masks and hard hats”.
Student activism is not new to Hong Kong. In 2003 and 2017, students demonstrated to block legislation that would have increased the power and reach of the Chinese government in Hong Kong. Most notably, students started the Umbrella Revolution in 2014, which was a protest against restrictive election reforms. The movement ultimately failed, although it was still able to bring global attention to the people of Hong Kong’s discontent with China’s increasing control.
The situation in Hong Kong is complicated and has ties to the consequences of colonial rule. One must consider how Hong Kong would be different if it had been able to choose or at least had been consulted about its national identity when the agreement was made between China and Britain. Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status has led to apprehension and uncertainty of the future, which perhaps explains the prevalence of student activism. The youth are the ones who will be most affected in a few decades when the agreement is readdressed. Because of this, the people of Hong Kong need to be involved in the decisions regarding its future. A start would be to amend the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong, in a way that ensures that members of the Legislative Council are elected democratically and without Beijing’s heavy monitoring, restrictions and intimidation.
Carrie Lam said that she and her administration will not meet the protestors’ other four commands, reports CNN. Without the Chinese authorities taking a more thoughtful response, the protests are likely to continue.
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