On July 7, a peaceful protest involving about 230,000 people arrived at Hong Kong West Kowloon Station, an establishment that connects Hong Kong and mainland China. The demonstration was intended to protest a controversial extradition bill recently proposed in China. The Kowloon location was chosen in order to make the protests more visible to citizens and visitors in mainland China, where information about the cause has been suppressed by news providers. The peaceful demonstration took a negative turn when, after protesters refused to disperse after the rally, riot police resorted to violence to remove them. Similar protests have been occurring for about a month now in Hong Kong, and while they seem to show no signs of stopping, lack of information given about the protests and increasing violence in relations between protesters and law enforcement are both concerning. Though the extradition bill has been suspended, protesters are continuing to demonstrate, calling for a complete retraction and for the resignation of Chief Executive, Carrie Lam.
According to Al Jazeera, one protester, a bank worker named Xania, expressed her desire to appeal to mainlanders in order to preserve Hong Kong’s democratic traits, stating, “If the legislation is passed then there’s no difference between Hong Kong and China. I think [mainlanders] will understand us. I don’t know if they will agree with us, but I want them to know this is the fact, this is the difference.” According to Al Jazeera, Ventus Lau Wing-hong, a local politician, emphasized the importance of making the protests visible in the following statement: “We want to reveal the real image of the protest. We need to show peaceful, graceful demonstration to mainlanders.” However, according to CNN, Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, defended the government in the following statement: “Chief Executive and the Hong Kong government want to make Hong Kong a safer place, and not a safe haven for fugitive criminals.” Liu also expressed disapproval of British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s decision to voice London’s support of the Hong Kong protests, condemning the “British intervention in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.”
While protesters should avoid destruction and violence in peaceful protests, responding to protests with violence exacerbates the issue. Nonviolent dissent in a country is a healthy, constructive manner through which citizens can hold their officials accountable. When multiple, conflicting voices are allowed to converse, a government and country can be made stronger and more representative of all its people. In order to have a healthy system, citizens must be allowed to criticize their government and demonstrate for the causes they feel need attention. Responding with violence or censorship is unhealthy and corrupt. Also, people in mainland China have a right to know what is happening in other parts of their country. People should be able to hear each other’s voices and respond to them how they see fit. If the influence of protesters leads others to share their sentiments, that is evidence of needed change in the country, evidence of a movement that should never be stifled. In addition, more countries should follow in the U.K.’s footsteps. The expression of support from outsiders can spread awareness for the protests otherwise lost in censorship. Even the articulation of disapproval for the protests can help to ignite a conversation, ensuring that everyone has the chance to weigh in on the issue.
For about a month, protesters in Hong Kong have advocated against a bill which would legalize the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China to face criminal prosecution. Protesters foresee that this could lead to severe punishments for those who criticize the government. While the protests have been largely peaceful, they have recently received violence from police and taken a destructive turn in the case of the vandalism of legislative offices. While the extradition bill has been suspended, the withholding of information has become a concern among demonstrators as well. News coverage in mainland China has been censored to exclude information about the protests. Currently, Hong Kong maintains much of the autonomy, rule of law, and civil liberties that were instilled by the U.K. before it was given over to China in 1997, a reality that abides by the agreement that it maintain a situation of “one country, two systems” for 50 years. Citizens and visitors of the mainland, under a system that sees dissent against the government as intolerable, have largely no idea about the recent protests. Protesters aim to make their efforts known to mainlanders to make visible the government’s stifling of information.
Depending on whether the protesters’ attempts to contact mainlanders are successful, the reaction of previously uninformed people of mainland China could have a major impact on the current situation. It also remains to be seen whether the bill will be retracted and how Chief Executive Lam will respond to demands for resignation. If protests continue with the same force, law enforcement’s decision whether or not to respond to them with more violence also has major implications for Hong Kong.