Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, many of which have been met with violence, have now been taking place for five months. They originally began as a response to an extradition law that would have made it possible for Hong Kong citizens to be brought to mainland China for certain punishments. Protesters believed that this law would threaten the independence Hong Kong was promised in 1997, when the idea of “one country, two systems” was introduced. Though the proposed law has now been withdrawn, protesters are still motivated by perceived moves by mainland China to infringe on the relative autonomy of Hong Kong. In calling for the protection of their more democratic system, protesters have been met with police forces attempting to quell their demonstrations, oftentimes with methods that include or lead to violence. In addition to allowing police violence, the government has taken steps to try and stop protests by placing restrictions on the media. Most recently, these efforts were meant to discourage the public sharing of police officers’ private information in order to protect them. However, the actions taken have the potential to both have a greater effect than that needed to protect police and also to lead to more extensive restrictions. In terms of leadership, there was some talk of Beijing’s intention to replace Carrie Lam as leader of Hong Kong. However, representatives in mainland China have stated that a replacement won’t happen until the protests stop so as not to give the impression that they are succumbing to the protesters’ wishes. The protests have also taken a toll on Hong Kong’s economic activity. The decline in tourism and the inability of many businesses to remain open have caused a recession in the territory.
The problem with mainland China’s response to the protests is their insistence that the protests are the problem that must be stopped. Most of their actions have been focused on quelling the protests at all costs. Police forces working for the government have even resorted to violence in their efforts. The attitude toward the protesters shouldn’t be competitive in nature. If the government concedes to something that the protesters are asking for, that shouldn’t be seen as a weakness. A government that responds to its people’s problems and concerns is healthy, depending of course upon the way in which the government handles the issues.
In addition, restricting access to the media is not a constructive way to end protests. If anything, it’s a way to feed the fire. Other countries and even popular brands have voiced their support for the Hong Kong protesters, largely through the media. Cutting off support from other countries or preventing communication between protesters only results in more grounds for protest. It is not an acceptable response to citizens voicing concerns about their country. Similarly, violence in the form of police brutality is not an effective way to end protests. Violence often leads only to more violence.
Regarding the leadership issue, while stability seems like a useful choice in a time of such violence and uncertainty, if Carrie Lam’s leadership is a point of contention among protesters and her continued presence is perceived by the citizens to be part of the problem, then some arrangement should be made to ensure that she doesn’t remain in power. However, new leadership should not be chosen until protesters have some reassurance that their concerns will be met and considered. Introducing new leading figures in a time of turmoil would be irresponsible.
Since the protests have been going on for so long, the consequences of such a long period of unrest are becoming evident. For example, the recession shows the toll that such a challenging five months can have on a country. It is essential that more productive action is taken to reconcile the needs of the protesters to prevent further damage to the well-being of Hong Kong and its citizens.
In general, the aim of mainland China should be to listen to the people of Hong Kong rather than to stop the protests at all costs. Perhaps one way they could gain the people’s trust again is to schedule some form of discussion between selected and prominent members of the protesters who can convey their needs in a concise way and representatives from the government who are open to listening and being receptive to those needs. A government should exist for its people, to govern through the willing surrender of certain rights that citizens relinquish in the interest of safety and representation for the collective well-being.
That being said, agreements are made for a reason, and they are made to be adhered to. The agreement made in 1997 that Hong Kong would remain semi-autonomous as a part of “one country, two systems” has weight and it should be honoured. A more democratic system is the one the people of Hong Kong prefer, and since a country is made up of its people, that decision should have the most authority. Hong Kong should be able to maintain its democratic system without infringement from the mainland. Beijing’s goal should not be to resist protesters. Their actions are a sign that something is not right in the country. A country is made up of its people, and that country cannot be at peace until those people are content and satisfied that their voices have been heard.
To many discontented citizens, protests that have in many cases led to destruction or violence seem like the only way to be heard or to collectively fight for a cause when the government is trying its best to disperse or quiet any effort made. This is why it is essential that the government stops its efforts to cut off communication or stifle protests and agrees to hear the concerns of the protesters in a more productive and less violent setting.
In addition, since the protests have been going for so long now and with such force, the Beijing government needs to realize that the world is watching. People know about what has happened to protesters in Hong Kong and they have seen how the government has responded to their concerns. Five months of protesting cannot be swept under a proverbial rug. The protests are a sign that productive, honest, and legitimate conversations need to be held between representatives who can convey the needs of each group and outline the power that each side has to make those needs a part of reality.
Although representatives from around the world have voiced support for the Hong Kong protesters, this is only the beginning of the input necessary to ensure that the protesters are heard. The period during which the Beijing government is attempting to restrict media access and coverage of matters pertaining to the protests is exactly the right time for outside actors to continue talking about the protesters and advocating for their cause. The more prevalent the protesters’ cause is in the media, the harder it will be to stifle.
The government in Beijing needs to take action to try and talk with the protesters. After five months, the government’s attempts to solve the turmoil in the territory have failed and it is time that officials realize that another, more peaceful approach is necessary. The past months have shown what such dissatisfaction among a country’s citizens can mean for a country. More violence and unrest in Hong Kong have the potential to lead to even more serious consequences than an economic recession.