The Hong Kong Protests: Aspirations, Tensions, And Freedom

The 9th of June 2019 saw an estimated one million people take to the streets to voice their concerns with the newly proposed extradition bill which would allow for criminal suspects to be extradited to China and Taiwan. This unprecedented response was founded on the backs of critics who warned that the bill could undermine Hong Kong’s freedom and could be used as a means of intimidation. On the 15th of June, following this protest as well as another on the 12th of June, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam indefinitely delayed the bill. However, many were unconvinced by this action and, on the 16th of June, an estimated two million people took to the streets once again. This time demanding that the bill be withdrawn completely.

Carrie Lam on the 9th of July, following the continued protests, once again stated that the bill was “dead” but, once again, refrained from fully withdrawing the bill. Unsurprisingly this did little to calm or deter the protesters. On the 2nd of August came the biggest blow to civil order, civil servants, who are supposed to be politically neutral, joined in with the demonstrations. Protests and demonstrations have continued to this day with landmark events including the defacing of China’s liaison office, the occupation of the Hong Kong International Airport and, most recently, the barricading of Hong Kong universities. Throughout this period, we have seen a dramatic increase in violence and animosity between the protesters and those trying to control them with the use of tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and, shockingly, live rounds.

Why have Protests Continued?

It is surprising then that the initial reason for this civil discourse has been rescinded. On the 4th of September Carrie Lam announced that the extradition bill would be withdrawn in its entirety and unveiled measures designed to address and alleviate the unrest. Lam’s opponents, in and outside of government, simply stated these measures we too little, too late. With the original issues being addressed, why then were these measures considered too little, too late? Simply, it was no longer just about extradition. It was now about freedom, human rights, and universal suffrage.

Unfortunately, for those trying to control the demonstrations, three key events have recently taken place that has undoubtedly reinforced these new aspirations. The face-mask ban, an arrest of the twelve-year-old boy and the threatening of suspending voting in the local elections. The face-mask ban was enacted to stop protesters from avoiding identification and protecting themselves from tear gas. However, as announced by the high court on the 22nd of November, this ban was found to be unlawful and unconstitutional. Consequently, this reinforced the belief by many that their freedom was being oppressed and validated the increased demonstrations following the initial ban.

Reported by the BBC on the 21st of November a young boy of twelve has been arrested on his way to school under links to damages caused by spray painting slogans on police and metro stations. Around 5000 people have been arrested already, with a number of these including children between the ages of 12 and 15, however, this is the first time someone so young has been convicted. This has unsurprisingly irritated demonstrators as they have long called for an investigation into police brutality and abuse without any success.

Due to these renewed aspirations, there seems to be no end in sight for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. However, Demonstrators are hoping to use the local elections taking place from the 24th of November to send a strong and clear message to, not only those in charge in Hong Kong but to China itself. The message itself is a clear one; No matter how much tensions escalated Hong Kong will protect its human and political rights with the hopes of peace and prosperity in the future.

Patrick Mills-Munday