In recent weeks, Hong Kong has become a hotspot for protests. In the most recent mass demonstration, organizers stated that some 230,000 people were drawn to march. With that being said, police forces estimated only 56,000 protestors. Regardless of the size, this was a protest of peaceful civil disobedience. The peace did not last as police used batons, rubber bullets, and tear gas on those who were present. Many are scared as the demonstration had aspects similar to that of the infamous Tiananmen protest in 1989. These demonstrations are a reaction to proposed Chinese-Hong Kong legislation. Legislation that threatens the civil liberties of the semi-autonomous region that is Hong Kong. The legislation itself is regarding extradition laws to bring people from Hong Kong to China for prosecution under Chinese law. This would, potentially, be the catalyst of the collapse of what has historically been a “one country-two system” style of governance. Violence against peaceful protestors is to always be condemned, and there is an ongoing independent investigation into the actual actions of the police forces. Despite the senseless and authoritarian violence, the protestors should count this as an absolute victory as Carrie Lam (city chief executive of Hong Kong) has announced that the extradition bill is dead. This comes after multiple protests and countless people calling for Lam to step down, due to her involvement in the creation of the bill.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, local politician, Ventus Lau Wing-hong stated that “We want to reveal the real image of the protest… We need to show a peaceful, graceful demonstration to mainlanders.” With this idea of peacefulness in mind, Gladis Au (an attendee of the march) told the Wall Street Journal that “The Chinese police are beating protesters and blocking information”. The censorship of information provided to the people of mainland China is a longstanding issue addressed by a Chinese visitor in another Wall Street Journal interview. He stated “I can understand why people wouldn’t want the extradition law, but I don’t support any of the violence… My friends in China, on the other hand, can’t understand why anyone would protest this law. They think it’s very normal.” This same issue was also addressed, more explicitly, by convener of the 20147 Hong Kong Monitor group, Edward Chin. Mr. Chin told Al Jazeera, “Most mainlanders do not know what we are fighting for, and this will be a very slow, educational process. It’s like running a marathon… They’ve been blocked from information since the communists took over in 1949, so what can you expect? They don’t even know what happened 30 years ago with Tiananmen.”
The semiautonomous style of governance historically present in Hong-Kong is critical to the lives of nearly all who live there. The culture and laws are heavily shaped by the adoption of their former British rule. The issues here lie with the government of Hong-Kong, its relationship to that of China, the censorship of information, and of course police brutality. It is the responsibility of Ms. Lam and her government to act in accordance with the needs and desires of the people of Hong-Kong, without being influenced by authoritarian Chinese officials. While it is good that the people of Hong-Kong had their voices heard this time, it is grotesque and unacceptable that it took police violence towards peaceful protestors to accomplish the abolishment of the bill. Regarding the censorship of information, the people of mainland China—as with people all across the globe—have a basic human right when it comes to accessing information. More specifically, information vital to their lives and the lives of those living in conjunction with them. The Chinese government has a long history of being known for censoring the news. Leaving its people in the dark and preventing them from formulating opinions on global and local issues from a non-biased source.
22 years ago, China was given Hong-Kong by Great Britain. In this deal, China agreed to the one country, two systems base. This would allow for the protection of British civil liberties and common law practices present in Hong-Kong. These are things that those in mainland China have never witnessed firsthand, thus enabling the creation of an initial cultural divide between the people in Hong-Kong and the people in mainland China. Hong-Kong’s right to autonomy was central to the deal between Great Britain and China and Hong-Kong was guaranteed autonomy/protection from the Chinese government until 2047.
The future of Hong-Kong/China relations is something that only time will tell. It is clear, however, that the people of Hong-Kong will fight for their autonomy and perhaps true independence. This extradition bill is the beginning of a long road leading up to 2047, in which definite and hard decisions will be made. That aside, what we do know is that the Chinese government is continuing to behave repressively and abusively through violence and the censorship of information. It is now, as much as ever, the duty of the international community to apply more pressure to China regarding acceptance, basic human rights, and the tactics of non-violent conflict resolution; especially when peaceful civilians are involved.