Hong Kong: Protesting for What?

Cameron Mays ‘21

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Since February, millions of Hong Kong citizens have engaged in protests over a proposed bill that would extradite the accused to mainland China to be tried and sentenced. As of July, the Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the bill is “dead”, and as of September, the extradition bill was officially withdrawn. This, however, has not stopped protests from continuing in Hong Kong. 


Hong Kong is an administrative region of China, meaning that it has separate economic and governing systems from mainland China. Hong Kong has been an administrative region since 1997, when the British transferred the territory to China. 


There has always been tension between Hong Kong and China because of the different interpretations of the idea of “one country, two systems”. Much of the tension stems from a fear that China is trying to take tighter hold of Hong Kong to unify the two.


This tension finally erupted into fierce protests and calls for democracy after a bill was proposed by the Security Bureau in February that would extradite criminals in a case-by-case basis to countries including China. Many people in Hong Kong fear that they may be extradited to China for speaking out against the country because of the human rights abuses and censorship.


In the months that have followed, even as Carrie Lam formally withdrew the bill and tried to settle the unrest in Hong Kong, millions, especially young people, have protested against the growing Chinese influence. For almost 20 straight weekends, protestors have taken to the streets to try and let their voices be heard.


Even after Lam withdrew the bill, the protestors demand for more. First, they want the extradition bill to be permanently discarded. Second, they want the government to stop using the term “riot” to classify the protests, as the crime of rioting can carry up to 10 years in prison. Third, they want all protestors that are in custody to be released, and all charges to be dropped. Fourth, protestors want Hong Kong policy to be investigated for using questionable tactics. Finally, they want suffrage, and a chance to democratically choose their leaders unrelated to Beijing’s method.


Protests have been met with fierce backlash from both police and pro-China citizens. There have been multiple clashes with the police, resulting in the firing of tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. There have also been instances of more serious clashes where police have beaten protesters, posed in street clothes and then attacked protesters, followed injured protestors to the hospital where they were arrested, and even shot a protestor from point-blank range with live ammunition. Police and pro-China citizens have also attacked reporters who are covering the protests. 


Some of the most intense protests came on the 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. As celebrations were going on in Beijing, millions utilized the day off to continue the protests.


While it seems that many citizens of the United States and other democratic countries have been in support for Hong Kong, international response from governments has not been strong. The United States and China are currently engaged in a trade war, and it seems that the United States is not trying to provoke the Chinese into escalating the trade war. This could also be the case for other countries, as China is the second largest economy in the world and play a large role in global trade.


It is hard to tell whether the protestors will achieve their goals, as China is notoriously unwilling to budge on anything that may make them look weak in the eyes of the international community. However, the people of Hong Kong have shown that they too will not back down in their protests. Through the protesters reliance, they have made it clear that they are willing to go up against one of the world’s superpowers, and that they are not afraid to continue their efforts, even if no one else is on their side.