Written by Adam Perkinson
If you’ve paid even the smallest amount of attention to world news since June, you’ve undoubtedly heard of one particular city in eastern China — Hong Kong. And not for any good reasons, either. It’s not the first time citizens of Hong Kong have protested, but these are arguably the biggest protests in the city’s 200-plus year history.
To truly understand why what’s going on in Hong Kong is such a big deal, you need to know the basic history of Hong Kong. In the early 1800s, Hong Kong was established as a Royal British Colony, which meant that the city was under complete British control. In World War II, however, Japan conquered the city and ruled it until 1946 following their total surrender. In 1985, the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, and on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong was returned to Chinese control. However, one of the guiding principles to the declaration was the “one country, two systems” doctrine, which prevents Hong Kong from being ruled by the socialist leaders of mainland China and instead, Hong Kong is ruled by a separate, capitalist government. Yet, it is not a democracy. In 1997, a legislative council set up by Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong prior to its handover, was to be partially elected by universal suffrage. However, this angered the People’s Republic of China (PRC, aka mainland China), who dismantled it almost immediately, replacing it with an unelected legislative body. In 1998, only 20 of these seats were elected, and the rest were filled by pro-PRC members. Since then, the movement for universal suffrage has been stalled, which has led to protests, most notably in 2008 and 2012 in addition to this year.
On March 29, 2019, Secretary for Security John Lee introduced the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) to the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, where it was met with widespread criticism and protests from seemingly the entire city. After 2 weeks of protests, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, announced that the bill would be indefinitely suspended, but that alone was not enough for the protestors. Soon, a mantra that would come to define the protests was adopted — “Five demands, not one less.”
The first of the five demands was met on August 31, when Lam announced that the bill would be completely withdrawn. The rest have not been filled, and it’s not clear if they ever will be. They include an investigation into alleged police brutality and misconduct, the release of arrested protesters, a complete retraction of the PRC characterisation of the protests as “riots”, and Carrie Lam’s resignation along with the introduction of universal suffrage for the elections of the legislative council and the chief executive. After the bill’s official withdrawal on October 23, protestors took to LIHKG, a website that has become the de facto headquarters of the movement, and reminded each other to not quit protesting until each one of the demands was met, saying “Our friends that we have lost would never forgive us if we accepted those terms from the government.”
The friends they’ve lost refers to the 4,000-some people arrested, the 2,600 people injured, and the 2 dead protestors, both shot and killed by police. And therein lies perhaps the biggest issue in the entire debacle — the authorities. On October 1, an 18-year-old protester was shot in the chest with a live round. A week later, another unarmed man was shot while trying to set up a roadblock. There are theories circulating that the police officers aren’t Hong Kongian, but that they’re mainland Chinese. One possible reason they might’ve done this is because it’s arguably a lot harder to brutalize your next-door neighbor than it is someone you’ve never met before. In addition, they’ve also implemented surveillance devices that they claim can identify someone by the way they walk, alongside street cameras that have the ability to scan pedestrian’s faces. In response, protesters wore masks and destroyed at least one of the smart cameras.
The way China is handling the protests is strikingly similar to the 1989 Democracy Movement, more infamously known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre. In both cases, the Chinese government declared the protests as threats, saying in 1989 that they were a political threat, and in 2019, riots. To this day, China denies that the Tiananmen Square Massacre even happened, let alone that they killed their own unarmed citizens. They haven’t released any statements regarding the 2 murdered protestors; in fact, they have been censoring the protests altogether. In addition, China brought in soldiers from the mainland in 1989, and there are fears that they will do the same thing again if they haven’t already.
It’s taken the rest of the world a long time to react to the protests, but only the United States has passed any legislation to aid the protestors. On November 27, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law. The act imposes sanctions on China for its human rights violations specifically. Former UK Prime Minister Theresa May reiterated that the Sino-British Joint Declaration needed “to be abided by international laws and continue to be respected [by China].” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had some words for the Chinese government, stating “We certainly call on China to be very careful and very respectful in how it deals with people who have legitimate concerns in Hong Kong.”
One thing that the world either fails to or chooses not to realize is that China is the modern day Soviet Union. Aside from obvious political resemblances, they share numerous similarities. They’ve practiced extreme religious persecution, especially against Uighur Muslims. They are a nuclear superpower. They are enemies of the United States and are allied with our other enemies, including North Korea. And perhaps that is the reason why the rest of the world is so scared to take action against China. They are the only country other than perhaps Russia that is rivaling the United States as the world superpower. The world relies heavily on China for manufacturing, especially in the technology sector. The computers Wake County spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on? Lenovo, a Chinese company. The processors that power those computers? Manufactured almost entirely in China. The world’s fear is not one of World War III. It’s of losing money.
It’s despicable. Democracy is not perfect, but it is the only form of government that at least respects human rights. And instead of protecting and fostering it for those under the oppressive Chinese socialist regime, the rest of the world has chosen to protect its own interests, thus bending to China’s will. The United States is the only country so far to have the guts to stand up to them. The only way we can prevent a second Tiananmen Square-type event is by universally telling China to #FreeHongKong. They might not listen to empty words, but they will have to listen if their wallets are suddenly very light.