Understanding the Hong Kong Protests

by Joshua So

Endless images of streets on fire, destroyed buildings, and massive mobs are spread throughout the internet under flashy headlines centered around the current Hong Kong protests. It is only natural that some people unfamiliar with the situation see these images of violence and question their necessity. However, it is crucial that everyone understands the causes of the Hong Kong protests and its potential impacts in order to formulate their own opinion.

Hong Kong is a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997 under the promise of autonomous rule for at least until 2047. The “one country, two systems” plan was supposed to guarantee the ability of Hong Kong to rule itself, free of mainland China’s influence. So far, Hong Kong has maintained a distinct separation from China, where President Xi and the Communist Party maintain a totalitarian surveillance state. Hong Kong has a separate language, currency, passport, judicial system, and legislative party. Hong Kong’s parliament is far more democratic than any elections in mainland China, but China continues to have a strong influence by choosing the Hong Kong Chief Executive.

The current protests were sparked by China’s latest attempt to exert more influence on Hong Kong through an extradition treaty which protesters believe would undermine Hong Kong’s independent judicial system and allow Chinese influence to circumvent Hong Kong’s legal protections.

The 2019 protests are not the first time China has had a problem with politically active students calling for democracy. The world watched in horror in 1989 as the the Chinese military cracked down on student demonstrations in the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Just 5 years ago, students and other protesters marched for democracy in response to China’s rejection of calls for open nominations for the position of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive. These protests, called the umbrella movement were characterized by upwards of 80,000 people occupying the streets with ponchos, umbrellas, and masks to protect against the police’s use
of tear gas and pepper spray.

Now, a united front of protesters ranging from high school students to seniors takes to the streets of Hong Kong with invaluable experience and a wide range of actions and tactics.While different groups within the hundreds of thousands of people the march may disagree with each other’s methods about how to protest, peaceful and confrontation protesters have learned from their experience in 2014 and maintain a united front agains the Hong Kong police. They work together to neutralize tear gas grenades and form walls of protection with umbrellas. Barricades and bricks in the street shut down city centers. The protesters have no centralized organization, instead adhering to the philosophy of Chinese-American martial arts filmmaker Bruce Lee, “Be Water.” The protests are widespread instead of concentrated, forming and dispersing easily in different neighborhoods as to avoid capture by the police.

While concessions from mainland China have yet to be made, protesters have received multiple recent victories with a wave of newly elected, pro-democracy local leaders and two new laws that President Trump recently signed into law, ensuring the annual review of Hong Kong’s autonomy and the ban on selling munitions to the Hong Kong police.

With Hong Kong located on the other side of the globe, it’s easy for some to say that it’s a conflict that, no matter what resolution, will not affect us. However, Hong Kong represents a greater fight: one of democracy and the rights of the governed against tyranny and one that we in the United States fought only 243 years ago.

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