Last week, hundreds of thousands of citizens flowed out onto the streets of Hong Kong. For the last seven months, protests have brought the city to a standstill. Although the protests initially began peacefully, they have become increasingly violent with frequent clashes with Hong Kong police. The protests came about as a result of an April extradition bill that would have allowed for certain criminals to be extradited to mainland China for court proceedings (BBC 2019). Despite the bill being scrapped, the protests have continued, with demonstrators demanding more civil liberties and punishment for the police’s violent response. Officials in Beijing had hoped that the protests would settle down as time passed and the economy worsened. On the contrary, city elections held in recent weeks led to a surprising victory for some pro-democracy candidates, renewing protester’s resolve (Hernandez 2019).
Hong Kong’s history with mainland China is a complicated one. The semi-autonomous city was under British rule until 1997, when it was passed on to the Chinese. Unlike the mainland, Hong Kong still holds many liberties that most Chinese citizens do not, such as unrestricted internet access and free speech (Victor 2019). While the Chinese government had promised to allow Hong Kong to operate with these additional liberties until at least 2047, many feel that the state has slowly been cutting back on these rights. The current government in Hong Kong is lead by Beijing-backed leaders who do not seem to hold the same values as their own people. For these citizens, it is vital that they maintain their autonomy and prevent the mainland from exerting power of the Hong Kong people.
This history is a large part of why the people are protesting. Due to their time under British rule, the Hong Kong people are much more welcoming to the idea of democracy than their mainland counterparts. This extradition bill would have taken back some of the liberties that they were guaranteed to have until 2047. With this bill, Hong Kong citizens would have potentially been shipped to mainland China if they were suspected of committing a crime. These courts would not be comprised of their peers and would be heavily biased toward the views of the mainland. Obviously, the Hong Kong people view this as a serious infringement on their rights and autonomy and responded. While the protests began peacefully, they quickly escalated into violence. Many blame the Chinese government for the violent police response.
The police have been accused of using unnecessary force in response to peaceful protests. They have frequently used tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons to disperse crowds. In some instances, they have even struck protesters with live rounds, although they claim it was self defence (Victor 2019). Undercover officers have also been seen fighting protesters which many claim is a serious violation. In one video, a motorcycle riding police officer can be seen recklessly driving through a crowd of protesters, striking one in the process (Kuo 2019). At the same time, protesters are also not totally without blame. They have lit fires and vandalized buildings and stabbed police officers. In addition to police officers, the protesters are also targeting those who disagree with their point of view. One man who openly confronted protesters was doused with lighter fluid and burned (Kuo 2019). It may come as a surprise to some that the government has used more violence to repress the protesters, like it did in Tiananmen Square, but in reality, this outcome is unlikely. The international community is closely watching these protests, and pro democracy promoters worldwide are supporting their cause. This does not mean, however, that the government will let up. In fact, the head of state in Hong Kong released a statement in response to the most recent violence saying, “If there is still any wishful thinking that by escalating violence the government will yield to pressure … I am making this clear and loud here. That will not happen” (Kuo 2019). Meanwhile, the protesters continue to push their initiative forward. Although they have already stopped the extradition bill from being passed, they are still continuing to fight the repressive tactics implemented by the police. With neither the police nor the protesters showing any signs of de-escalating tensions, it remains to be seen what the result will be.
Interestingly, the protests in Hong Kong are not an isolated incident. These protests and others like it are occurring world-wide and inspired by one another. It is important to keep these protests in mind and to track them, because they may ultimately result in regime change. The Chinese government seems unrelenting in their stance on the issue and unwilling to back down. At the same time, the Hong Kong people have shown no signs of stepping down. Will these violent demonstrations yield a favorable outcome for the protesters?
Hernández, Javier C., and Elaine Yu. “Hong Kong Protests: Hundreds of Thousands Turn Out for Largest March in Weeks.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Dec. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/12/07/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-us-chamber-commerce.html.
“The Hong Kong Protests Explained in 100 and 500 Words.” BBC News, BBC, 28 Nov. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49317695.
Kuo, Lily. “Hong Kong Protests: Man Shot by Police and Burns Victim in Critical Condition.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 11 Nov. 2019, www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/11/hong-kong-police-shoot-demonstrator-during-morning-rush-hour.
Victor, Daniel. “Why Are People Protesting in Hong Kong?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Nov. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/11/13/world/asia/hong-kong-protests.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article.