University. An educational institution where people become students to learn skills, advancing their knowledge in various subjects … or if in Hong Kong, participate in large scale protests against the government. What should be a place of learning has transformed into a battleground as university students all across Hong Kong object to China’s encroachment into Hong Kong’s government and lifestyle. With instability looming and dissent rising, will China resort to increased violence and try to decrease people’s human rights?
This past Monday, Hong Kong police ramped up their anti-protest tactics and fired tear gas at students in the ever-escalating demonstrations against China’s influence on Hong Kong. Students fled the scene while some 200 protesters, armed with petrol bombs, remained trapped in their besieged academic building (Telegraph). The university, Polytechnic University, is situated in a prime location due to its proximity to the Hung Hom cross-harbour tunnel (a 10-lane thoroughfare) allowing easy access for the protesters to disrupt transportation (Telegraph). The police have responded violently and the students have taken up the fight and continued to push back, one student even made use of a bow and arrow and shot a police officer in the leg (Telegraph). So what led to this heavy ridden conflict?
Hong Kong was a former British colony acquired after the First Opium War in 1842 (BBC – Timeline). Being under British rule for roughly 150 years Hong Kong grew distinctly separate from its former sovereign state developing under a capitalist society and its people obtained more human rights. When Britain’s 99-year lease was nearing its end, meaning Hong Kong would fall back under China’s jurisdiction, Britain and China signed the Joint Declaration which coined the phrase “one country, two systems.” This refers to the fact that in 1997 Hong Kong would join China’s communist state but be allowed to continue its semi-democratic and capitalist system for an additional fifty years (BBC – Timeline). Since then, Hong Kong has clashed several times with China and has continued to commemorate “pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square” in a slight act of defiance as it “the only part of China where the 1989 events are marked” (BBC – Timeline).
The protests, which began in March of this year, originally were due to an extradition bill that would allow for Hong Kong citizens to be extradited and tried in mainland China for crimes they may have committed. Many saw this as a violation of the “one country, two systems” which granted more autonomy and rights and worried China was attempting to increase its control over this region (Telegraph). A mass protest broke out with people defacing the parliament building and even when the government said they would withdraw the bill, uncertainty won over and thus the demonstrations continued (BBC – NEWS). From simply wanting the bill removed, the protesters have turned more towards larger democratic reforms that demonstrate an “anti-government movement due to mainland China’s encroachment on the semiautonomous territory” (WSJ).
The response by the government and the police have shown little in the way of giving in to the protesters’ demands besides the extradition bill. Violence by police rises each day, with the policing stating they are willing to use live bullets on the so-called “rioters” if the use of lethal weapons continues (Telegraph). One 18-year-old has already been non-fatally shot in the chest during a confrontation and another while attempting to set up a roadblock. Furthermore, the Chinese military has been brought in to clean up the streets, making it look as if no protests ever existed (WSJ). With the military presence and its efforts to erase the displays of discontent by the protesters, some point out if mainland China might be preparing for another Tiananmen Square (timely due to its 30th anniversary) (ART News). Involvement of students, curation of mass protests, violence against demonstrators, and declarations for more democracy are all characteristics found in both events. As discussed in our reading of The Causes of Internal Conflict by Michael Brown, Hong Kong has two of the underlying factors that make it prone to internal conflict – Political Factors and Cultural/Perceptual Factors. The underlying issues help explain why there has Hong Kong has been rife with civil unrest since the 1990s. Additionally, this protest has garnered international attention, even involving the National Basketball Association in the US for a comment the general manager of the Houston Rockets made about his support of the protesters, however, no country is willing to step in and get involved. Attempts to acknowledge the atrocities delivered to the people of Hong Kong have often been met with little action by foreign counterparts. In the US, a bill, titled “the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act” that has yet to be signed by President Trump will formally recognize the protests (New York Times). Trump has in the past been wary to have a formal stance and has sidestepped the issue as doing so allows for easier trade talks and discussions with China. This raises an important factor due to the strength and power that China holds globally. Hong Kong has students who are willing to fight for their freedom and their rights for democracy, but it is significantly inferior to its mainland counterpart and would surely lose in any larger-scale conflict. At what point of civil unrest would an outside community become involved with mainland China seeing as it is a strong economic and military force?
Crowley, Michael, and Ana Swanson. “White House Won’t Say If Trump Will Sign Hong Kong Bill That Has Angered China.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Nov. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/11/21/us/politics/trump-hong-kong-china.html.
“Hong Kong Profile – Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 24 June 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-16526765.
“The Hong Kong Protests Explained in 100 and 500 Words.” BBC News, BBC, 12 Nov. 2019, www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49317695.
Lyons, John, et al. “Mainland Chinese Soldiers Take to Hong Kong Streets for First Time During Protests.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 16 Nov. 2019, www.wsj.com/articles/mainland-chinese-soldiers-take-to-hong-kong-streets-for-first-time-since-protests-began-11573907250.
Weiwei, Ai. “’The Future of Hong Kong Is Already Set’: Ai Weiwei Responds to Escalating Violence against Democracy Protesters.” Comment | Hong Kong, The Art Newspaper, 18 Nov. 2019, www.theartnewspaper.com/comment/the-future-of-hong-kong-is-already-set-ai-weiwei-responds-to-china-s-escalating-violence-against-democracy-protesters.Zhang, Michael. “Hong Kong Police Fire Tear Gas as Protesters Try to Escape Besieged University.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 17 Nov. 2019, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/11/17/hong-kong-police-threaten-fire-live-ammunition-democracy-protesters/.