June 27, 2019
By Nicholas Jaramillo
Organizers of the protests claimed that 2 million Hong Kongers participated in the march June 16 , an increase from the 1.03 million who attended last week. Out of a population of about 7.3 million, a little over a quarter showed up to the marches, reflecting the feelings of precariousness the people of Hong Kong feel towards their current autonomous status. The protests are directed against chief executive Carrie Lam, who had on Tuesday apologized for proposing an extradition bill, a law that would allow fugitives to be transferred between Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, and Mainland China. Opponents of the bill recognize that trials that take place in Mainland China will not be fair, for in the past judges in Mainland China have supported resisting Western ideas of “judicial independence” or that “threaten the leadership of the ruling Communist Party”. The protest leaders are not appeased by Lam’s apology, and demand that the bill be withdrawn and for her to step down.
While many young people are out participating in the protests which have at times turned violent, involving rubber bullets and tear gas, others are already planning on where to live in the near future, a popular choice being Taiwan. A country with a constitution and democratic elections, it is not a part of the “one country, two systems” formula that former colonies like Hong Kong and Macau are currently under. This means Hong Kong is allowed its own government and administrative system, but diplomatic relations and regional defense falls within the responsibility of the Central People’s Government in Beijing. A level of autonomy is granted to Hong Kong until 2047, when the current system ends.
The most recent protests aimed at the extradition bill are part of a broader pattern. The people of Hong Kong wish to see their homeland become more democratic and free, resisting any notion of future reunification with the Chinese mainland. A previous protest, the Umbrella Movement, occurred in 2014, caused by China’s decision to rule out universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong, particularly the young, are aware that in less than three decades the freedom and autonomy they enjoy now will likely disappear when Hong Kong is subsumed by the Chinese government’s aspirations for a “one country, one system” formula. It is possible that this extradition bill was an attempt to slowly erode such freedoms, so that the transition in Hong Kong between systems by 2047 will be much less tumultuous. We should expect similar attempts pushed by the Hong Kong government and backed by Beijing in the future.
Witnessing these large-scale protests recalls the protests that took place in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The resulting military action showed the depths of moral depravity that a massive bureaucratic apparatus like the Chinese state can reach. There is fears that these protests could end in a similar fashion. In the Hong Kong constitution, otherwise known as Basic Law, “allows military intervention of the Chinese army in a state of emergency, including ‘turmoil’ which ‘endangers national unity or security and is beyond the control of the government of Hong Kong, or when the city’s leader requests its help to maintain public order”. Some of the protesters are planning to “escalate” their actions for their demands to be met by this Friday, while others recognize the possibility of such violent repression and advocate instead for continuing civil peaceful action.
The most effective tool Hong Kongers have to prevent this from happening are mass protests and demonstrations, trying their best to involve as many people as possible in the struggle. A large amount of respect should be given to the protesters, as they are standing up to what is likely the most powerful authoritarian country of our time. Even if the disappearance of Hong Kong’s special autonomous status is inevitable, the struggle must be carried out onto the end, as an example to the oppressed peoples worldwide that the ideals of democracy are worth fighting for. In regards to our side, President Trump could mention the protests in the upcoming trade talks with China, and call for President Xi Jinping to act with restraint regarding Hong Kong in the future if he wishes to secure better trade relations with the U.S. In such a tense situation, the priority should be to make sure these protests do not become a repeat of Tiananmen Square. With military action as an absolute last resort, the U.S. should use whatever influence or power it has over China to persuade it from creating another tragedy.