Worldwide, it seems that more citizens are feeling the zeal of political activism and standing up to protest their corrupt governments. This trend was demonstrated once more within the millions of citizens who took to the streets of Hong Kong and successfully halted the passing of a potentially abusive extradition bill.
Two million people took to the streets last Saturday calling for their chief executive, Carrie Lam, to pull the bill that would allow China to retrieve “criminals” in Hong Kong without applying for an international arrest warrant, and for her to step down. This protest was the apex of a growing movement among the people which was preceded by thousands gathering in the region’s business district last Wednesday, and hundreds of thousands protesting the Sunday prior.
The Wednesday protestors shut down their businesses and pulled their children from school to take to the streets, ultimately shutting down many of them. This spurred a violent response from the police who shot organizers with rubber bullets, bean bags, and water cannons but was unsuccessful in extinguishing the gathering. The protestors responded with a failed attempt to flood government offices, and at the end of the day, 72 people were taken to the hospital.
Lam publicly apologized for submitting the bill and declared that it would be suspended until further notice. Unfortunately, she refused to step down and said she would be not removing the bill altogether. The executive’s actions will likely only prompt further demonstrations and continue the long history of dissent between China and Hong Kong.
Some readers probably thought, like I did, that Hong Kong was just a city within China, but it is much more complicated than that. Hong Kong has an independent currency, laws, and immigration system. However, their chief executive is appointed by the Chinese government in Beijing, making them somewhat autonomous, but not entirely independent from the People’s Republic.
The two regions have followed a “one country, two systems” principle since the rule of the area was transferred to China in 1997, which was a critical factor in Britain’s agreement to turn the Colony over to China.
As a former British colony, Hong Kong has a continuous history of being at odds with mainland China. China’s government is communist, while Hong Kong maintains a limited democracy causing many conflicts whenever citizens feel that Beijing is meddling in their politics.
Protests also occurred in 2014, when citizens feared that reforms for selecting the chief executive would only allow executives who aligned with Beijing. The belief in democracy and maintaining independence is crucial and fiercely protected Hong Kong, making these recent protests no surprise.
Hong Kong’s ability to keep its separate legal system is beneficial to those who dissent against the Chinese government. The primary concern among protestors is that the Chinese government would exploit the proposed extradition laws to jail political opponents for non-political crimes. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce claimed that the bill would damage Hong Kong’s reputation of safety for international business.
However, Chinese government officials claimed that the bill would close a loophole discovered in a case involving a Taiwanese man accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend; He was unable to be prosecuted because he fled to Hong Kong before he could be arrested.
Abuses of judicial procedure are nothing new to residents of Hong Kong, and China has several complaints of human rights violations regarding their treatment of prisoners. Police dodged the law in 2014 when clearing protestors, by enforcing a civil injunction from the private bus and taxi companies who were represented by pro-Beijing lawyers.
China has disqualified candidates from running for office if they would not sign declarations that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of the country. Politicians have been expelled from office on four occasions for failing to take their oath of office “sincerely and solemnly,” by modifying it during the swearing-in ceremony.
Many laws have passed to silence political demonstration, and free speech is choked by regulation of social media, news, and television. Opponents have arbitrarily been detained, as well as tortured, and mistreated while incarcerated.
I noted in a previous column how China’s rise in wealth is primarily due to restrictive central planning and their own citizen’s economic freedom. So, Hong Kong’s citizens should be commended for standing up to China’s government, especially considering China’s proximity. They demonstrated the necessity for citizens to be active in their politics, and how governments only have as much power as their citizens allow them.