A Guide Through the Hong Kong Protests - Rhea Singh
As of June 9th, 2020, Hong Kong has marked its one year anniversary of pro-democracy, anti-government protesting. Though the Covid-19 pandemic temporarily slowed down the momentum of the movement, protestors have remained resilient in the face of adversity and continue to push forward in their struggle for democracy and more freedom from China. Thousands took to the streets on June 9th to mark a year of these rallies, even amidst the current fears and unrest. Though there has been significant media coverage of the protest movement, many, (including me until now), have remained largely ignorant of the motivations and the core objectives behind this movement. In this article, I will be detailing the reasons for protest, the government response, China’s role in the protests, and what happens next.
Hong Kong Protests, 2020 via https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-one-year-later.html
A quick history dive: Hong Kong was a British territory until 1997, when it was handed over to Chinese control. However, the handover agreement gave Hong Kong protection, and allowed the city to have separate press, speech, and assembly for 50 years - that is - until 2047. Following this date, theoretically, Hong Kong can become fully integrated with Mainland China. Many want to achieve full democracy and independence from China before this.
Hong Kong handover to China via https://www.theguardian.com/world/from-the-archive-blog/2017/jul/01/hong-kong-handover-china-timeline-1997-20
The roots of this protest movement can be traced back to 2014, to what was called “The Umbrella Revolution”. The name of the movement comes from the protestors use of umbrellas in response to the use of pepper spray by the police force. During this movement which lasted around 79 days, protestors took to the streets and the city’s financial centre to protest against China’s increasing influence as well as to demand a democratic electoral reform in Hong Kong. Though this movement fizzled out at the end of 2014, the tensions remained simmering, and brought to life a generation of activists who are determined to achieve their goals, their rights, and their liberty.
The Umbrella Movement via https://qz.com/1714897/what-was-hong-kongs-umbrella-movement-about/
In June of 2019, almost 5 years after “The Umbrella Movement”, the protestors returned to the streets to voice their beliefs against the government’s extradition bill that would have allowed the extradition of fugitives to mainland China. Citizens worried that Beijing could use this bill in order to prosecute people for political reasons under China’s secretive legal system. Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous city with a separate legal and political system from mainland China. Such governance is thought of as “one government, two systems”, and such a bill would allow China to impinge on these few freedoms of Hong Kong, and would infringe on the idea of Hong Kong’s separate legal system. The protests began with large peaceful crowds voicing their concerns and beliefs, but rapidly spiralled into a violent stand-off of people VS police, and has become increasingly dangerous and lethal due to the uncontrolled police brutality. The movement has continued to evolve, and their major demands are outlined as follows:
Full withdrawal of the extradition bill
Independent inquiry systems to question and control police brutality
Release of those arrested during these protests
The implementation of universal suffrage in Hong Kong
There is an increasingly louder call from the public for the full democracy of Hong Kong; for now, simply the removal of the extradition bill is not enough. In the face of police brutality and an oppressive system, people are demanding their rights be given. The state-sanctioned violence towards protestors has rapidly eroded the public’s faith in the government and legal system. Protestors have been condemned by the government as “rioters”, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam has made it evident that the Hong Kong government will not bow down to the protestors. This has continued to fuel unrest and tension, for there is an increasing anger amongst the people that they are not being heard.
Beijing has held a firm stance against protestors, and President Xi has applauded Lam’s harsh crackdown on protestors as he continues to call for restoration of order from these protests. China has deployed large numbers of its military to Hong Kong, thus adding to the bloodshed taking place in the city. Now, China is proposing to introduce a new national security law in Hong Kong, similar to the anti-subversion bill of 2003 that posed a direct threat to political, religious, and media freedom, that was withdrawn due to mass protesting.
Police Brutality in Hong Kong via https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/11/hong-kong-protester-critically-wounded-police-shooting-n1079766
Though these violent protests and the people VS police stand-off has led to dark times in Hong Kong, there is still a light of hope. The support for the protest movement is astronomical and has completely overshadowed the protests of 2014. Global attention has put a spotlight on Hong Kong, and people all around the world are paying attention to the people in Hong Kong, and the challenges they face in their struggle for freedom. Thousands have been arrested during these protests, but thousands continue to fight, and have acquired useful skills and techniques in adapting their protests in order to maximise their protection from the violent retaliation of the police and military – be it tear gas, pepper spray, or bullets. The end to this conflict is unclear and is still distant, but for now, the protestors continue to feel strengthened by the longevity, the unity, and the relentless determination that their movement has maintained.
"Hong Kong Protests, One Year Later." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 9 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/06/09/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-one-year-later.html.
Lay, Belmont. "Hong Kong Protests Mark 1st Year Anniversary on June 9, 2020." Mothership.SG - News from Singapore, Asia and Around the World, 9 June 2020, mothership.sg/2020/06/hong-kong-protests-one-year-anniversary/.
Qin, Amy. "Why Are People Protesting in Hong Kong?" The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 27 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/27/world/asia/why-are-hong-kong-protesters.html?auth=login-google.
Yeung, Jessie. "The Hong Kong Protests, Explained." CNN, 20 Dec. 2019, edition.cnn.com/2019/11/15/asia/hong-kong-protests-explainer-intl-hnk-scli/index.html.
Yu, Elaine, and Steven L. Myers. "China’s Military Vows to Defend the Country’s Interests in Hong Kong." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia, 26 May 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/05/26/world/asia/china-military-hong-kong.html.