A Struggle for Democracy
Six months have passed — what started as peaceful marches against the extradition bill introduced in Hong Kong have developed into a major political crisis. People who feared that it would allow the Chinese government to encroach on Hong Kong’s independent legal system are now protesting for a more democratic Hong Kong, including independent inquiry on police brutality and complete universal suffrage. While the extradition bill was eventually withdrawn, the Hong Kong government, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, adamantly refuses to compromise on other measures. After the protesters were attacked by an anti-protest mob in July, there was public outrage toward police neglect and their failure to protect the citizens, and later towards the police brutality employed in an attempt to crush the demonstrations. Anti-government sentiments soured into more frequent, violent, and chaotic clashes between the police and protesters. The police are using batons, tear gases, pepper sprays, and water cannons against the protesters, and two protesters were shot by the police with live rounds. The clashes are spreading into all areas of Hong Kong, including universities, subway stations, airports, and military barracks.
As the conflict escalates, it is no longer a problem isolated to Hong Kong — it is now a global political crisis involving geopolitical interests. On November 24, the local pro-democratic party saw a landslide victory in the recent Hong Kong council elections, and on November 28, the US signed a bill imposing sanctions on anyone who participated in human rights violations in Hong Kong, implying their support towards protests. Amidst the growing tensions of Chinese relations with Hong Kong and the US, the possibility of Chinese military intervention hangs over the situation.
Global attention to the Hong Kong protests sparked debates; critics condemn the intensifying violence. They argue that the initially peaceful marches have now been steered away from their original intent, and that destructiveness reduces the protests to mere riots that threaten the security of Hong Kong. However, when an authoritarian government refuses to listen to the voices of the people and even starts to use violence against them, the people are only left with two choices: to be silenced or to fight back. Conceding to government authority would mean giving up on freedom and democracy, the foundation on which Hong Kong has established its prosperity. And this is not an option for the people who wish to protect the homeland they love.
Before criticizing the protesters for their violence, we should consider what pushed them to this point. We should uphold the essence of free speech rather than encourage blind obedience to government authority. The protesters have legitimate reasons to demonstrate: to request a fundamental change in the Chinese and Hong Kong governments that try to restrict freedom of speech and basic human rights. The movement has evolved into a wider call for democracy.
Without these protests, democracy would have long been dead in Hong Kong. And even until now, they still stand on the brink of losing it. There seems to be no clear end in sight for the demonstrations, and in the meantime, the struggle for a brighter future in Hong Kong continues.
An Interplay of Interests
The formal withdrawal of the extradition bill fulfills only one of the five core demands of the protesters, which include a probe into police brutality and misconduct, amnesty for arrested protesters, and universal suffrage to vote for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive. Nevertheless, it has not seemed to tame their raging fury or quietened the demands for a more democratic Hong Kong. Protests have arguably gotten worse — what began as peaceful demonstrations have now turned into a bloodbath between the civilians and the police force. And yet, while the protesters have garnered support from across the world due to constant international media coverage, there is undeniably an opposite perspective that deserves equal recognition.
The protests have unsurprisingly been met with heavy disapproval and contempt among many mainland Chinese nationals. An obvious contributing factor is the drastic escalation of the whole situation to wild violence. The resort to aggression disrespects the rule of law and compromises the desired integration of Hong Kong with the mainland. As the protests aim towards the larger objective of liberating Hong Kong, it is feared that the manner undertaken to achieve this is potentially destructive to Hong Kong’s economic growth. Following an official legal process to push forth ambitions rather than resorting to violence.
The increasing level of foreign intervention has further escalated the issue to a global scale, which many mainland Chinese supporters view to be unnecessary interference in an issue best dealt with locally. Pro-democracy Hong Kong activists based in foreign countries have already called for foreign consulates to express support for the cause, dismissed by critical mainland citizens as a desperate call for legitimacy. Just recently, US President Trump signed two bills that will authorize sanctions on officials involved in human rights abuses amidst the protests, as well as a ban on crowd-control munitions like tear gases and rubber bullets. The legislation has triggered displeasure from the pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong, expressing that the two bills are “unnecessary and unwarranted, and would harm the relations and common interests between Hong Kong and the US”.
There are also allegations that certain pro-democracy groups are receiving financial support from Western organizations, raising suspicions on the actual intent and authenticity of the protests. China has released sanctions on non-profit organizations for “strongly instigating extreme violent criminal activities” in Hong Kong. These nonprofits include the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a private nonprofit organization funded by the US Congress, and the Human Rights Watch. The NED has reportedly been funding several anti-China groups like the US-based Solidarity Center and the US National Democratic Institute. In 2018 alone, these groups have received 155,000 USD and 200,000 USD, respectively. However, the NED had denied directly funding the ongoing protests.
Although the protesters are genuinely fighting for what they believe is best for their country, the whole situation is complicated by a potential interplay of interests from other involved parties. As international media sources incline towards favoring the protests, we must remain vigilant and objective to identify any additional motives involved in the demonstrations.
"I think the young generation mostly do not know what they want from these protests. They are fighting for democracy and better opportunities, yet in their history of British colonization, they went through way worse non-democratic situations."
"The situation is a very complicated issue. While I do not condone the violence occurring, I believe that at some point it was necessary for things to escalate to that level."
"The thing is that Chinese media are very selective about the scope and goals of the movement, as they fear the momentum of the protests may encourage any pro democratic, separatist, or other dissident movements within mainland China."
"I think they should focus on studying and working harder to improve their government and economy in the future."
"The current events are greatly impacting people’s daily lives. Due to the recent violence on university campuses, lectures have been replaced with online courses until the end of the semester. My friends came back to Korea without properly packing their bags and leaving most of their things in dorms."
"Overall, I think people should understand that the resort to violence was a result of their whole anger that has bottled up over time."
"What is going on in Hong Kong may represent a new normal for all contemporary societies, one where rampant inequality has robbed the lower classes of any hope but where technological advancement has awarded governments with ever increasing methods with which to control their unruly subjects."