Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 26, 2016   |   Ithaca, NY


Commentary: Protestors’ calls for democracy must be heard

“Occupy Central with Love and Peace,” “Umbrella Revolution,” “Hong Kong Federation of Students” or “Scholarism” are all names that point toward the same civil disobedience protest that is currently going on in Hong Kong. Since Sept. 26, crowds have expanded from Central Hong Kong to other parts of Hong Kong, including Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui — Hong Kong’s financial districts. The protest reflects the anger and frustration over the focus of economic and political power being in the hands of very few Hong Kong individuals with close-knit ties to Beijing.

The pro-democracy activists are demanding four conditions to be fulfilled in order for the demonstration to end, and those are universal suffrage, the resignation of current Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress decision to be withdrawn and a new electoral reform plan — including civil nomination of the chief executive — to be submitted.

Currently, Hong Kong permanent citizens can vote, but only 1,200 of the total votes count. The 1,200 votes are broken down into four sectors, each sector consisting of 300 votes — industrial, commercial, and financial sectors; professionals; labor, social service and religious sectors; members of the Legislative Council, representatives of district-based organizations, Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress and representatives of Hong Kong members of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Hong Kong was a British colony for 155 years until Hong Kong was handed over to China in July 1997. During the British rule, democracy didn’t exist in Hong Kong until it was introduced by the Chinese government. In 1990, Hong Kong created what is known as the “Basic Law” that includes a commitment that the 2017 chief executive would be elected through universal suffrage. The idea of “one country, two systems” is supposed to last for 50 years, beginning in 1997. The point of “one country, two systems” is that Hong Kong would have a separate political and legal system from China. Seventeen years since the handover, China has honored its commitment to the rules of “one country, two systems.” For instance, the legal system is still based on English, and the right to demonstrate, as seen most recently, has not changed.

To hear that China went back on the promise it made to Hong Kong in 2007 that the 2017 chief executive election will be totally democratic and the Chinese government would not interfere was a disappointment. Hong Kong is one of China’s most international cities. Losing Hong Kong to democracy can potentially become an advertisement to other cities in China to abandon communism. China wants to prevent that from happening and wishes to maintain political control. When China announced the news, it infuriated the people of Hong Kong and ruined the law “one country, two systems.”

The demonstration has occurred for almost a month now, and it is very worrisome because protests in Hong Kong have never been this extreme before. Comprising 80,000 protesters, it caused schools to close for a week. Personally, I agree with the idea of Hong Kong citizens trying to express their feelings and concerns to the Hong Kong government about their freedom of choice and democracy. However, the protest itself has caused a huge inconvenience to the Hong Kong economy. Countries like Australia and Italy have issued travel advisories, and local banks branches have closed down temporarily because of all the protesting. The protest also risks the safety of those who do not wish to participate in the protest.

The use of pepper spray and tear gas against protesters by the police seems to be a little excessive. To me, there seems to be no reason to use either because the movement was a silent protest. There are rumors that the Hong Kong government hired triads to cause fights among protesters to allow police officers to make arrests and have a reason to use tear gas and pepper spray, which is just unethical.

There seems to be much pressure on Hong Kong’s government from China. Any form of media about the Hong Kong protest has been censored in China, like Instagram, TV news, Twitter, Weibo, Baidu, etc. To my understanding, the reason behind the protest is not just to express Hong Kong people’s voices. It is to raise awareness for the rest of the world about how China is treating Hong Kong. China insists on maintaining political control to prevent Hong Kong from becoming an “instigator” to potentially cause an uproar. This is a challenge from the people of Hong Kong to Chinese leaders, similar to the unauthorized protest incident since Tiananmen Square in 1989 where students demanded democracy.