The Hong Kong Protests, Explained
This topic has been a long time coming.
This round of Hong Kong protests – not to be confused with the 2014 protests, known as the Umbrella Revolution – have been going on for nearly five months, albeit at varying levels of seriousness.
To understand these protests, you have to understand a bit of Hong Kong’s history. Hong Kong became a British territory in the mid-19th century. In 1997, the UK transferred ownership of Hong Kong to China. However, Hong Kong and tis inhabitants have never considered themselves – nor been considered by others – to be part of China. Thus, Hong Kong exists as a special administrative region (SAR) within China. The common phrasing used to describe this arrangement is “One Country, Two Systems.” Hong Kong is technically a part of China in that it is owned by China; however, Hong Kong has its own economy, a lot of its own laws, and its people don’t identify as Chinese. If this arrangement sounds confusing, that’s because it is. As you’ll see, Hong Kong’s status as a special administrative region causes issues.
In February, the government of Hong Kong considered making changes to their extradition processes and treaties. (Put simply, extradition is the process of transporting a criminal from Country A to Country B for the purpose of prosecution.) Governments are generally willing to have extradition agreements with friendly governments, as it allows everyone involved to carry out justice.
So, what’s the big deal with Hong Kong expanding its extradition powers? By expanding extradition powers, Hong Kong would blur the line which separates the Chinese judicial system with the Hong Kongese judicial system, and the Chinese judicial system is much less tolerant of dissent and free speech than the Hong Kongese judicial system. Dissent and free speech are quite popular in Hong Kong, as it’s among the safest and wealthiest parts of China (its only rival in these categories is Macau, another SAR). Naturally, since expanding extradition treaties would put Hong Kongers at risk of prosecution by the Chinese government, Hong Kongers are opposed to expansion of Hong Kongese extradition treaties. (The Hong Kongers’ fears have been proven to be justified, as the Chinese government is now inspecting the phones of individuals visiting China from Hong Kong. This is exactly why Hong Kongers oppose any extradition agreement with China.)
It is also worth noting that, as part of the possibility of creating additional extradition agreements, the proposed solution would also give a great deal of power to the chief executive of Hong Kong, as it would allow him or her to unilaterally decide who can and cannot be extradited, which would undermine the democratic principles which allegedly separate Hong Kong from China.
The first widespread demonstrations began in March, with thousands of people (estimates range from 5,000 to 12,000) of Hong Kongers coming out to oppose the extradition bill. You can see pictures of the protests here.
The number of protesters grew substantially by April, as roughly 130,000 people turned out to protest the proposed extradition bill. This protest was the largest since the Umbrella Revolution five years earlier. In the march – which was over two kilometers long and took over four hours to complete – protesters called for themselves to be protected from extradition to mainland China and called for the chief executive of Hong Kong to step down because she “betrayed the people and the city.” At this point, the protests were peaceful and the government fully recognized the protester’s rights to assemble and speak freely.
In June, the number of protesters grew again, as somewhere between 250,000 and one million people showed up at a march. (As usual, organizers tend to inflate numbers and governments tend to downplay numbers, so it’s hard to know exactly how many Hong Kongers showed up.) Regardless, even by the most conservative of estimates, the crowed nearly doubled in size. Below is a time-lapse of this demonstration. This demonstration was the first to see widespread violence on behalf of the protesters and law enforcement.
The June protest is where the real trouble started. For months, protests occurred but they were largely nonviolent. Everything was civil, and the government of Hong Kong (for the most part) respected the protesters’ rights. Sure, the protests caused a tense situation, but it wasn’t all that bad. However, once the violence started, things got out of control.
For the past couple months, the situation in Hong Kong has been chaotic. The violence and oppression ebbs and flows, but it’s always there. And recently, the violence and oppression has become even more evident.
What began as a few thousand people peacefully opposing a bill has become this:
The Hong Kongers protesting sadly have no way to fight back against the police force repressing them. Many Hong Kongers have gone so far as saying that they need their own Second Amendment. Other protesters have gone a step further by waving American flags and singing the national anthem.
Ironically, most people in the US are trying to restrict gun rights while the oppressed Hong Kongers are begging for gun rights. Maybe the right to bear arms isn’t so outdated.
If there’s one bright side to the Hong Kong protests, it’s this – the clashes are between Hong Kongers and the Hong Kong police. Of course, it’d be better if there were no clashes whatsoever, but the fact that the Chinese government hasn’t directly involved itself (aside from restricting movement to and from Hong Kong) is something that we should be thankful for. Unfortunately, this may change soon.
For days, the Chinese government has been amassing forces on the border with Hong Kong. According to the Chinese government, the forces stationed near the Hong Kongese border are only there temporarily and have no plans to enter Hong Kong. If things continue, though, I think we will see the Chinese government enter Hong Kong, and that’s where the real trouble would start. It’s hard to say what exactly the ramifications of such an action would be, but it would disrupt every aspect of life in Hong Kong, and due to Hong Kong’s important role in the global economy, the effects would be felt around the world.
I hope the protests don’t reach that point, but I’m starting to think the Chinese government taking over Hong Kong is becoming the most likely conclusion. This is bad news for Hong Kongers, as all they want is to be free.