The Hong Kong protests, explained.

The 1984 Sino-British power transfer agreement stated that China would give Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years as the country would run under the “one country, two systems” principle. With an independent judicial system, the financially thriving country of Hong Kong demonstrates a great model of democracy and freedom.

However, its underlying relationship with neighboring mainland China has proven to invite a myriad of issues concerning universal suffrage, free speech, and independence. The concept of  protesting or organizing mass activist movements in Hong Kong is not a foreign one. In fact, ever since 2014, Hong Kong millennials have initiated protests against Beijing’s increasing control over its legislative and judicial systems. 

Though the protests currently happening in the status quo are unprecedented. Peaceful protests took place early in 2019 grew by June into marches of astonishing numbers, drawing hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers. 

Although the extradition bill has been completely withdrawn, protestors are fighting for “The Five Demands” to be fulfilled by the Hong Kong Government. The Five Demands include investigations against police abuse and universal suffrage. The greatest public demand is conduct direct elections where legislative and presidential candidates do not have to be prescreened by a body of politicians from Beijing. 

With all the chaos among protestors, Hong Kong police, and Chinese politicians, I was fortunate to interview two of my friends in Hong Kong who both wish to remain anonymous for their individual safety. While the two are currently enrolled in international schools in Hong Kong, they both hold a strong sense of attachment and devotion to Hong Kong’s heritage and sovereignty. 

For the people who don’t understand what’s going on in Hong Kong, can you provide some background information on what’s currently going on with the recent protests?

A: The protests in Hong Kong began due to a very controversial extradition bill, which would essentially allow China to step into Hong Kong’s judicial system and try [Hong Kong] criminal cases in China. This sparked a lot of outrage among citizens who first started protesting peacefully. Over time, the protests have escalated. Although Carrie Lam has officially withdrawn the bill completely, the protests evolved into a debate about Hong Kong freedom and independence as well as overall dissatisfaction with the government in general. There are several points of contention, some condemning the police for their actions taken against protesters and others who are calling for Carrie Lam to step down. One of the main points behind the protests is that they are fueled by general dissatisfaction and disappointment with how Hong Kong is currently being run in accordance with China.

B: I’m sure most people know about it, but the protests basically revolve around this extradition bill that was introduced ever since a Hong Konger killed his girlfriend in Taiwan. Even though this bill might properly prosecute that individual, it means that China can interfere with Hong Kong’s judicial system and extradite Hong Kong criminals to China. There was a lot of opposition against this bill and basically this is where all the protests originated from. The bill was withdrawn a few months ago, but Hong Kongers, especially the young ones, are still demanding for free elections and transparency in the police department. 

How are you, your friends, and family reacting to these protests? 

A: I definitely know some of my friends who have attended, and I’m very supportive of their attendance, that being said protests have generally escalated far more now, with more police involvement and violent clashes. At the current state of the protests, it’s more difficult and dangerous for students to participate. While I don’t think I would go out and protest, those that I know that do go and protest, I hold immense respect for their bravery and dedication. I’ve seen footage and stumbled across police barricades and it is sometimes quite frightening, but it also just makes it all the more clear how important going out and participating is for the people of Hong Kong. 

B: I’ve been told by my parents to avoid certain streets, subway stations, and landmarks. [My parents] are a bit passive and they don’t talk about the protests unless they tell me to be careful. They also get frustrated when the protests are blocking major roads and create traffic, but that’s all. A few of my classmates were really passionate, but now the protests are quite violent. Most of my friends who are foreigners immigrated to Australia and Singapore because the police are beginning to even harass foreigners or anyone who doesn’t speak Mandarin. 

How is your school responding to the protests? (ex. safety, potential student absences) 

A: My school is farther removed from the protest areas, so we are currently not having too many safety requirements regarding protests. Typically, during weekdays protests are scarce as they mostly occur during weekends. They haven’t actually disrupted our school life all too much, but our school has held an assembly to address what is going on in our city and offer different perspectives on the protests. Although the school is an international school and mostly neutral, it holds respect for both the protesters cause and the government.

B: My school has been closed for the past week because the protests these days are extremely dangerous. There was a college student who was shot on Monday as well as a man who was set on fire. These days, the protestors are even beginning to enter areas where protests never took place. 

Have you ever considered participating in a protest? 

A: I would say that myself and the people around me are generally more removed from the protests since not many of us are actually from Hong Kong and we always have the opportunity to return to our country of origin. That being said, most of the people I know are sympathetic to the protests. Although the protests have had a significant impact and inconvenience on our lives, we understand the necessity of this cause for the Hong Kongers. Most of us are hoping for a peaceful and nonviolent end to this cause with resolution soon.

B: Nope, I haven’t and I never [will] protest because it’s really dangerous with the tear gas and rubber bullets. A bunch of students got shot and a pregnant woman was physically assaulted by the police. 

In truth, Hong Kong has a bleak future. 2047 marks the 50th year since Britain’s return of the country to China, encouraging a higher degree of Chinese control and autonomy over Hong Kong. The rubber bullets, bloodied heads, and broken umbrellas all symbolize Hong Kong’s brutal and prolonged fight for freedom, but defeat is inevitable unless the West fixes its disappointing response to this cry for democracy. 

–Hannah Jo (’22)