By James Boggs
Dissent, it seems, is in the air. Following on the heels of a peace march in Moscow and the climate change march in New York, a pro-democracy protest has risen up in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is an autonomous region of China, free to make its own domestic political decisions, but under the wing of Chinese foreign and military policies. Under the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong has become an important economic hub, behind London and New York, with one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world. Additionally, it is a center of international trade and banking, and its currency is the eighth most traded in the world.
Overall, Hong Kong has become a cornerstone of the modern economic community. This makes Hong Kong both a boon and a risk to China. Exposure to western ideals is not limited in Hong Kong, and because of its international importance, these ideals come flooding in. The city has deep economic ties with western powers as well, which makes it more receptive to western ideology.
The freedom enjoyed by the city’s citizens means that China has less control over Hong Kong. If it were to gain more control over the city, China would reap significant benefits, not the least of which would be economic in nature. Additionally, China is threatened by the western inclination of the region within its borders.
In order to take action against this, China recently enacted legislation that mandated all potential candidates for government positions in Hong Kong had to be approved by Beijing first. This means that China can be sure to have a pro-Beijing Chief Executive in Hong Kong, which would significantly increase its control over the region.
The law sets up a committee of Communist Party of China members, who then vet candidates from a pool of around 1,500 applicants as pro-Beijing.
Only vetted candidates would be allowed to run for office in Hong Kong. This new attempt at control has outraged many students, teachers, and even citizens, resulting in immense protests that have clogged the streets of Hong Kong. Thousands of people, mostly college students and teachers, have gathered in a few critical areas of downtown Hong Kong including the Central District, its economic center. The protests have constructed barricades across streets, and have been slowing life in downtown Hong Kong to a near halt, and have resulted in closed schools, businesses, and slowed the city’s government.
There have been numerous clashes with police over the issue, but due to constitutional restrictions, Hong Kong police are unable to use the brutal but efficient methods of Chinese police.
After the use of tear-gas brought more protesters to the site, police have backed down from such outright use of force, although protester beating are still reported to be occurring.
The protesters have other enemies as well. Citizens and business owners of the downtown area have been attempting to form a counter-protest, angry at the inconvenience that the protesters are causing.
Despite all the obstacles, the protesters are standing strong. They have two main goals: universal suffrage and the resignation of current Chief Executive C.Y. Leung. Though current laws in Hong Kong state that everyone gets a vote, the protesters reasonably argue that if only Beijing-approved candidates can run for office, their universal suffrage has been compromised.
They are insisting on truly free and fair elections, rather than farces run by the Chinese government – an admirable goal indeed. It remains to be seen, however, whether the protesters will meet with any success.
Beijing is not suffering any serious consequence as a result of these protests, and many Hong Kong citizens are already tired of them. It is unlikely that Beijing will change its stance anytime soon, and sadly there isn’t much protesters can do.
After all, China has, over its lifetime, gotten good at ignoring protesters.