Reflections on the Hong Kong protests

The events in Hong Kong are set to become a historic moment, as the people of the region do something which has proven deadly in the past – protest against the moves of the Chinese government.

Some sources are already comparing recent events to the build-up of the tragic 1989 Tiananmen Square disaster, where pro-democracy student protesters were massacred in numbers of up to the thousands. There is a lingering fear from some observers that the same may happen again in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy protests are nothing new in Hong Kong. Ever since the former British colony was handed over to the mainland in 1997, there have been protests. Hong Kong has some political autonomy, but after Article 23, which essentially gives mainland China power to veto any laws considered subversive, the protests have become larger and larger. The yearly protest held in July boasted a record 500,000 participants (police reports claim 100,000) for 2014.

The current protests however are fuelled by anger at Beijing’s control of the upcoming 2017 Hong Kong Chief-executive elections. The people of the region want, quite rightly, an open vote. Beijing has limited the election to only three people, all chosen by a Beijing approved board.

This will result in only the views of the mainland being represented – views which don’t fit particularly well with Hong Kong, with its strong British influences. Such a small breadth of representation is simply bad democratic politics, and although the mainland may not embrace democracy yet, they should respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and allow them the unbiased vote they deserve.

The problem of accurate representation for the Hong Kong people leads to another interesting point. It would be wrong to claim that Hong Kong is more British in its mentality than Chinese, but a poll from South China Morning Post says more or less says exactly that. 90 per cent of those asked responded that, given the choice, they would prefer to return to being a British colony rather than being part of China. Although we must bear in mind that this newspaper is printed in English, meaning readers are perhaps more British inclined than those who read in Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese, it does tell us that to only have Beijing-sympathetic policies represented in the election simply does not represent everyone in Hong Kong.

As for the growing concerns that the protests may descend into a horror like Tiananmen, Hong Kong luckily has some defence. The region still has some of the older British rules which in short should reduce the usage of some of the brutal tactics the government has used in the past (and still uses in regions such as Tibet and Xinjiang). The fear rises mainly from the use of tear gas on protesters armed only with umbrellas.

The global support for the protesters, such as on campus this week, will also hopefully pressure China’s leader Xi Jinping to avoid more excessively aggressive control methods. The trouble is that that pressure doesn’t appear to have stopped the use of tear gas in the first place.

Hong Kong’s protesters are completely justified in their stand. Although there is without a doubt a terrifying risk with their campaign, if they succeed this historical moment may change Chinese politics as a whole.

Tim Van Gardingen

Leave a Reply