Over the last year, we have witnessed the kindled spirit of the youth across the world. Political autonomy, corruption, powerlessness, poor economies, climate change and social media seem to be the chief contributors to the mass protest rage that has taken over. The large anti-government demonstrations have not been peaceful, with the number of human losses increasing as every day goes by. From Algeria, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, France, Hong Kong, Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and Pakistan and more, the story seems to be the same: voices that were never heard are gathering together for a scream to bring about a much needed change! Does it mean the people’s voice will finally be heard?
In this particular article, Editor Deepthi Suresh helps us to understand recent developments in Hong Kong.
Umbrella Protests of Hong Kong (2014)
Hong Kong was ruled by Britain as a colony until it returned under China’s control in 1997. The city, under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, is considered to have more autonomy than the mainland, and its people enjoy more rights. Beijing is responsible for the city’s defence and foreign affairs. However, Hong Kong witnessed protests (also referred to as an Occupy Movement or Umbrella Movement ) that occurred from 26 September to 15 December 2014. The protests began after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) issued a decision regarding proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system. This decision was seen as a widely restrictive and almost equivalent to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP’s) pre-screening of the candidates for the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Thousands of Hong Kong residents from all spheres of the population occupied major streets across the city, shuttering businesses and bringing traffic to a halt. Their claim was that Beijing had reneged on an agreement to grant Hong Kong open elections and their demand was “true universal suffrage”.
Five years since the Umbrella Movement, Hong Kong witnessed yet another massive protest in June 2019. Demonstrations began this summer over a bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China in certain circumstances. Hong Kong, despite being part of China, enjoys special freedom. This bill erupted a sense of fear among the residents that Beijing was bent on exerting greater control over Hong Kong and would largely endanger judicial independence and target social activists and journalists in Hong Kong.
Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs. On July 1st 2019, after an hour long siege, protesters stormed into the parliament and defaced parts of it. Protest action at Hong Kong international airport in August also saw renewed clashes and led to hundreds of flights being cancelled.
The problematic bill was withdrawn in September, but the demonstrations have continued and now the demand has been for full democracy in addition to an inquiry into police actions.
Also, protesters feared that the bill could be revived. Protesters have formulated the following demands:
- This movement should not be categorised as a riot
- Amnesty should be granted for arrested protesters
- An independent inquiry into the police brutality should take place
- Complete universal suffrage should be implemented
Protesters have continued their protests which include train disruptions and university occupations. However, these protests have subsided and the election on 24th November took place quite peacefully. Democratic candidates have secured about 90 per cent of 452 district council seats, which clearly has shown the public support for democracy. The landslide win has put immense pressure on Hong Kong’s leader who has pledged to listen to public opinion. Although the elections may have been local in nature, a result such as this where Democrats have secured the maximum number of seats is a sign that the protesters have the complete support of the public. The current head of Hong Kong has agreed to take public opinion into account but to what degree, only time will tell.
As a timely thanksgiving gift to Hong Kong, President Trump has signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in support of the pro-democracy protest movement. This will definitely lead to a backlash from Beijing further derailing the delicate US-China trade talks. The act was unanimously passed by both houses of the US Congress. Hundreds of Hong Kong residents including the elderly marched carrying the US flag as a sign of gratitude aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong. In response, China has suspended the review of requests by US military ships and aircraft to visit Hong Kong as of December 3, 2019, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying. She also announced that Beijing would impose sanctions on several US non-governmental human rights organisations that have been monitoring and reporting the state of protests in Hong Kong.
The relative calm over the past week is definitely not a sign of the protests losing momentum, but looks like players of the world have heard the voices and path-breaking changes may be fashioned in the new year.
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