Photo by: KC Leung. Tsim Sha Tsui December 1st
The city of Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated in the world with a population of over 7.4 million, has now been undergoing intense protests for just about 9 months now, or roughly 261 straight days of demonstrations. While the protests started off peaceful the violent counterattacks by city police have almost driven demonstrators to riot, and the country of China still has yet to make a move to compromise and settle completely with the upset citizens of Hong Kong. But why exactly have these demonstrations been about and what can we take away from it?
In order to understand the reason for such a large scale and drawn out protest it is important to know where exactly Hong Kong stands with China. Hong Kong originated as a british colonial city after the outbreak of the 2nd Opium War in 1842, and was returned to China in 1997 as a “special administrative region”, meaning the city would have a significant amount of independent autonomy and even its own economic system separate of chinese communism. The massive city was to be ruled under a principle they called “one country, two systems”, however on March 15th the Hong Kong government proposed the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill that many worried would give the official chinese government more control over the political systems of Hong Kong.
The bill, as proposed, would allow Hong Kong authorities to arrest and kick out anyone wanted in a chinese province outside of Hong Kong. Against popular demand the bill was passed on June 9th, from that date onward the protestor’s shifted their goals from not passing the bill to repeal it, as well as the release of protestors from prisons and a set of repercussions for the police’s often excessive force. As the protests have been growing the Hong Kong police have begun to use ever more extreme measures including rubber bullets, tear gas, and later on even an actual shooting of college students Chan Yim-lam and Alex Chow. The protests continue regardless of the bill officially being repealed on October 23rd due to imprisoned protesters still not being released, a refusal of the local government to recognize the city law enforcement's actions as being police brutality, and most notably, an independent commission of inquiry into police behavior.
More details of the protests can be found online including videos, pictures, and particularly China’s response. While Hong Kong got to the point of declaring emergency law, shutting down airports, and police raids, China has only recently responded by referring to the protests as criminal and before only barely mentioning them in smaller english newspapers.
But what impacts to protests in China have on the United States? Directly speaking not much; China occasionally has accused the United States or the U.N. of inflaming the protests in Hong Kong but there does not seem to be alot of evidence as of yet that that will affect our relationship with China in the long term or impact our trade talks. However, a lot of parallels can be drawn between the actions of the police in Hong Kong, Venezuela, and other countries with urban unrest, and with Hong Kong specifically the original cause is fairly similar to issues facing the United States today of extraditing foreign criminals and the accountability of political figures and law enforcement.