Hong Kong’s Fight for True Democracy Comes as an Inconvenience to Others

At the turbulent intersection of activism and impact, people are bound to be frustrated with demonstrations disrupting daily routine. The world watches as Hong Kong fights for justice and Beijing resists. Protest demonstrations are not foreign to Hong Kong; the city has undergone consecutive large-scale protests since 2003. What Hong Kong is seeing now is a strategic use of tactics to cripple the infrastructure and mobility of the region. Some of Hong Kong’s residents and those adjacent are perturbed by the protests because they impact their pockets. Loss of business revenue and stalls in investment trigger urgent, global attention. Measuring a protest’s level of effectiveness is challenging, but once money is involved, the desperate need for change amplifies the conversation. 

Occupation Protest of Hong Kong International Airport on 8/12/2019.
Image courtesy of Studio Incendo © 2019

Protestors have methodically compromised Hong Kong’s international airport, government buildings, major streets, and train stations. At times, the disruption escalates to violence, and those inconvenienced by daily protests no longer tolerate the disorder. “This is not the Hong Kong I’ve learned to love,” says a South African woman interviewed by Agence France-Presse on August 11, 2019. “Everybody in Hong Kong is so lovable and welcoming for all foreigners, and then to experience this just hurts me. It really hurts me.” The sheer disconnect from reality is on display throughout this interview. Essentially, this woman represents a multitude of travelers who lack the empathetic capacity to domestic issues while immersed in respective foreign locales. Their travel experience is “interrupted” by local citizens fighting against the erosion of their freedoms. Rarely is there a convenient time to protest when democratic values are at stake.

China has an unavoidable reign over Hong Kong through the “one country, two systems” paradigm. After Great Britain’s invasion of the Chinese mainland in 1841, Hong Kong was occupied under British colonial rule until receiving overdue sovereignty in 1997. The word “sovereignty” should be viewed loosely as Beijing’s influence in Hong Kong’s political arena takes precedence over suffrage. Only Beijing can select which candidates get on Hong Kong’s voting ballot. Over recent decades, Hong Kong’s citizens have grown accustomed to their Westernized liberties brought about under British control. Liberties such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly will become drastically limited in 2047 when the “one country, two systems” model expires. In 28 years, Hong Kong is set to merge with the communist party-led state of China. Recent protests have indicated that this will likely not be a smooth transition. The impending transition has been the low-simmering, yet increasingly powerful motivation for recent protests. 

Over one million in number, protestors in Hong Kong move as a collective with a clear motive and now a list of demands, including:

  1. A complete withdrawal of the Extradition Bill
  2. Retraction of the “riot” characterization regarding recent protests
  3. The release and exoneration of arrested protestors
  4. Formation of an independent commission of inquiry on police behavior
  5. The immediate implementation of universal suffrage 

Hong Kong’s citizens have been in a perpetual battle to achieve true democracy. Five years ago, the city experienced an intense wave of protesting known as the “Umbrella Movement”, which aimed to achieve similar objectives that protestors are demanding today. In 2018, Hio Tong Wong and Shih-Diing Liu, faculty members at the University of Macau, provided useful context to the Umbrella Movement, detailing its objective “to investigate the unfolding of cultural activism during the Umbrella Movement…. This 79-day Occupy protest, triggered by the government’s restriction on universal suffrage, has released protesters’ creative potentials in performing their struggles through a variety of aesthetic forms and practices.” History is now repeating itself five years later as approximately 1.7 million protesters marched in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park in an anti-government rally on August 18, 2019.

For decades, what has remained constant is the hierarchical power Beijing exerts on Hong Kong. Counteracting this is the magnitude of immense participation in protest demonstrations throughout the city. Naysayers are far outnumbered by over one-quarter of Hong Kong’s population who are drowning out their criticisms through activism. Thirteen weeks of protests and counting are unfolding as the world’s attention remains in the Far East, examining the sustainability of the protests. What measures do the people of Hong Kong have to take in order to achieve just a fraction of their demands, or any measurable change? Collective action and vocal solidarity are the only possible ways that success can be achieved in Hong Kong. As long as protestors do not tire in their fight, a positive shift for Hong Kong’s future is destined.

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Desmond Jordan

Desmond Jordan is a global peacebuilding professional in Washington, D.C., working in the pseudo-government sphere on Countering Violent Extremism. Specifically, Jordan’s current work involves how to rehabilitate and reintegrate persons disengaging from violent extremism. His other international relations interests include: public diplomacy, youth empowerment, and global education. He holds a BA from George Mason University where he double majored in Global Affairs and Communication.

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