What the United States Can Take Away from Hong Kong’s Protests
What began as a protest against Hong Kong’s proposed extradition law has evolved far beyond that. Protests in China’s most autonomous special administrative region have progressed to uncharacteristically violent levels. Law enforcement is combating and killing protesters in the streets. Such blatant acts of protest are strange for a typically orderly culture. So, why is this happening, and what can we take away from it?
The aggravator here was certainly the recent extradition policy proposal. A law titled the “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill 2019” (the Future Offenders Bill) would have allowed Hong Kong to extradite fugitives to mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau. The bill’s purpose was purportedly to close legal loopholes that thwarted extradition of those charged with serious crimes. For example, in one reported case involving a murder in Taiwan, the Hong Kong resident accused of the crime could not be extradited to Taiwan to face the charges (CNN). In theory, the proposed bill would have enabled this case and others of its kind to move forward and ultimately get justice for victims.
As a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong enjoys certain degrees of freedom that other areas of China do not. Under China’s “one country, two systems” regime, Hong Kong has a somewhat separate legal system. This allows for limited free press and competitive, free market business practices. Hong Kong citizens who enjoy such freedoms feared the implementation of the new law would allow the government to extradite journalists critical of the regime, activists fighting for a democratic system, and business transactions deemed by powers in Beijing to not be in best interests of mainland China. After much forceful protesting—a march of roughly 1 million participants, the likes of which haven’t been seen since China’s reacquisition of Hong Kong in 1997 — the bill was withdrawn.
Hong Kong wants democracy and a rule of law. Such notions are antithetical to China. The violence of law enforcement against the protesters raises questions of human rights and police brutality. It culminated in a bloody, week-long siege when protesters occupied Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong campus. The police stormed in, ostensibly to regain control of what they considered a situation spiraling out of control. In the aftermath, Hong Kong city leader Carrie Lam, who maintained a hard line against anti-government protests, experienced major losses in local elections (Associated Press). The pro-democracy bloc won control of 17 out of 18 district councils. While she refused to make any concessions to the protesters, she did say she would accelerate discussions to address grievances. Only time will tell if she is being truthful.
The United States cut off the supply of anti-riot materials to China in solidarity with Hong Kong’s movement toward democracy. While more symbolic than substantive (China certainly has whatever it needs to quell riots), it does illustrate how we as a nation support our core ideology to preserve the founding principles of our Constitution. The destruction of democracy in Hong Kong also provides a good lesson here at home: we should never forget the importance of the freedoms provided in the Constitution and resist any government attempts to dilute them or worse, take them away.