Sponsored by the Current Events Club, seniors Ethan Kalishman and Tina Chen shared background around the ongoing protests in Hong Kong during assembly on Thursday, October 17. Their joint presentation follows:
Last February, the Hong Kong government proposed the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill. This controversial piece of legislation aimed to permit the Hong Kong government to detain and transfer criminal fugitives back to nations beyond those with whom Hong Kong has extradition agreements — including sending criminals back to mainland China, a place where, as the Washington Post reported that the Communist Party runs a 99% conviction rate.
It may seem odd that such a law prompted two million of Hong Kong’s seven million citizens to retaliate for the past few months when it seemingly only would have affected criminals. But this bill also would have altered a lot of historical context about the autonomy of Hong Kong and its relationship with mainland China. Currently, Hong Kong operates under the 1980s “one country, two systems” rule, which grants the island the freedom of economic organization while still remaining an official part of China. However, President Xi would gain a lot of control over Hong Kong if legislation such as the Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill was implemented, which scared Hong Kongers.
Such fear catalyzed the activity of pro-democracy groups and individuals in response to the bill. Uncertain of Hong Kong’s future, these protestors published a full slate of wishes, collectively known as the five core demands. Together, they ask for an entire withdrawal of the bill, the creation of universal suffrage, and resignation by Chief Executive Carrie Lam as leader of the Hong Kong government. They also ask for a full release of all imprisoned protesters, an examination into police misconduct, and for the retraction of the official characterization of the protests as riots. To China, these demands directly challenge the current leadership, which could lead to losing control of Hong Kong altogether. This struggle between Hong Kong and China is the root of the conflict.
The protests in Hong Kong, both peaceful and violent, have continued for months. While Lam promised to withdraw the bill in September, she did not address the other core demands from the protesters, and no peace has yet been achieved.
So far, the police have used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. This month, however, was the first time that the Hong Kong police have opened fire against protestors, and two boys — one 18 years old, and one 14 years old – were shot. The increasing tension was due to both conflict with the police and an emergency law issued by the government that bans wearing face masks at public rallies. Protestors also erected a statue named “Lady Liberty” this Sunday.
However, many Americans were unaware of the situation in Hong Kong until this weekend, when the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.” In retaliation, China dropped its TV coverage of scheduled preseason games, threatened the Rockets with the loss of 25 million dollars from sponsors, and criticized Morey for what they view as a challenge to national sovereignty and pride. The NBA and Lebron James have condemned Morey’s tweet, which has, in turn, led to a backlash from American fans, who are angered by the fact that the NBA and James have traded free speech for better relations with China. All this goes to show the differences in perspective between China and the US-China sees the protests in Hong Kong as an illegal separatist movement backed by the West against its rightful government and has spread a portrayal of the protestors as foreign-led, ungrateful and violent. On the other hand, Americans place great value on the right to assemble and petition the government. However, President Trump has stayed out of the Hong Kong protests in an effort to smooth talks over the trade war.
Finally, the “one country, two systems” arrangement is set to expire in 2047, which adds to the uncertainty in Hong Kong. Given that it is extremely unlikely that the government will agree to the protestors’ demands, how either side will proceed remains to be seen.