By Cindy (Binh) Nguyen
Layout & Design Editor
On September 6, masked pro-democracy protesters returned to the streets of Hong Kong.
They vandalized several subway stops, set fires and some targeted laser pointers at police officers. Four of the demonstrators were attacked by riot officers using batons and pepper spray.
Even after Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Sept. 4 that she would formally withdraw a contentious extradition bill, the protest movement showed no signs of coming to an end.
Watching how pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong took a violent turn brings about mixed feelings.
On one hand, since Hongkongers don’t have much liberty in the polls, it is understandable why they would protest. On the other hand, the impacts on-going demonstrations have on the people and the city raises the question: Is it worth it?
Looking Outside In
Speaking as a foreigner, free-riders who benefit from Hong Kong’s open economy are not in a place to judge the actions of those who shed their blood and sacrificed their time to protect the city and to pursue what they believe is right.
Approximately a million Hongkongers peacefully protested against a proposed amendment that would allow extradition to China, a country notorious for imprisoning citizens who dissent against the government or raise their voice in support of human rights.
The amendment would legalize China’s extradition of people from Hong Kong’s territory and lock them up in China. Given the fact that the Chinese government has attempted to wield more control over Hong Kong in recent years, many Hongkongers are afraid of what the future may hold.
The Chinese government has already been accused of meddling in Hong Kong regardless of Hong Kong’s independent legal system and borders until 2047, which were acknowledged by Mainland China in the 1984 Sino–British Joint Declaration.
Peaceful Protests End
The protests in early June turned violent as the police started to use force against the protesters.
The riots went on for months, causing enormous damages, such as a city-wide strike on Aug. 1 and serious disruption of flights at Hong Kong Airport on Aug. 12 and 13.
Thirteen weeks after the first (peaceful) protest, the rift between the police and the protesters deepened. What started in June as a demonstration of dissatisfaction over a proposed extradition bill extended far beyond that.
Protesters called for the release of arrested demonstrators, a complete redaction of the word “riots” used by the government to associate demonstrators, an independent inquiry into the police and a legitimate opportunity for Hong Kong citizens to vote for their leaders.
The scale of the turmoil in Hong Kong has reached dangerous levels.
Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese studies at King’s College London, predicted the political unrest to be “Tiananmen 2.0,” referring to the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre when Chinese troops assaulted the unarmed demonstrators in Beijing.
Foreign Clash Goes Viral
One popular video that circulated Twitter in August showed an Australian man clashing with a group of young protesters when his flight out of Hong Kong was canceled.
“The sooner Hong Kong becomes a part of mainland China, which it was actually designed to be, the better it’s going to be,” he said in the clip. This man is an example of free-riders, who consider Hong Kong no more than a travel destination, a tax haven, and a perfect business base.
What free-riders are often unaware of is that the ship they are on can overturn anytime, and once it happens, the benefits they are familiar with will slip away.
If the communist government in China manages to impose their system on Hong Kong, the freedom the Australian man had enjoyed will be tarnished
What’s more important, when the situation deteriorates, free-riders still have an option of jumping ship.
Visitors will not spend their entire life in Hong Kong. Businessmen around the world have other places to call home. Tourists can always change their destinations.
Memories of Hong Kong only enrich the lives of free-riders, while locals face the consequences. Hong Kong’s capitalist system and lifestyles are their home and where their hearts set.
Therefore, let Hong Kong speak for itself and face its future head-on.
Let the citizens of Hong Kong make their opinions heard. This is the time we watch and learn (from both the good and the bad).
People with access to the news should pay attention and remain neutral. An FDU student from Hong Kong, who has wished to be anonymous, compared Hong Kong’s special status with Puerto Rico being a self-governed territory of the United States. “If this situation was between Puerto Rico and the USA, it would be no different.” She said, “People judge others because the issue doesn’t affect them personally.”
The current political unrest in Hong Kong is not as distant as most people think. Any country and any people could encounter political crises, police violence, abuse of power, and/ or suppression of human rights. When that time comes, we may wish the free-riders to be silent and the world to listen.
The fight over the extradition law expanded into something much bigger, affecting the future of democracy in Hong Kong.
Photo by Billy H.C. Kwok / Getty images