The anti-government protests in Hong Kong have continued for over four months and show no signs of deescalating.
The protests began with the introduction of Hong Kong’s extradition bill, which would allow people suspected of crimes to be extradited to mainland China.
A recent development in the protests include the mask ban, which bans protesters from wearing any type of face covering. Tensions between China and the NBA have also become strained.
The mask ban was initiated in early October via the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a piece of legislation that has not been used since the pro-Communist riots in 1967. The law allows Hong Kong’s chief executive to enact any sort of decree that he or she considers to be best for the general public. Protesters are infuriated over the ban and have doubled their efforts.
Even more recently, the NBA has been caught between mainland China and Hong Kong, after the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted an image bearing the phrase, “Fight for Freedom. Support Hong Kong” in support of the protesters. The tweet was quickly removed, but China swiftly responded.
NBA preseason broadcasts were suspended in China, and the Rockets suffered a significant fallout from the Chinese market, including a suspension of Chinese sponsor deals as well. Matthew Metz, a Westmont student from Hong Kong, says that “there is heavy pressure on companies to not anger China” through state market manipulation.
Metz remembers the beginning of the protests as “peaceful and civil” and did not initially think they were a big deal. “I didn’t think they would continue,” he said. Metz really started paying attention, however, when one million people showed up for the first major protest on June 9.
June 12 marked a major turning point in the protests, when police used tear gas and other methods of force against protesters for the first time.
Hong Kong residents were enraged, which resulted in a suspension of the extradition bill by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, though this suspension did little in terms of quelling the unrest.
Four days later on June 16, the largest protest in Hong Kong history occurred. Two million people marched in an anti-government movement.
The movement shows no signs of letting up, on either side. The protesters have a list of five demands they want to be met. The first, a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, has been met as of Sept. 4.
The other demands include a formal investigation of police brutality; retraction of the “riot” label (which has been used by the government to describe the protests); democratic reform; and freedom for those who have been arrested in the protests.
The investigation of police brutality would be carried out “by the judicial sector or an international investigation,” Metz said. He added that the Hong Kong police were “known internationally as one of the most professional police forces in the world,” and that the force displayed is “very shocking.”
Retraction of the label “riot” is also crucial to the protesters’ demands. The term itself is a legal term that affords the police further action; “there are strict rules against” rioting, Metz said.
The people of Hong Kong aren’t the only ones affected by the ongoing protests. “Whatever happens in Hong Kong has ramifications for the global system,” Dr. Katherine Bryant, a professor of political science at Westmont College, said. “The protests in Hong Kong embodies the tension between authoritarian and democratic governments,” she continued.
Bryant considers the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China to be an example of this tension. Mainland China ultimately wants to reunite with Taiwan, but if this situation can’t be resolved in Hong Kong, which is much closer, then this goal seems far-fetched.
“Most policymakers and scholars don’t see a clear way forward at this point,” Bryant stated. The protesters have made their demands very clear, and the government in Beijing seems uninterested in either engaging in dialogue with them or meeting their demands.
The House of Representatives passed the Human Rights and Democracy Act this week with bipartisan support in an effort to address the crisis in Hong Kong. This bill would allow protesters to come to the U.S. with protection. It would also include an annual reevaluation of Hong Kong’s special trade status with the U.S., but the bill has yet to go through the Senate and the White House.
Bryant also stated that Hong Kong is one of the U.S.’s biggest trade partners, and the “economic ramifications would be really steep if this special status was revoked.”
It is unclear at this point if there will be a compromise between the Beijing government and the Hong Kong protesters. Metz believes in the protesters’ cause and says, “There are things more important than self-preservation,” and “freedom definitely isn’t free.”
The protests show no signs of slowing down and the war between authoritarian China and the pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters rages on.