By Devan Phillipson
Hong Kong has always been at odds with Beijing’s wishes. While the protests this week have never before reached this scale – one out of seven Hongkongers reportedly protesting – Hong Kong has continually been wary of China’s intentions towards the former British colony. All this resentment has boiled over in the past few days, and up to a million protestors have hit the streets beginning on June 9 to protest against Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her proposed extradition bill.
The source of this dissent, the proposed extradition bill, is a piece of legislation that would allow Beijing to extradite Hongkongers to the mainland for trial. It is feared that if this bill was to be implemented, Hong Kong would be at risk of being subservient to Beijing’s judicial system, where critics of the Communist regime have been charged with vague economic or national security offensives. It does not help that Carrie Lam is viewed as Beijing’s puppet, and whose election in March 2017 was marred with controversy due to her lack of popular support and her support from the Politburo of the Communist Party. All this has resulted in the city being frozen by massive protests.
Violent clashes between protesters and police have erupted in numerous locations. Tear gas and rubber bullets have been fired at the protestors, who have locked down the area outside the government headquarters, forcing debate on the proposed bill to be postponed. As of writing, up to one million people have hit the streets and at least 79 people have been injured, with two in serious condition. The Hong Kong teachers’ union has called for a city wide strike for a week, and the Legislative Council complex has been closed indefinitely. Hong Kong police Commissioner Steven Lo Wai-Chung has labelled the protests as a “riot” while Carrie Lam has denounced the “planned and intentional riots”. Despite the scale of the protests, which encompasses all demographics unlike the Umbrella movement of 2014, Carrie Lam has refused to shelve the extradition bill.
Despite the large-scale opposition to the bill, there is a very real fear of retaliation by Beijing. Across social media platforms such as Instagram, protestors are spreading information about their rights if arrested, as well as what to do if exposed to tear gas or hit by rubber bullets. At least 29 rallies in support of the protestors have been held in 12 countries, with London, Sydney and New York seeing the most solidarity with the protestors. Beijing has accused the protestors of “collusion with the west”, while Taiwan, the US and the EU have condemned the bill and offered support to the protestors.
While the violence has appeared to have died down recently, the atmosphere remains tense with protestors and police maintaining a close eye on each other’s moves.
As a former resident of Hong Kong, while I hope violence does not erupt again, I stand in solidarity with those in opposition to the bill. If I still lived in Hong Kong, I know I would be standing in protest with the rest of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not China, and the One Country, Two Systems principle must be respected by Beijing. Hong Kong’s civil freedoms need to be respected. Hong Kong must remain vigilant in the face of encroachment from Beijing.
Editor’s note: this article was written in June. The situation in Hong Kong is unstable and likely to have changed to some extent between now and the publication of this magazine.
This article was produced by Pivot – A MIAS Publication.
Read more like it at pivot.mias.org.au