Several weeks ago, protests began in Hong Kong when the socialist Chinese government in Beijing interpreted the city’s constitution, such that candidates for the city’s chief executive would be chosen by a majority vote in a 1,200-person committee dominated by business interests and regulated by Beijing leaders, instead of through a popular vote. These initial protests were met, surprisingly, with police violence. This provoked more people to join the generally peaceful and organized protests because Hong Kong has enjoyed a long history of peaceful demonstration. As the protest dragged on, though, it was met with resistance, as tensions rose between yellow-ribbon pro-democracy protesters and blue-ribbon pro-Beijing protesters last weekend with outbreaks of violence. With tensions mounting, there is no end in sight.
I contacted a friend from Hong Kong for her opinion about the incident. Elizabeth did not completely support the yellow-ribbon demonstrators—surprising for someone who had lived in the land of the free for some time. She did not think that the terms they demanded—that Beijing overturn the reform package completely—were feasible, and as the protest escalated with no response from the government in Beijing, she also thought that the protests were only creating more tension without achieving anything.
“It is extremely difficult and overly idealistic to establish an ‘entirely direct election’ in the terms they demand (where every HK citizen will get a vote on selecting the presidential candidates and also to vote for the chief executive),” she said via Internet chat. Instead, she supports indirect elections—such as the U.S. electoral college—because of the political difficulties with universal suffrage.
“However, I do agree that we need to fight for a more flexible and universal way of electing the candidates” she said. “This could mean increasing the number of electoral colleges, having a more even spread of representatives in all levels and professions.”
Recently, though, it appears that the problem in Hong Kong is further complicated by suspicions that triads and thugs are paid to start violence at some demonstrations.
“Many believe that the Chinese PRC government is funding the anti-protesters,” Elizabeth said. “So a lot of the blue-ribbon [movement] is possibly funded. But that being said, many believe that the yellow-ribbon [movement] is funded by the West, including the USA … that’s why people say that students are simply political puppets. They’re ultimately the scapegoat in this situation.”
The response from many mainland Chinese students in the U.S. that I know has been completely different. To them, the protests appear mainly to be a dangerous, chaotic inconvenience, with the Chinese government suppressing much of the news. An article in The Diplomat by Alvin Y. H. Cheung refutes the often claimed idea that economic envy and dissatisfaction are the root of the protests.
“Although quality of life issues undeniably played a role in building up public discontent, the emerging narrative—which seeks to portray Hongkongers [sic] as ingrates resentful of Mainland China’s newfound economic success—is incomplete and misleading,” Cheung wrote. The article warns that the protests reflect a growing disenchantment with socialism, also seen in the fact that “the key leaders are students, not pro-democracy legislators.”
“The views expressed by Martin Jacques [author of the article about the economic envy of the Hong Kong residents] and others are symptomatic of Beijing’s growing frustration with its inability to ‘buy off’ the Hong Kong public, even as it goes about undermining the ‘key policies’ it pledged to uphold in the Joint Declaration of 1984,” he concluded.
With the continuing silence of the government, many citizens are increasingly unhappy about the effect of the protest on retail. There are more voices asking the demonstrators to stop occupying major roads, and the average citizen does not know where things will go. The protesters have garnered international support for their struggle for universal suffrage, an issue that hits close to home in the U.S., with its history of protesting for suffrage. It is, however, a good idea to take a step back and really understand the issues behind the Occupy Movement, rather than just jumping on the democratic bandwagon. Elizabeth notes that, so far, with the lack of change and conversation between the people and the government, things are not looking too good.
Featured Image by Vincent Yu / AP Photo