Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Protests
Over this past weekend, thousands of individuals in Hong Kong were out on the streets protesting the Chinese government’s policies in the country. Namely, they are calling for free and fair elections, without outside interference from Beijing. According to an AFP report in Yahoo entitled Hong Kong Protesters Defiant After Tear Gas Chaos, “Throughout the morning thousands of people were refusing to budge from at least three major thoroughfares on Hong Kong’s main island and across the harbour, with many schools and businesses shuttered as widespread disruption left many commuters struggling to get to work.” Protesters have continued to be on the streets, with little to suggest that the situation will subside anytime soon. In fact, the protests seemed to get worse; early in the week there were smaller, student protests, which have now expanded. Furthermore, others have continued to protest in other ways, such as not attending classes. Individuals have called for complete freedom in the voting process.
The issue is that China has allowed individuals to vote in the 2017 elections for the city’s top political position, but that the candidates would have to essentially be approved by China first. Clearly such oversight is not a form of liberal democracy, but rather, is a mere show of democracy. China is in no way allowing complete freedom in the electoral process, which is understandably upsetting many in Hong Kong. Such actions by protesters are courageous and important for the overall promotion and protection of human rights. It will be interesting to see in what direction these protests go to. One cannot help but think back to the Arab Spring, where thousands protested their authoritarian regimes. Now, I am not saying that the end result will be anything like that, but as experts on the region point out in the AFP article “The difficulty is that there seems to be no going back for both sides,” Surya Deva, a law professor at the City University of Hong Kong, told AFP. “Which side will blink first is difficult to say, but I think protestors will prevail in the long run.” And as the AFP points out, analysts have said that is not easy to know what will happen (AFP, 2014).
One other interesting point is the United States’ political position on this issue. According to the AFP report, “In a statement the US consulate said it supported Hong Kong’s “well established traditions… such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press”. But it added it did not take sides or support any particular group.” Such a position is not surprising at all. If one looks at the Arab Spring, it becomes evident that the United States leadership was hesitant to speak out against some of the authoritarian regimes such as Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt, even as prodemocracy protesters were in the streets. Thus, the idea that the United States government under the Obama administration (or even earlier under the Bush administration (since both gave billions of dollars to the authoritarian Egyptian government) fully supports notions of democracy do not seem to be true whatsoever; the United States government is willing to support democracy, but not if it goes against other interests (such as upsetting rising partner and trading partner China).