China and Hong Kong have long had a spat based on the independence of the latter country. Hong Kong wishes to have its independence from China, but they are chained by their legal ties to an authoritarian country. The way that this battle is shaping up, there seem to be two battles at play: freedom versus authoritarianism, and the overarching, long-spanning battle democracy vs authoritarianism. These themes are dictating the ideological battle in the Hong Kong Peninsula. The latest iteration of this ongoing battle is the passing of the extradition law bill by the pro-China Hong Kong government, led by Carrie Lam. Although tensions are boiling over at this point, due to protests against the bill, it is unlikely that this battle will be that last of the ever-present debate of the western ideology, against the communist identity.
Ever since the transfer of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule, Hong Kong has had an ongoing fear of Chinese overreach over their country. Aside from the obvious wish not to have a foreign government (conceding that Hong Kong is a Specially Administered Area) controlling the populous’ affairs, it is more so the fear that Hong Kong’s freedom might get diminished. Hong Kong has been a beacon of western-style freedom in an area where communism has been the dominant political and economic policy. There is, of course, precedence for this. China has been trying to expand its territory and influence for years on end, even building artificial land on the South China Sea, and building more influence in their own country. The Hong Kongers are rightly afraid that China will finally take their rights away, similar to what is happening to the Uyghur Muslims in the country. Freedom of speech has been slowly chipped away at by China and the pro-Beijing camp of the Hong Kong government. A famous of this was a 2015 incident, in which the Chinese government kidnapped several employees of the Causeway Bay Books company, which sells politically sensitive books, often ones criticizing the Chinese government. This certainly has not been the only attempt by the Chinese government to silence the freedom in Hong Kong. In 2014, there was another set of protests called the Umbrella Movement, in response to the Chinese attempt to control the Hong Kong election. As a result, tensions have been boiling over for some time now. And the extradition bill may be the tipping point.
In 2018, a Hong Kong male murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan. That incident was the spark for the proposed 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill, which was to allow China to extradite him to the mainland to face charges for his murder (the current laws did not allow for that, as Hong Kong did not have an extradition agreement with China). The proposed extradition bill was originally for Taiwan, but the government added Hong Kong to the list of regions affected by the bill as well. This is the primary cause of the outrage. Because of the extradition bill, many Hong Kong citizens believe that the Chinese government could falsely accuse them of false crimes or propose undeserved sentences on those who commit minor misdemeanours. This kind of government overreach on Hong Kong citizens could further the Chinese agenda of having more control over the Hong Kong citizens. And of course, given the precedent China has set in the past, the Hong Kongers have reason to fear the consequences of this bill. So, they went onto the streets to protest.
Protests and demonstrations against the extradition bill started to form in May and formed to the massive extent that it is now, in June. At that point, the riots started to become much more violent. Pro-freedom rioters on July 1 stormed the Legislative Council to protest the bill and ended up smashing the furniture, defacing the Hong Kong emblem, presenting a new 10-point manifesto. Following that incident, protests started to pop up everywhere at a much more accelerated rate. The protestors could at that point be split into two noticeable groups. The peaceful protestors, who started human chains, sang pro-Hong Kong slogans, did hunger strikes. The other group were rioters, who were more upfront about confronting the police. Regardless of this distinction, the Chinese backed Hong Kong police attacked either group indiscriminately.
Much of the deserved attention for these Hong Kong protests is growing because of the overly brutal ways that the Chinese backed Hong Kong police, and other pro-China groups have treated the protesters. The first response of brutality to these protests was in Yuen Long, where policemen indiscriminately beat not only protesters but also the elderly and children. Following that, pro-China groups and the police have only increased the damage of their attacks on protesters. Police have been using massive amounts of tear gas and pepper spray against these protesters. Rubber bullets and bean bag rounds have also been used, causing damage such as ruptured eyes in the protesters. And worst of all, the police recently have also been beating people and even using actual bullets to shoot at people. Finally, to top it all off, children have been indiscriminately targeted as well. Young children have been arrested in prison facilities, and high schoolers who have been protesting have been found missing or dead. The fact of the matter is, the police, backed by the Chinese government, have been committing injustices against the Hong Kong citizens. At this point, not even the children are safe.
The most recent, notable development has been the anti-mask law that Carrie Lam implemented on October 4. This is so the protesters can be better identified by the police, and ultimately, to discourage these protests. The penalties for violating this law is set to be a year in prison or an HK$25000 fine. The fact is, such a law is one that restricts the freedom that any citizens should have to cover their face in public places. To protest this law, the protesters have started to wear masks on masse, and it has become something of a common symbol among protesters. As a result, the brutality has only become worse, leading to another 14-year-old boy being shot. At this point, it has all become very sad.
While Carrie Lam has withdrawn the extradition bill, the protests have not stopped, and the police brutality has only gotten worse. Now, one would expect that China would face serious sanctions from companies, in an attempt to cripple the Chinese economy as retribution for their involvement in the police brutality and the protests overall. That has simply not been the case. Various companies and brands such as Blizzard, the NBA, and Nike have all failed to make any condemnation of the Chinese government, all preferring to continue business for profit. While what a company does is usually their own decision, in this case, it reflects badly on them. Because these companies continue to support business with China, China does not face any real tangible economic backlash to their actions, only spurring them on. Adding to this, China’s Orwellian and authoritarian control over their citizens through their Social Credit system makes sure that none of the mainland Chinese citizens protests, lest they are put in prison or “disappear.” Ultimately, because of all of this, China is not facing nearly the tangible backlash that they should be facing. As a result, they are continuing to oppress Hong Kong.
The larger debate at play here is the two completely different styles of countries that China and Hong Kong are. Hong Kong is a western-style democracy with a government of checks and balances. They are a pro-capitalist and pro-business country, and as a result, they have a very rich and very free society, monetarily and through the rights they own. China, on the other hand, wants to suck Hong Kong into their authoritarian, communist regime which constantly suppresses their citizens’ freedoms and rights. This is noticeable in their police brutality as well. Everything that the police have done, is to completely silence the protesters through force, not to quell any violent tendencies that could pop up. If there was any reason to support Hong Kong, it would be this. It is the duty of citizens living in the free world to support those who are being oppressed by an overreaching government. This is just the latest battle against the spread of authoritarianism and communism. The western world needs to step up to stop the Chinese government’s infringements on Hong Kong citizens’ freedoms.