Masses of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong in September 2014 calling for free and open election in response to the election package offer by Beijing. The package stated that all candidates running for chief executive must be approved by a pro-Beijing committee. The protest started with student-led class boycotts. Joined by Occupy Central with Love and Peace, a protest group that was planning to launch a civil disobedience campaign in the city’s financial center demanding democracy, the protest grew over the next few days. As Beijing celebrated the birth of the People's Republic of China founded by the communist party on October 1, the protests in Hong Kong swelled with tens of thousands demonstrators participating. People remained camped out in the heart of Hong Kong, defying government’s attempts to disperse the protests with tear gas and pepper spray during the weekend.
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when it returned to China under a policy of “one country, two systems”. This system allows Hong Kong to keep its independent judiciary, and many other freedoms such as freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of press until 2047. Even though the chief executive of Hong Kong is elected by a 1200-member committee appointed by China, Hong Kong citizens were promised universal suffrage. The structural reform has been deferred several times until 2017. China has recently made it clear that no candidates will show up on the ballots unless they have approved by the central government. A free and open election was seen by many Hong Kongers as the key to solving social problems such as income inequality, lack of opportunities for youths, and eroding freedom under the pressure from China. This announcement from Beijing became the straw that broke the camel's back.
Famed for law and order, Hong Kong has long been an example for well-organized peaceful protests and large-scale political rallies in Asia. As protests continue, people have been seen distributing food and water as well as cleaning up after themselves in the famously orderly city. Police crackdowns seldom occurs in Hong Kong, but the application of batons, tear gas, and pepper spray this time may be a game changer. Images of tens of thousands of protesters in the streets of Hong Kong confronting tear gas with umbrellas has taken over the international media’s headlines. “The strong police response appeared to stir thousands more people into joining the demonstrations, swelling the ranks of protesters around the government headquarters and starting new rallies in other key areas of the city” as reported by CNN. Many Hong Kongers expressed feelings of betrayal and anger at China grows.
Hong Kongers are stereotypically a timid, business-minded, pragmatic people. As demonstrations have brought large parts of the city to standstill, many people worry that it might hurt the city's credibility and are rather pessimistic about whether the demands will be met. But none of these would suffice to stop the people from standing up to their own rights and freedom. As a student protester told The Washington Post: ''maybe nothing will change after all this, but at least we can say we stood up for ourselves'' and ''I feel more proud to be from Hong Kong than I’ve ever felt before.”
The great courage and dedication demonstrated by the protesters reflect how much China’s dictation on Hong Kong’s political process hurts the core values that people so deeply believe in: freedom, rule of law, and the ceaseless pursuit of democracy. Together with New York City and London, Hong Kong is one of the world’s three premier financial centers, and one of the most prosperous cities in the world. People there are fully aware that the political system that backs their prosperity and distinguishes Hong Kong from China is naturally entwined with civil liberties.
Hong Kong authorities and the central government in Beijing condemned this pro-democracy protest as illicit. When China’s national anthem was playing at the National Day celebration ceremony in Hong Kong on October 1, a group of student protesters turned their backs on a Chinese flag being raised and silently crossed their arms above their heads in a gesture of objection to the Chinese government. Hong Kongers are demonstrating their determination and commitment to real changes. As Anson Chan, the Chief Secretary of the Hong Kong government and founder of the Hong Kong 2020 democracy advocacy group writes in Time Magazine, ''Hong Kong is ready for democracy, but China isn’t ready for a democratically governed Hong Kong it fears it cannot totally control''. This time, may the voice of the people prevail.
Written by YMB and published on 13-October-2014