For almost three weeks the centre of Hong Kong has been blockaded by an enormous protest. Although the last few days have seen a dwindling of activists, the centre of Hong Kong is still almost at a standstill. Although protests have been peaceful there have been some reports of police brutality. But what is happening there? Why is the whole of Hong Kong seemingly up in arms?
- The protests in Hong Kong are a response to China’s change to the election process of the Chief Executive (the equivalent of the First Minister in Scotland). China made the decision that there will not be open elections for the Chief Executive in the next election. Candidates will be vetted by the state and chosen by a nominating committee, not a public vote. This not only means that China will have the opportunity to influence the laws created within Hong Kong but it also means this could be the start of a gradual erosion of democracy for Hong Kong.
- Those first to protest were the students of Hong Kong who, on the 22nd September, walked out of classes organized by the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism. Students first started out with peaceful protests but it soon escalated after some students broke into government offices, resulting in a number of arrests. On the 29th, Occupy joined the students. Then the riot police started their attack by firing tear gas at unarmed students as well as having mounted baton charges. Obviously the protests did not end and this overreaction prompted more protesters to join the democratic protests. Not only was this another political protest with students at the helm, it shows the power of the education system in politics. Without the mass protest of students and student unions, the protests may not have had such a large media response.
- While not truly peaceful, the protests are full of polite apologetic people who just want to have democratic elections and prevent the conversion of Hong Kong into just another part of China which China has a tendency to do. Barricades can be seen to have signs detailing the work of the cause but also “sorry for inconvenience” in cantonese or plain english “Sorry”. This is not the protests of the annoyed minority, the sheer scale of the protests in its first week shows that. These are not whiny people complaining about a rise in tax or an unwelcome recently-elected leader, these are normal people who are scared of losing democracy.
- What is more shocking is people seem to think these protests are the work of radicals. This is not the case. This is the biggest protest that Hong Kong has ever seen. Surely the majority swarming the area can’t all be western-loving radicals whose sole wish is to disrupt the work of the government or make workers in that area’s lives more difficult. Joshua Wong, the leader of the student protests and founder of the group Scholarism, was one of more than 60 arrested on the 23rd of September. Although still too young to actually vote, Wong has already been branded an “extremist” by state-run Chinese media. “I am just a normal person,” he was reported as saying. “My life is more than politics and activism. I do not really talk about politics in school. Not all of my schoolmates know what I’m up to.” He’s 17 and far from what many would consider an extremist but he’s caught China’s eye and could help win a fight for democracy against one of the strongest countries in the world.
All Hong Kong wants is the autonomy they were promised in the 1997 handover from Britain to China. They wish to remain democratic despite still under the rule of the communist autocracy of China. Is that really so wrong?