Protests in Hong Kong: Occupy Central and Pro-Democracy

If you have followed the recent news, you will have noticed that Hong Kong is currently in turmoil and citizens are protesting to keep their promised democratic rights ( Hong Kongers refer to it as universal suffrage, showing how much value there is attached to it) which could be taken away by the central Chinese government in Beijing.

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In a way, the current protests are a result of sentiments that have been building up for almost 20 years now: In 1997, Hong Kong was handed over to the Chinese government afte more than 50 years under British rule. At that time i wasn’t a full democracy, but did enjoy much more freedom thhan the rest of China. What we know as “one country, two systems” is a saying that goes back to a prmise given as part of the handover: the Chinese government in Beijing promised to let Hong Kong keep its special rights and also its autonomy.

Regarding the upcoming election in 2017 – to say it in simple terms – China promised that the people of Hong Kong would be allowed to democratically elect their top leader (for the first time ever!). This leader is the “Hong Kong Chief Executive” and he is currently appointed by a pro-Beijing election committee. However throughout this year there have been signs that the central Chinese government might not keep its promise: In July this a “white paper” that sounded like a warning from Beijing. It states that Beijing “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and that “the high degree of autonomy of [Hong Kong] is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership.”

In August, Beijing then announced its plan for Hong Kong’s 2017 elections: The people of Hong Kong would be allowed to vote for the chief executive, however the candidates for the election would have to be approved by a special committee ( very similar to the pro-Beijing committee that is  currently appointing the chief executive) In a way, this means that Beijing will be handpicking candidates, which is anti-democratic and paradox in itself, and also feels to many in Hong Kong like a threat to their promised democratic rights. It is a warning from Beijing that it could revoke Hong Kong’s freedoms, and hence, thousands of Hong Kong citizens flooded the streets in protest.

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I talked to my co-years and friends about this issue and to them these protests are no only about the candidates for the 2017 election, they have a bigger symbolic meaning, triggered by a much bigger question:

Many people have been wondering for years whether the Chinese government would actually let Hong Kong become fully democratic and keep its freedoms. The 2017 election was hence going to be a test. When the Chinese government started breaking its promises for the upcoming election in 2017, however, a big concern started occupying the minds of Hong Kong citizens: Is Beijing just going to erode Hong Kong’s freedoms a little bit, or is it going to impose the same  rule it uses in mainland China on Hong Kong? So, these protests aren’t just about Beijing’s plan to hand-pick candidates for the 2017 election, they are also about the bigger picture: about whether Hong Kong will remain free. This so-called “crisis” hit the city during a time of political division, something I also noticed during one of our Global Issues Forums in school: Some citizens of Hong Kong embrace their freedoms but also tend to be conservative over their future as part of China. Some are okay with integrating with the rest of China, or at least accept it as inevitable, fearing sanctions or a decline in economical power, while some want to fight for full democracy and autonomy. (Some students even voiced out further layers to this debate, bringing the perspective of Chinese nationalism and the idea of Hong Kong’s exceptionalism)

Having established the background, now a little more about the situation right now: The current protests began with a movement called “Occupy Central” (Central is the name of Hong Kong’s downtown district, basically the Taksim Square of Hong Kong). It was a massive “cvil disobedience” campaign that was supposed to launch on October 1 (a historically significant day: a national holiday celebrating communist China’s founding) Protesters peacefully occupied the forecourt (a courtyard-style open area in front of an office building) of Hong Kong’s city government headquarters along with many ther downtown areas.

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Later, on Wednesday, thouands of Hong Kong students started peaceful protest marches to show their disagreement with China’s new plan for the 2017 elections, as they felt like China would not keep it promice to grant Hong Kong full democracy. In its past Hog Kong has witnessed many protest marches, hence it did not seem unusual at first. However the peaceful sit-in escalated dramatically when the protesters were surprised by the use of force by the police. Police started fighting in the streets with protesters, using teargas, pepper spray and (according to rumors) even guns loaded with rubber bullets. The Hong Kong public was and is outraged by this shocking use of force and thousands of Hong Kong residents joind the protesters, flooding the streets.  And as said,Hong Kong police used a surprising amount of force in attempting to disperse protesters, which failed and perhaps backfired, as the number of people on the streets is increasing daily.

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Hong Kong is a city that takes great pride in its efficiency, law and order and safety. Having lived here for a year now and having talked to many of my friends, I would not have imagined to see Hong Kong like this: people protesting, yes, but it would not have cossed my mind that the Hong Kong police would use extreme measures and force such as rubber bullets and teargas after only a few days of peaceful sit-ins.

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If you want to have more information as well as live-updates (including video footage), please clicke here. You will be directed to the South China Morning Post.

The protests have sparked discussion and also action amongst the UWC student community. The UWCs in Italy and the USA have also shown their support to the Hong Kong students by creating a video, and on campus here students have been organising related events as well.

During break today most of us dressed in black to show our support for peace and against the use of violence directed to students and protesters.

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(Disclaimer: This photo does not show our stance to either the Occupy Central movement or democracy in Hong Kong. It shows our initiative for peace and our anti-violence) Last night, the Block 3 dayroom was filled with students making yellow-ribbons for everyone to wear and some LPC students even went on-site to join the protests. Our facebook feeds are filled with photos, updates and videos from the movement and supportive messages are coming in from all over the world. Our secondyears expressed their support and extended thei thoughts to us. It is an exciting yet also highly worrying time for all of us, considering the close proximity of the protests. The atmosphere on campus has changed significantly and discussions and exchange of thoughts s taking place even more than before. For most local students the current situation is highly emotional, frustrating, outrageous, for most internationals it is a time of learning, reflecting and also gaining deeper insights into the sentiments of Hong Kong society and politics. We are all anxiously watching the outcome and following up on the latest events both through news and first-hand sources and another group of students is going out today to join the protestors in Central and provide food, water and first-aid.

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More upates will follow soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos : AP, Getty Images, BBC, SCMP, Theresa Yung