Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. China took control of the region in 1997, after 155 years of British rule. At the south-eastern tip of China, Hong Kong covers Hong Kong Island, Lantau Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories, including 262 outlying islands. The region has approximately 7.18 million inhabitants, many of whom have spent the past month protesting over the Hong Kong leadership elections due to take place in 2017.
Hong Kong, is one of China’s most prosperous commercial and business areas. Understandably the Chinese Government do not want to loosen control over it as it is a major factor as to why the Chinese economy is the one of the biggest in the world today.
Hong Kong is ruled under the principle of “one country, two systems’’, whereby China and Hong Kong are seen as the one country but Hong Kong is ruled under slightly different rules which entitles it to a “high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs”.
Hong Kong citizens are protesting, not for the fact that elections are taking place in 2017, but for the fact that the top legislative Committee in China have said that they are going to restrict the election to only two or three potential candidates. Any candidate would have to secure the support of more than 50% of the nominating committee that is being put together by the Chinese Government, before being able to run in the election. The protesters fear that the Government will use this committee to remove any candidates that do not conform to their rules, regulations and ideals. With the number of candidates being so small, China may find it easier to find candidates that suit their criteria and to help to create a government that will not defy China in future.
The two main groups involved in the democracy protests are Occupy Central, led by Benny Tai an associate law professor at the University of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong Federation of Students and Scholarism. Since the protests started, the violence has steadily increased, with the police getting more and more aggressive in an attempt to prevent people congregating in the Times Square. Reports also say that there are many people, reportedly being paid by the Chinese Government, to stir up anxieties and emotions.
The violence took a nasty turn, when reports and video footage emerged of a handcuffed protester, Ken Tsang, being brought away from the crowds by several plain-clothed police officers and severely assaulted. Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, Lai Tung-Kwok, later announced the officers involved in the incident had been “temporarily removed from their current duties.” Many people in Hong Kong were extremely surprised at how the police in the video, 2 inspectors and 5 constables, acted in such a brutal way. There is no doubt that the actions of these police officers was unnecessary and uncalled for.
Should we, as students here in Ireland, join in supporting the protests 9,935 kilometres away? The answer is a resounding yes. Students, anywhere, not just here in Ireland should want to join in supporting in any way possible. As Nelson Mandela said “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” The people of Hong Kong are being denied freedom of expression, something many western societies consider a basic right.
In his article from October 15th, Guardian journalist Owen Jones described democracy as ‘a universal right, not a privilege reserved for westerners’. Democratic rights are what the citizens of Hong Kong have been protesting for the past month. Here in Ireland and the West we have been used to democratic rights. We, as citizens of Ireland and the EU are fortunate enough that we have constitutions which set out certain rights for each citizen. The European Union Constitution under Title 2, Article 11, point 1 states that the institutions ‘shall, by appropriate means, give citizens and representative associations the opportunity to make known and publicly exchange their views in all areas of European action.’ Two fundamental rights of the Irish Constitution are the ‘Freedom of expression’ and the ‘Freedom of assembly’. The communist system which Hong Kong is ruled by through the Chinese government makes such fundamental rights illegal or severely suppressed at the very least.
The One Young World (OYW) Conference was held in Dublin recently. One of the main themes of the whole event was human rights. As great an initiative as OYW is, the situation in Hong Kong was hardly mentioned. This makes the treatment of the Hong Kong protesters even more abominable. Had it been talked about at length, if at all, during the three day conference more external pressure would have been placed on the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities to step in, in a different way to before. If people were allowed to vent their feelings and express their opinions in a peaceful way as they had been doing at the beginning, events may not have spiralled as much as they already have.
Reports in the last couple of weeks, from the likes of Reuters, have said that student/Pro-democracy and Government leaders are preparing for a second round of talks aimed at ending the near month long protests. However, the report states that ‘expectations of a breakthrough were low’. One protester in the report stated they ‘will keep doing this until the government listens.’ All reports and comments coming out from the situation in Hong Kong suggest that a peaceful solution may be a long way off.