Hong Kong in shock after worst violence in years

Freedom fight: Hong Kong’s chief executive compared the protesters to spoiled children. © Getty

Are we witnessing the last gasp of democracy in Hong Kong? The city’s streets are a battlefield between police and protesters who accuse their leaders of caving in to the might of China.

“People started choking, crying and screaming. My throat was burning and my eyes tearing.”

BBC reporter Pody Lui was on the streets of Hong Kong yesterday, when anger over a new extradition bill spilled over into violence.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators blocked government buildings and seized control of major roads. Some hurled bricks. Others ran for cover in metro stations and shops as armoured police unleashed a storm of rubber bullets and tear gas.

As chaos reigned, legislators were forced to postpone a second reading of the bill, which would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China to face trial. Nevertheless, it is expected to pass before the end of the month.

The protesters fear that, under the law, Beijing could arrest critics of China’s ruling Communist Party in Hong Kong, and detain them without a fair trial.

However, the bill’s supporters, including Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, say that city’s courts will have a final say on granting requests, and that political suspects will not be extradited to China.

But the people of Hong Kong are not reassured.

“If I don’t come out this time, there might not be a next time,” said marcher Iris Tang. “I don’t accept the bill because Hong Kong will lose its freedoms.”

The protests, which began on Sunday, are Hong Kong’s largest since the student-led Umbrella Revolution of 2014, when over 100,000 demonstrators seized control of the city centre after Beijing was granted extra powers to screen political candidates.

In 1997, Britain handed Hong Kong back to China. However, under the “one country, two systems” principle, Hong Kong retains a large amount of independence and its citizens enjoy greater freedoms than those living on the mainland, including a free press, open internet and elected lawmakers. This status has allowed the city to develop into a cosmopolitan, financial hub.

Hong Kong’s special status is due to end in 2047, but Beijing doesn’t want to wait that long to assert its authority. Under President Xi Jinping, China is growing bolder and tightening its grip on the city.

Stranglehold?

Thirty years ago, China crushed pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square. Since then, China has only become less democratic. It censors what its citizens can read online. Critics are imprisoned or tortured. The western world may complain, but it won’t risk conflict with Beijing. An emboldened China will continue to chip away at rights in Hong Kong — and get away with it.

But there is a hunger for democracy in Hong Kong, particularly among young people. This outpouring of anger was spontaneous and strong. Unlike the people of China, they have grown up with democratic freedoms and do not intend to give them up.

You Decide

  1. Should western countries regard China as a hostile force?
  2. Is violent protest wrong?

Activities

  1. Without using a dictionary, write down short definitions for: “democracy”, “communism” and “independence”.
  2. Research the history of Hong Kong. Draw a timeline of key developments from 1842 when it first became part of the British empire.

Some People Say...

“Hong Kong has created one of the most successful societies on Earth.”

Prince Charles

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Seven million people live in Hong Kong, an area smaller than Greater London. The new bill came after a 19-year-old Hong Kong man fled back to Hong Kong, after allegedly murdering his pregnant girlfriend while they were on holiday Taiwan together last year.
What do we not know?
Whether the huge protests will make any difference. The demonstrators succeeded in preventing the bill’s second reading, but the victory is likely to be short-lived. We don’t know about the consequences of the bill.

Word Watch

Extradition
To return someone convicted of a crime to the country where the crime was committed.
Hundreds of thousands
Organisers say that one million people attended Sunday’s march. Police say the figure was around 240,000. Either way, these have been some of the largest protests in Hong Kong’s history.
Carrie Lam
In a tearful interview yesterday, Lam denied that she has betrayed Hong Kong, arguing that she has made personal sacrifices for the city.
Britain
Hong Kong was a British colony between 1841 and 1997. The transfer to China was widely seen as marking the end of the British Empire.
2047
The “one country, two systems” arrangement is due to expire in 2047, 50 years after the end of British rule. Many in Hong Kong fear they will be deprived of their independence from the Chinese mainland at this point.
Xi Jinping
In March 2018, Xi changed his party’s rules to remove a two-term presidential limit. He can now effectively remain as president for life.
Tiananmen Square
Hundreds of protesters were killed when the Chinese military fired on them in the Beijing square.

Subjects

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