BEJING, China — In the streets of Hong Kong protests have become a common site. But what started as collegiate pro-democracy demonstrations in the city escalated to a mass march with aggressive police response. Why the outrage in Hong Kong? What is at stake for the people, and what does the government fear is at risk?
Since it was handed to China by the British government in 1997, Hong Kong has enjoyed special status under China’s “one country, two systems” deal. Under British rule, the city had flourished into a center of commerce that enjoyed far more freedoms than the rest of China was allotted. Part of the trade-off in China inheriting Hong Kong, was the city maintaining its rights and autonomy. This included promise of a 2017 democratic election of Hong Kong’s chief executive, who in the meantime has been appointed by a pro-Beijing committee.
The unrest in Hong Kong started brewing in July when the Chinese government released a statement saying, “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.” By August, Beijing announced candidates for the election would be selected by the very council that had appointed the chief executive all along. The biggest fear amongst most citizens of Hong Kong was that this represented a first step in completely stripping them of the democratic process they were promised.
And so the streets of Hong Kong were flooded this September in an unprecedented demonstration of pro-democratic assembly.
The main demand amongst protesters is a complete democratic control of selection of candidates.
These protests were met with swift action by the police force, which began tear gassing demonstrators Sunday afternoon. Despite the dramatic turn of events, there has been a virtual blackout of updates in mainland China’s media coverage. Mainland media outlets have not published or broadcasted any images of Hong Kong. The only reports most of the nation has seen were brief and discussed illegal activity.
Many believe the Chinese government fears these demonstrations could spark more pro-democratic sentiment throughout the entire nation, according to the Associated Press.
“The authorities see this as a matter of life and death,” said Shanghai-based columnist Zhao Chu. “They don’t see it as a local affair but a fuse that can take down their world.”
With no current sight of a political resolution, many predict an increase in force against protesters is likely.
– Ellie Sennett