A young man from Hong Kong named Chan Tungkai murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan on Feburary 2018 and ran back to his country. The government of Taiwan requested that the government of Hong Kong send him back to Taiwan for punishment, thus Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam legislated an extradition bill. However, the citizens of Hong Kong were concerned that this bill might be abused by the Chinese government to extradite democratic activists. This sparked protests against the Hong Kong government, and it has become a controversial issue.
The Hong Kong citizens made five demands in the protest: an official withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent investigation of suppression by the Hong Kong police, the withdrawal of the classification of the protests as a riot, the unconditional release of arrested activists, and the direct election of the chief executive. The purpose of the protest was also to call for democracy and oppose the control of the Chinese authorities.
Activist Joshua Wong, who contributed to the democratization of Hong Kong, went to Germany and said to the international society not to ignore the current situation of Hong Kong. Though the extradition bill was withdrawn on September 4, he claimed he will still continue protesting until Hong Kong adopts the direct election of the chief executive. He emphasized that the protest cannot just end with the withdrawal of the extradition bill.
Why are the Two Countries in Conflict?
Hong Kong and China have had a hostile relationship since the Opium War. After the United Kingdom (UK) defeated China, Hong Kong was colonized by the British government and this is when the democratic ideology was implanted. According to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997. China then temporarily adopted a one country, two state system in which Hong Kong was allowed to maintain its democracy for a certain amount of time. Nevertheless, the Chinese government has attempted to encourage Hong Kong to adopt socialism.
The conflict was aggravated even more when the Chinese government suppressed democratic activists involved in anti-Chinese movements in Hong Kong. The Chinese authorities support the extradition bill as a way to suppress those who support democracy. According to Professor Changrok Soh (Graduate School of International Studies), “It seems that the bill was legislated to extradite criminals, but the real implied purpose of it is to block anti- Chinese activists.” Activists like Joshua Wong are protesting against China for complete democratization in Hong Kong. For this reason, this incident cannot end soon and is very likely to be extended.
According to Cable News Network (CNN), the Hong Kong police firmly suppressed the protestors using tear gas and over 1300 people have been arrested. However, the protestors confronted them wearing masks and continued to resist. Although the Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdrew the extradition bill, this did not ease the anger of the protests. They were outraged with Lam for her initial attitude regarding the enforcement of the extradition bill and the violent response by the Hong Kong police.
Doubts about U.S. Intervention
The Hong Kong protests are not simply the result of the relations between the two countries but are in fact inter-related with other countries. Professor Soh raised the possibility that the United States (U.S.) might intervene in this protest for the purpose of spreading democracy to foreign countries to further their national interests. Several U.S. congressmen have shown respect for the protests as well. On September 10, the U.S. congress passed legislation to stop exporting tear gas for use by the Hong Kong police.
U.S. intervention in the Hong Kong protests could deepen the conflict between the U.S. and China. During the current power struggle between the countries, U.S. could try to encourage Hong Kong to democratize and actively support the protestors. “It is remarkable that President Donald Trump showed an interest in the political issues of Hong Kong,” said Professor Soh, who also insisted that the U.S. would support the democratic movement in Hong Kong directly or indirectly, hoping that the ideology would also spread into China.
China and Hong Kong have disagreed over intervention by the U.S. According to the Chinese newspaper People’s Daily, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Diplomacy stated that “Interfering in a foreign country’s internal affairs violates international law.” According to CNN News, Hong Kong citizens and leaders also warned the U.S. against interference. “We will never allow them to be stakeholders in Hong Kong’s internal affairs,” said Chief Executive Lam, condemning the U.S. in her press conference.
Because the U.S. seems to want to intervene in the protests, it is possible that the situation could lead to an extension of the U.S.-China conflict and thus indirectly influence South Korea economically. Therefore, it is difficult to claim that the protests do not affect South Korea at all and, in fact, they also affect other countries internationally.
Future Prospects for the Protests
Professor Soh predicts that it would be very difficult for one country to totally surrender, thus Hong Kong and China need to negotiate and give up some of their demands. China will attempt to increase the support for Chinese authorities in Hong Kong. The majority of citizens in Hong Kong currently have an anti-Chinese attitude because of the protests. In the long term, however, the conservative forces in Hong Kong may become closer to China, and there are people who think Hong Kong should become integrated with China. After the protests cool down, China will encourage these people to support them.
▲ Professor Changrok Soh (Graduate School of International Studies), Photographed by Kim Sun Min
The protestants recently wrote a song “Glory to Hong Kong,” demanding democracy. Through their own protest movement, Hong Kong citizens are fighting to maintain democracy and to avoid being politically absorbed by China. The Hong Kong protests are a reaction by the citizens to repression by Chinese authorities, which has lasted for years. Regardless of how long the protests will last, Hong Kong protestors will fight until their requirements are fully satisfied.
South Korea also protested during the 1970s and 1980s for complete democratization and similar protests are happening in Hong Kong. Based on the experience of the South Korean protests, the conflict is not likely to end soon, and the protestors will continue to fight for their liberty. The Hong Kong citizens will keep requesting the government to accept their five demands, especially the direct election of the Chief Executive.