Thousands of protestors stormed Hong Kong's government headquarters, taking control of a legislative building for hours before being attacked with tear gas and dispersed by riot police. Inside the legislative building's main chamber, the activists, mostly young people, hung banners reading: "There's no rioters, there's only tyranny" and "There is no way left." Their stand is the culmination of mounting tensions over a bill that would allow mainland China to extradite citizens of Hong Kong in order to face the draconian Chinese judicial system.
"But isn't Hong Kong part of China already?" you might be wondering. Yes, but not exactly.
One Country, Two Systems
Up until 1997, Hong Kong was a colony of the United Kingdom. Upon its return to Chinese sovereignty, China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a treaty that decreed: "The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years."
Essentially, this agreement mandates that while Hong Kong will be a part of mainland China, it will still enjoy a high degree of autonomy, including its own legal, legislative, and economic systems––at least until 2047. After that, nobody is really sure what will happen. That uncertainty, especially regarding fear over loss of freedom, has lead to a high degree of pro-independence sentiment amongst youth in Hong Kong.
The 2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill
Otherwise known as the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, this bill proposed in February by the Hong Kong government would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to face trial in Taiwan, Macau, or mainland China. This means that, hypothetically, a Hong Kong citizen accused of dissonance against the mainland Chinese government could be whisked away to face criminal trial in mainland China, where such offenses can carry harsh penalties including execution.
Many Hong Kong citizens have rightfully derided the bill as a means of undermining their freedom and giving mainland China a legal means to prosecute them and other international people for perceived political slights. Authorities in Taipei have rejected the bill on similar grounds.
On March 30th, amidst widespread, vocal calls from both the Hong Kong populace and the international community to discard the bill, the Hong Kong government rolled out amendments to the bill. This did not satisfy the Hong Kong populace, which overwhelmingly supported a full removal, so on June 9th they took to the streets, nearly 300,000 strong.
In opposition to the voices of its people, Hong Kong refused to withdraw the bill. Then, on June 12th the protests turned violent. Police responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Protesters were not dissuaded, turning out again on June 16th, nearly 2 million strong.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam relented two days later, apologizing for "the deficiencies of the (Hong Kong) government" and tabling the bill until further notice. Her actions came too little too late and were deemed as insufficient by the populace––they did not want the bill tabled—they wanted it discarded completely, along with Lam's resignation.
Without proper resolution, the protests have continued to escalate. According to CNN, the protesters currently have five demands: "They want a complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an investigation of police brutality, retraction of the characterization of the protests as riots, the release of arrested protesters, and leader Carrie Lam to step down."
Why You Should Care
Governments work for their people––not the other way around. A government that fails to properly represent its people should be subject to the full force of its people. The Hong Kong protests serve as a necessary example of this force in action.
When the government does not listen to petitions and condemnations, people need to take to the streets in protest. When the government does not listen to protest, people need to rally together and confront their government head-on, by whatever means necessary. To be clear, a government that does not represent its people is a tyranny, and nobody who values their own freedoms should ever allow themselves to be ruled by tyrants.
While the situation in Hong Kong continues to develop, and while the police have brutalized the protestors on an ongoing basis, the protestors have risen again and again. Slowly but surely, their rage has lead to government action. The whole world is watching to see what happens next, but it's important to realize that these protests don't exist in a bubble. The same tactics that work in Hong Kong will work anywhere else in the world, as long as people turn out in large enough numbers. Peaceful protest is great when the government is willing to listen, but "no" is not an acceptable answer.