Citizens are protesting a bill that would undermine their freedom and subject them to mainland China's draconian judicial system.
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.
A third swell of protests over hikes in gas prices erupts in violent riots and public outcry over France's social inequality.
In the heart of Paris, the Champs-Elysées and the Arc de Triomphe were scaled by protesters and graffitied on Saturday. Police fired tear gas, stun grenades, and water cannons at masked citizens donning bright yellow vests as they (the citizens) set fire to buildings and hurled crude projectiles in the streets.
Recent hikes in gas prices under President Emmanuel Macron have driven people to form a leaderless movement on social media and take to the streets.The most recent announcement of another tax increase set to begin on News Years Day initiated the first wave of demonstrations in mid-November. The price hike will add to an existing 23% rise in diesel costs that's occurred during Macron's first year as president.
In France, all drivers must keep reflective yellow vests in their vehicles under a 2008 policy; the "gilet jaunes" or "Yellow Vest" movement represents motorists' protest of the added tax burden on fuel and government officials' blindness to civilian struggles.
The 36,000 demonstrators created the most violent display of civil disobedience to take place in the capital in more than a decade. The protests left 3 dead, 100 injured (including members of the French police), and nearly 400 arrests. The third wave of protests in as many weeks turned into "urban warfare" and "the worst riots in a generation," according to witnesses of flaming cars, vandalized buildings, and clashes between the French police and a faction of criminals who are said to have joined the protest solely to wreak havoc.
While prices of oil have risen worldwide over the past year, the French government has added its own taxes to the burden as part of their environmental policies. Macron's administration defends the new taxes as efforts to lower carbon emissions and encourage people to purchase more energy efficient cars–but the expectation that French citizens can alter their lifestyles and modes of transportation at the government's behest is out of touch with reality. Furthermore, increasing fuel prices places an unbalanced burden on working people who can't afford to reside in major cities and who rely on their cars to commute from and around rural and suburban areas.
But in many ways, the tax hike is only a capstone of social inequality that has frustrated citizens for too long. Florence, a 55-year-old demonstrator who works for a freight company outside Paris, expressed his motivations to The Guardian:
"We are here to protest against the government because of the rise in taxes [in general], not just petrol taxes, which is the straw that broke the camel's back. We've had enough. We have low salaries and pay too much tax and the combination is creating more and more poverty."
In response to public dissent, President Macron called an emergency security meeting on Sunday. His official statements have condemned the use of violence and defacement of national monuments. He said, "No cause justifies that authorities are attacked, that businesses are plundered, that passers-by or journalists are threatened or that the Arc du Triomphe is defiled." He also praised the emergency responders and French police, whom are seen below firing tear gas and water cannons at protesters, saying they've "showed unrelenting bravery throughout the day and evening."
French police fire teargas at 'gilets jaunes' protesters in Paris youtu.be
Outside of France, Parisians' actions against inequality seem to have inspired copycat riots in Belgium. Famke Krumbmuller, head of a Paris-based political consultancy, noted the protests touched a familiar chord and sent reverberations throughout Western Europe. She told CNBC, "I guess what's specific to this movement is that it is relatively apolitical, so they (the protesters) are not from just one party on the left or right. They're white, middle-class people that are squeezed by the welfare state. They pay a lot of taxes but they don't get a lot of benefits in return."
Looking ahead, President Macron's asked Prime Minister Edouard Philippe to hold a meeting with leaders of France's political parties and representatives from the "Yellow Vest" movement in order to negotiate a return to peace. However, according to the French paper Le Télégramme, some members of the "collective" oppose a meeting, claiming, "The government is only looking for a communication plan and we do not want to be a puppet." Another representative of the group, Christophe Chalençon, actually looks forward to the meeting, where he plans on asking the Prime Minister to resign.