The world’s eyes have turned to the southeastern region of Hong Kong this month as the largest protests in the territory’s history erupted in response to tighter legislation from its ruling country of China. The protests, which began in response to a bill that would have allowed China to extradite, or hand over legal control to another jurisdiction allowing Hong Kong citizens to be tried for crimes according to Chinese law, have since erupted into more than two million person demonstrations across the region. This bill would have given China even more ability to prosecute Hong Kong protestors and silence dissent against the Chinese government.
This October marks a high water mark for the protests, which have escalated into a massive conflict between Hong Kong’s people and the government that they see as constricting their attempts at democracy. The demonstrations have been organized with a rarely seen level of leaderlessness, forming and disappearing with no central guiding organization or figurehead. Reportedly, protestors’ tactics have been heavily inspired by Bruce Lee’s martial arts philosophy of being “formless [and] shapeless, like water.” In July, hundreds of protestors breached the Legislative Council Complex of Hong Kong and vandalized the complex with anti-government messages.
Since then, the protests have grown increasingly violent, with police beating protestors and using tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and other extreme crowd control methods. Protestors have responded with force, some carrying out vigilante attacks on those perceived to be enemies to the protest. While protestor deaths at the hands of police have been rumored, the government has vehemently denied the accusations. What is inarguable are eight political suicides by anti-extradition protestors amid the culture of despair surrounding the region.
The intensity of these protests are unrivaled in Hong Kong’s history, but the presence of protest is nothing new. Hong Kong has a long and tense history with Chinese rule, control of the region having bounced between China, Britain and Japan over the past two millennia. In 1997, the British government handed control of the territory over to China, ending 156 years of Britain’s colonial rule over Hong Kong.
This October marks a high water mark for the protests, which have escalated into a massive conflict between Hong Kong’s people and the government that they see as constricting their attempts at democracy.
While the transfer was designed with safeguards intended to ensure Hong Kong’s rights as an individual state, China has continuously been accused of overstepping these limits and interfering with Hong Kong’s government. China’s proposed “one country, two systems” rule was intended to give the country rights to foreign relations and military defense but cede all other control of Hong Kong to the territory’s government. The fight for “universal suffrage” and democracy in Hong Kong has taken the form of two decades of region-wide protests.
The recent extradition bill is the latest in a series of measures China has attempted since the transfer of power in 1997 designed to give the nation’s government more power over Hong Kong. China, which has seen criticism for imprisoning, detaining and disappearing political dissenters in its own country, has extended its methods of surveillance and free speech control into Hong Kong, as the world looks to the protests as a model of how large-scale demonstrations might function in a world saturated with technology. Already, some of the most enduring images from this month’s protests have shown mask-wearing demonstrators sawing down, gutting and destroying government facial recognition surveillance towers.
On American soil, China has seen bipartisan resistance from both the government and the people. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, passed by the House of Representatives on Oct. 15, initiated an investigation by U.S. departments into China’s treatment of Hong Kong and “[urged] China’s government to uphold its commitments to Hong Kong.” China issued a strong warning to the U.S. the following day amid talks of sanctions against Chinese enterprise. “China will definitely take strong countermeasures, in response to the wrong decisions by the U.S. side, to defend its sovereignty, security and development interests,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang.
Another foreboding model of protests in the information age has arisen with the actions of several American-based multinational technology corporations. Apple faced a scathing response from many Hong Kong sympathizers when it removed an application from the Apple Store that allowed users to track protest and police movement. A bipartisan group of legislators, including Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urged Apple Inc. C.E.O. Tim Cook to restore the app, warning that Apple’s cooperation with the Chinese government could quickly turn into complicity.
Activision Blizzard, a video game company with a large following in southeastern Asia, also faced backlash for measures they took to silence pro-Hong Kong members of their competitive tournaments and online communities.
A series of events that began with the year long suspension of Hong Kong-based competitive gamer, Ng “Blitzchung” Wai Chung, after he said “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our age!” on a livestream of the Hearthstone championships. These, and other corporations like the NBA, indicate how the companies that shape the world lean when under duress from a market force as large and influential as China.
With international attention on Hong Kong, the protests show no signs of slowing as they continue into their sixth consecutive month. The original extradition bill has since died in Hong Kong’s legislature, but the spirit of anti-extradition lives on in a protest that has grown to define the conflict of a nation.
Brendan Lordan is a third-year student majoring in English writing and minoring in journalism. BL895080@wcupa.edu