Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on September 4, that the Hong Kong government will withdraw the recent controversial extradition bill that triggered nearly three months of protests in Hong Kong. She said that the government will formally withdraw the bill in order to allay public concerns and stop the violence. The government of Hong Kong might have made the decision in the hope the unrest would stop, but the movement showed no sign of ending. In a highly volatile situation that the people of Hong Kong require greater democracy, the wind of fundamental political change blows straight into the face of time and Hong Kong stands at the crossroads. How will it end? What should international society do about it?
Demonstrators continued protests for a 17th successive weekend and insisted that the withdrawal of the extradition bill is “too late, too little” considering that only one demand was met among five demands. They said demonstrations will continue until the government meets their other demands, including a call for greater democracy. Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong from the Demosisto party wrote on Twitter that until Lam’s announcement, seven people died and police arrested more than 1000 protesters who suffered human rights violations. He added "The intensified police brutality in the previous weeks have left an irreversible scar on the entire Hong Kong society. Therefore, at this very moment, when Carrie Lam announced withdrawal, people would not believe it is a sincere move.”
[Hong Kong Protesters’ 5 Demands]
1. Fully withdraw the extradition bill.
2. Set up an independent inquiry to probe police brutality.
3. Withdraw the characterization of protests as “riots.”
4. Release those arrested at protests.
5. Implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong.
Michael Tien, a moderate pro-Beijing lawmaker, said, “The withdrawal of the bill may be too late because this movement has become more than a bill.” As he said, the protest became not only the issue of an extradition bill but also the issue of the future political system as well as human rights, and democratic freedom. As the bill allows extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, it had become a potent symbol of Beijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy and the rights of Hong Kong citizens. This is because the bill will allow the Chinese government to legally take and punish the people of Hong Kong including many political dissidents against China and Chinese human rights actives in Hong Kong. As human rights and freedoms are on the brink of collapse, many Hong Kong residents felt the bill would violate the “one country, two systems” arrangement and it caused concern about what life will be like in Hong Kong when the expiration date for this arrangement passes in 2047.
In “one country, two systems” arrangement between the U.K. and China, Hong Kong would continue operating in a capitalist economy, and residents would continue to have rights to speech, press, assembly, religious belief, and so on at least until 2047. The U.K. and China signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 and this declaration stipulated that Hong Kong which was ceded by China to the U.K. would become a part of China on July 1, 1997 but that the current social and economic systems and life-style in Hong Kong would remain the same for 50 years. However, after the handover in 1997, there have been incidents of Beijing undermining the arrangement, and recent protests were sparked in response to these.
The past three months of public protests have posed a profound challenge to the political and economic stability of Hong Kong, and perhaps more fundamentally to China’s sovereign claim over the island territory and its “one country, two systems” formulation. Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong said that “one country, two systems” is fundamentally wrong in the interview with The Kyunghyang Shinmun. Hong Kong pursues fundamentally different values from China that aims at completely assimilating Hong Kong into China during the 50 years in which “one country, two systems” is guaranteed. He said that his ultimate goal is for Hong Kong to become an independent, democratic state.
As fears of direct intervention by Beijing grow, pro-democracy campaigners have argued that Britain has a responsibility to protect residents who hold the passports it issued ahead of the handover according to The Guardian. Also, tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters waving US flags marched on the city's US Consulate on September 1, to call for help from the Trump administration in ending a three-month standoff with the government according to CNN. They called for the passing of the proposed "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019" by the US Congress. "We share the same U.S. values of liberty and democracy. The U.S. is a country of democracy. Donald Trump is elected by his people. We want this," 30-year-old banker David Wong said in the interview.
The calls for democracy also spread in Yongsan station of Seoul on August 31. Young people from Hong Kong studying or traveling in Korea held a rally supporting the anti-extradition bill. This movement also spread in the Catholic University of Korea (CUK). On EVERYTIME which is one of the biggest campus online communities, there were many posts which support the people of Hong Kong calling for democracy. Among them, the post urging people to pay attention and support, written by Hong Kong student in CUK got 114 likes, a high figure compared to post irrelevant to this incident. Richard, exchange student from Sweden in CUK, said, “I am aware of the situation in Hong Kong and support the protest which values democracy and freedom, important things in human life.”
In response to this situation in Hong Kong, some Koreans sent a message for support pro-democracy protests and Hong Kong people. As Korea has gone through many of their own pro-democracy protests such as the Gwangju Democratization Movement in 1980, the June Democracy Movement in 1987 until it achieved democracy, they have paid attention and support to the people of Hong Kong.
However, others do not have interest in politics or democracy too and there are some voices spurring some introspection about it. In an interview with the Catholic University Forum (CUF), Kim Joon-suk, professor of International Studies in CUK said, “Some Koreans are apathetic to Hong Kong pro-democracy protests because democracy in Korea has a nationalistic aspect. They do not care about pro-democracy protests happening in other countries.” Many civil groups have not taken any action about it and Korea government did not respond to it, walking on eggshells around China on which Korea relies heavily as a market for exports. He added, “They need to change, showing solidarity with the people of Hong Kong in support of democracy of the world.”
While international society is watching Hong Kong, how things will turn out depends on China. Troops from its People’s Liberation Army have been in the city since the 1997 handover, but have played a minimal role. However, Hong Kong people’s strong supports for democracy have raised the possibility of a crackdown by Beijing and intervention by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The worst scenario is a military crackdown by China, repeating the Tiananmen Square Massacre which killed countless number of people, mostly students.
Professor Kim said that the likelihood of Chinese army’s bloody suppression is low because Chinese government know that they price would be too huge to pay. If they send in the PLA, it would badly damage the city’s reputation of legal autonomy from Beijing and damage its economy. Also, unlike 1989, China has a lot to lose as it became a great power. However, he indicated that this situation could possibly turn into a bloodshed by accidental incidents so the people of Hong Kong and Chinese government should reach a compromise.
He also pointed out that the international community must help the people of Hong Kong, not walking on eggshells around China. Especially, as the problem in Hong Kong is the legacy of British imperialism like Israel-Palestine conflict, the U.K. and the European Union should announce their position on the current state of affairs as well as international leaders at the UN security Council. He lastly said, “The world must not stay silent and take action in support of Hong Kong’s democracy movement.”