Hong Kong: Flawed Demonstrations
For the last few decades, Hong Kong has been a symbol of success for capitalism and a jewel besieged by its surroundings.
For the last few decades, Hong Kong has been a symbol of success for capitalism and a jewel besieged by its surroundings. However, the recent protests that took the world’s media by storm have revealed the true precariousness of Hong Kong’s situation and, in reality, serve to dispel the mythos of Hong Kong’s success as a capitalist icon. Given the current situation, it seems clear that these protests have not only lost sight of originally clear motives but have unintentionally sabotaged the interests of all Hong Kongers fighting for freedom. The violent nature of the protests has caused significant damage to Hong Kong’s economy and image; they have alienated mainlanders from the democratic cause and allowed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to accomplish its goals with little intervention.
Protests’ supporters argue that the protests are a necessary rebuke towards the Hong Kong’s leadership’s decisions and an appropriate response to an encroachment of power on their fundamental rights. With the censorship harshening in the mainland and ever increasing strong-man rhetoric from President Xi Jinping, Hong Kongers have taken a stand out of belief that if their rights cannot be petitioned now, the path towards 2047 will be irreversible. Initially, the Hong Kongers called for the repeal of an extradition bill, allowing residents to be extradited to the mainland for trial. However, when Chief Executive Carrie Lam faltered, protestors, frustrated with inaction and recent arrests, increased their demands for universal suffrage and Carrie Lam’s resignation. The goals of the protest now revolves around a possible re-negotiation of the 1984 Handover Agreement that would be carried out to protect the liberties of the city’s people. These goals, however, show the evolution of aims from being achievable to utterly outrageous, since Hong Kong has neither the political structure nor the democractic impetus to fulfill these requirements.
The fundamental cause of Hong Kong’s predicament lies in its governing structure; the city has inherited a unique system of government designed to serve the free market at the expense of suffrage. Hong Kong has a democratic system neither compatible with the democracy we know in America nor with the British model of parliamentary democracy. Half of its legislative council are appointed by functional constituencies, which are trade-based special interest groups. In turn, these groups are given voting power in influential elections. The majority of these constituencies must maintain good relations with mainland as the city relies on the mainland for its very existence: 76 percent of water, 90 percent of its energy needs, and 94 percent of meat-based foods come from China. Thus, even without voter input, Hong Kong’s policies are overwhelmed by corporate and, in turn, PRC influence. Thus, Hong Kongers face a dead end, and desperation has grown throughout the summer, especially among the young protestors. Claudi Mo, a pro-democracy member of the legislative council, stated that for the youth, “It’s their future, it’s their Hong Kong; I won’t be around [come 2047].” These young people have braved an admirable task, but their actions betray their cause. On July 1, during a planned peaceful demonstration on the anniversary of the handover to China, a band of protestors stormed the legislative building and ransacked the legislative chamber. They shattered windows to get in and promptly defaced the Hong Kong emblem by painting crude anti-government messaging. Thus started the riots. Protesters staged gatherings in the Hong Kong airport that caused an airport shutdown. These actions, along with reports of beatings of mainlanders, have quelled any sympathy the Chinese populous had for the Hong Kong cause. Despite claims by protestors that democracy is more important than economic stability, the city cannot avoid the truth that an appeal for democracy will not succeed due to opposition by a single city, even one as important as Hong Kong. Its population and GDP may seem impressive but only in comparison with Western countries.The city’s GDP has gone from 18 percent of China’s down to only three percent, and its actual GDP has fallen far below several major cities under direct PRC control, such as Shanghai. By taking actions such as shutting down airports, striking, and ransacking legislative buildings, protestors in Hong Kong are acting as though their actions alone can sway the PRC through convincing Western powers to sanction China. The ugly truth, however, suggests that Hong Kong doesn’t have the political or economic clout to achieve such goals.
Consequently, it seems the PRC has played a winning hand. The Chinese government has judged this situation impeccably; it has recognized the violence by the protestors and utilized these events to characterize protestors as rioters and terrorists (connecting many protests directly with Hong Kong Mafia groups). Already, Chinese users of social media platforms have called for military intervention, and pro-Hong Kong sentiments are routinely quelled within China. Despite this, the PRC seems to have learned a lesson from the Tiananmen Square Protests; crackdowns are not necessary in quelling petty causes. Hong Kongers have no way out of a full transition into a normal Chinese city come 2047, and while these protests have disrupted many aspects of Hong Kong’s public and private sectors, they have, conveniently, come when the city has lost its role as the principal financial center of China.The GDP of Hong Kong has fallen by 0.4 percent, and with a massive decrease in the tourism industry, Lam has stated that the protests have harmed the economy more than the 2008 financial crisis. The protests risk inciting foreign firms to shift assets away from Hong Kong and to mainland China. This move would cause Hong Kong to become even less influential in Chinese affairs which wold benefit the PRC’s aims. The Chinese leadership can now sit back, watch as Hong Kongers weaken their own economy, and wait for protests to quell while avoiding sanctions from the West. With the latest round of protests appealing towards the United States for diplomatic aid and sanctions on China, Hong Kong seems desperate while being besieged by the overwhelming odds stacked in favor of the mainland cause, and not a single tank was deployed in the process.