America Needs to Pay Attention to the Hong Kong Protests

What It’s All About

Protests in Hong Kong began on Sunday to combat the Chinese government’s proposal of a new bill that would allow Hong Kong to detain and transfer people without a formal extradition agreement in countries and territories where Hong Kong has no jurisdiction, including Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. Hong Kong leaders say the new law is necessary to prosecute a Hong Kong man who is wanted in Taiwan for allegedly murdering his girlfriend.

But critics of the new law say it would give China and the Communist Party too much power over Hong Kong by essentially allowing anyone in Hong Kong to be picked up and detained in mainland China. Hong Kong retains independence through a system of sovereign judges who do not answer to the Chinese Government. This new law would require Hong Kong judges to now follow the orders of the Communist Party and make it nearly impossible for a local leader to reject an extradition request from superiors. Although the extradition plan applies to 37 specific crimes and purposely excludes political ones, critics fear the new legislation would essentially legalize abductions to the mainland. The citizens of Hong Kong rightly remain skeptical based on the continued attempts by mainland China and President Xi to chip away at its unique safeguards that provide legal and political protection from the Chinese government.

A Complicated Relationship

Even though Hong Kong is a part of China, it has a complicated relationship with the mainland. Hong Kong was a former British colony that was returned to China in 1997 under a policy known as “one country, two systems.” This policy provided the Hong Kong territory a necessary level of autonomy, helped to preserve Hong Kong’s independence in the courts and provided critical distinctions from mainland China necessary to maintain certain freedoms.

Chinese President Xi Jinping came into power in 2012 and began to tighten his control with bold restrictions seeking to limit the power of the people. Hong Kong became a target due to its independent spirit and pro-democracy protests that include a the 1998 student-led Tiananmen Square protest where Chinese soldiers killed hundreds, possibly thousands of demonstrators in Beijing and other cities. In 2014, protestors flooded the streets of Hong Kong and took control of downtown for 11 weeks to demand free elections.

Escalating Conflict

The Riot police have now deployed tear-gas and rubber bullets on the downtown protesters, who are mostly students. There are reports of teenagers being choked by tear gas deployed by the riot police. It has also been reported that the protesters have hurled bricks, bottles and umbrellas which is how the government is justifying the intensified retaliation tactics deployed on Wednesday afternoon in Hong Kong. 

At least 20 people have been injured according to local news media reports, which is based their data from reports from Hong Kong hospitals. Many of the protesters are younger and are unified in black T-shirts, as they are rushing heavily armored police. They are being repelled by officers deploying rubber bullets, beanbag rounds, pepper spray and tear gas.

There are also social media reports that riot police are aggressively attacking people who are caught in the crossfire and pepper spraying tourists who are not a threat.

How Does This Affect America

The basis for the current protests in Hong Kong involves an attempt by the Chinese Government to usurp the independence of local judges and establish control over autonomous courts. By creating a law that allows the mainland to extradite any person they want, they can essentially work around the “safeguard” parameters put in the bill to appease protesters. Given the reports of mainland authorities “disappearing” people rather than following the law, the likelihood for abuse with this new law is strong.

While America maintains a system of checks and balances that affords us more protections, we are also watching that system fail us in real time in places previously considered fail proof.

The U.S. currently has a president who applauds control that other leaders have over their own people by deploying limitations on freedoms. Trump continues to draw support from dictators he openly praises while lashing out at Democratic leaders who challenge him. Trump has also gained substantial control over the U.S. court system by placing a record number of judges throughout the federal court system, like China is attempting to do in its own way now. The attempt by a controlling leader to usurp the power of the people is universal thing that’s now occurring at a record pace all over the world, even in Democratic countries like ours. While America maintains a system of checks and balances that affords us more protections, we are also watching that system fail us in real time in places previously considered fail proof. The protests in Hong Kong are important to understand because there are civic lessons to be learned in terms of staying educated and engaged, but also because we are watching people fight to protect precious freedoms that others take for granted.

Update: After several days of protests, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, indefinitely suspended the bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. Lam made a statement on Saturday saying she would indefinitely suspend the bill even after previously vowing to get it passed on an unusually short timetable, despite hundreds of thousands demonstrating in the Hong Kong street. Although the bill was postponed, Lam made it clear that the bill was only being delayed, not withdrawn outright, saying, “I believe that we cannot withdraw this bill, or else society will say that this bill was groundless.” Lam also expressed remorse telling the public, “We will adopt the most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements.” Expect protests to resume if the Hong Kong government reverses this policy again.


Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero and a Scholar” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.