opinion

COLUMN: Can Americans hear Hong Kong's protests?



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A story that has it all: murder, mass protests and a people’s struggle for autonomy. The demonstrations in Hong Kong have raged for three months and show no signs of stopping.  

There needs to be a larger outpouring of support from the international community for these protesters. Furthermore, countries around the world must coordinate efforts to stand up against human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government. 

The controversy started in February 2018, when Chan Tong Kai traveled to Taiwan with his girlfriend and allegedly murdered her. Tong Kai returned to Hong Kong, and the authorities could not charge him for a murder committed in Taiwan. So Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed a bill granting extradition of suspects from Hong Kong to Taiwan as well as mainland China

These protests are against this extradition bill that could send Hong Kong residents to mainland China to be tried in its deeply flawed judicial system. Lam has stated that the bill is intended to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for fugitives.

Clearly, this is a move by the Chinese government to consolidate its power over the semiautonomous region and suppress political dissidents. In mainland China, there would be no guarantee for a fair trial, especially for someone who speaks negatively about country’s authoritarian government.  

Although a large portion of its democracy is dictated by mainland China’s influence, Hong Kong has its own judicial system, and its people have basic freedoms such as free speech.  

Since the British returned Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997, the regions have operated under an arrangement known as one country, two systems, which is set to expire in 2047. However, mainland China has grown impatient. It has been encroaching on Hong Kong’s autonomy in several ways, including being involved in the disappearances of anti-Chinese booksellers.  

While Canada and the European Union have issued statements supporting the goals of the protesters, President Trump largely ignored the issue and was even complimentary toward President Xi Jinping.

“I really have a lot of confidence in President Xi,” Trump said, predicting that if the Chinese leader met with protest leaders, “things could be worked out pretty easily.”

Of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, offered the most specific response, saying he would support the legislation of Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., to halt the sale of munitions and police equipment to the Hong Kong police, and he would support sanctions on those perpetrating human rights violations. However, without support from the president, it is unlikely any concrete steps will be taken. 

In a White House statement, Trump said he started his trade war with China to fight against its unfair trade practices. However, with no allies in this trade war, China has simply bought goods elsewhere and devalued its currency. Confronting Beijing alone does not work.

Countries need to come together and say enough is enough. When it comes to human rights abuses, the international community has allowed China to act with impunity, including the invasion of Tibet, the violent squashing of democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and the detention of the Uyghurs.

China has moved troops to the border of Hong Kong, and the possibility exists that it will violently quell the protests. 

The protesters who grew up after the 1997 agreement have only known a democratic Hong Kong. Zack Ho, 17, told The New York Times that "the extradition fight is a matter of life and death." They are furious at mainland China’s growing influence on their way of life. Student activist Edward Leung said of the possibility of being prosecuted that "fear is striking in all our hearts."

Hong Kong’s youth refuses to become a regular Chinese city where they do not have the right to express themselves freely. Hiu-Ching, 16, said, "I go home and cry, but after that, I have to get up and try to rally more people."Some have even committed suicide because they fear the power that this extradition bill gives the Chinese government to violate their human rights.  

Protesters are fighting for the future of democracy in Hong Kong. Hopefully, more world leaders will stand up to China and help the protesters' cause.

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