Should the Hong Kongers Keep Protesting?

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On September 4, after months of protests, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam withdrew the controversial extradition bill that allowed Hong Kongers to be tried in China. The protests, however; did not end there. In fact, they have evolved into a turbulent movement for democracy in Hong Kong that is becoming increasingly violent.

 

The violence in Hong Kong has escalated so much that protesters are writing “last letters” to their loved ones. Yet, because Hong Kong’s rights have been abused and violated by China, these protests are not only just but necessary. 

First, the election of the Chief Executive is blatantly undemocratic. Before being elected by a popular vote, incumbent CE Carrie Lam was pre-approved by an election committee of 1,194 people, who were mostly Beijing loyalists and businessmen with close connections to Chinese corporations. 

In other words, Hong Kongers only get to vote for Chinese-sanctioned candidates. This subversion of the ballot is an unacceptable violation of the original intention of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution, which promises the region “a high degree of autonomy” and “executive, legislative, and independent judicial power.”  

In addition, the voting process of members of the Legislative Council (LegCo), the principal law-making body, is also biased and unfair. Currently, only 40 of the 70 legislators in LegCo are elected by popular vote. The remaining lawmakers are chosen by functional constituencies: small groups of powerful magnates in various trade sectors that have historically supported pro-China candidates. For example, the finance and insurance constituencies are limited to 125 and 130 businessmen, respectively, who mostly have ties to Beijing. 

A half-applicable democracy is not a valid democracy. Hong Kong cannot call itself democratic when the other half of its legislators represents the single narrative of Beijing and its interests. The unacceptable truth here is only half of Hong Kong’s representatives actually represent the people. Hong Kongers’ restricted right to vote for legislative officials constitutes yet another violation of the Basic Law.

So what can Hong Kongers do to express their indignation? Protest. Day after day, protesters (primarily millennials) crowd Hong Kong’s avenues and alleyways. They abandon their jobs and come together in throngs; they are unified in their anger and their insistence on democracy. After all, every citizen should be guaranteed the rights that their government has promised to uphold.

China agreed to let Hong Kong govern itself until 2047. Yet Beijing has thwarted Hong Kong’s election process, nominated its candidates, impeded on people’s rights, and trampled over its democracy.

If the people in Hong Kong do not fight for what they legally deserve, no one will be left to experience the democracy they were promised. 

 

It’s time for the protests to end. The motives of the protesters are misguided; the actions of the protesters are immoral. But how can Hong Kong put an end to this chaos? The answer lies in the protesters’ own demands. 

The first demand: universal suffrage for the legislative council. This seemingly positive change would be devastating to Hong Kong. The Legislative Council of Hong Kong (LegCo) is composed of 3 groups: the geographical constituency, the super seats, and the functional constituency. The functional constituency seats constitute 28 out of the 70 seats in LegCo, and are solely voted on by business corporations. Each seat represents an industry such as health or finance. This system has given Hong Kong more economic freedom than any other city in the world. 

Since Hong Kong is a financial center, the functional constituency seats are structural pillars of Hong Kong’s society. Because of Hong Kong’s dependency on China, universal suffrage for the legislative council would tear down these pillars and cause an economic collapse. Functional constituency seats are usually filled with pro-China representatives, who help pass legislation that benefits economic partnership between Hong Kong and China. 

Moreover, Hong Kong’s financial relationship with China is crucial to its economy. Hong Kong houses some of the largest companies in the world; in fact, the market cap of its stock exchange is $29 trillion (2018). Yet 25 percent of Hong Kong’s major investors are from China, and nearly 17 percent of its stock market’s parent companies are based in China.

The second demand: the unconditional release of arrested protestors. The request to release criminals and rioters disregards the law and the damage that violent protestors have done to the people of Hong Kong. This reveals the protesters’ ignorance of the human cost of their actions. 

Violent protests have been extremely detrimental to Hong Kongers. Because the streets are filled with protestors, people have stopped leaving their homes, and shops have lost most of their business.  The lower classes are most affected: they struggle to pay the steep housing prices of Hong Kong and are fighting to stay afloat as many minimum wage jobs have been lost due to the turbulent business conditions. Moreover, public transportation systems such as the subway have been occupied by these protestors, preventing members of the lower class from traveling the long distance from their houses to the city center for work (housing is cheaper farther from the city).

The protesters want power. They want freedom. But how can a Hong Kong crippled by economic collapse become powerful? Are families thrust into poverty by turmoil and disorder truly freer? 

After understanding the misguided nature of both the methods and the goals of the protesters, letting these protests continue would be an egregious mistake.