By: Gari De Ramos
For the past few weeks, the city of Hong Kong has made international news with millions coming out to protest against the Hong Kong and Chinese government’s efforts at passing an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kongers to be extradited to several countries, most importantly China.
The protests began on June 9 with hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers protesting on the streets. This number kept growing to an estimated 1 million people – or, 1 in 7 Hong Kongers. On June 12, the protests turned violent with police officers deploying tear gas, as well as arresting and beating people. Unmoved, Hong Kongers continued to protest despite this violence and came back on June 16 with white flowers to commemorate those who lost their lives in the protests.
So, how did we get here? Earlier this year, a Hong Kong couple traveled to Taiwan, but only one half of this couple came back. A man, it turns out, had murdered his girlfriend. Unfortunately, Hong Kong and Taiwan do not have an extradition treaty, which would have allowed Taiwan to take the Hong Kong man and prosecute him in Taiwan. To fix this, the Hong Kong government proposed an amendment to its extradition laws that would allow create a system of extradition for countries Hong Kong did not yet have extradition rules with. This list includes China.
Although this is, in theory, a good and necessary idea, the language of the bill causes many Hong Kongers to be fearful. Many see this bill as an example of China trying to limit Hong Kong’s autonomy. As it stands now, the two places operate under “one party, two systems.” Under this, Hong Kong belongs to China but is allowed to operate as it did under British rule; to remain a free market market directly connected to the rest of the world. Although technically the same country, it doesn’t feel like it. Hong Kong and China have two separate Olympic teams, are separated by a physical border, and have different passports. Today’s Hong Kongers did not grow up in a world of Chinese control, but rather one of Hong Kong independence.
It is this independence that Hong Kongers want to protect as we get closer to 2047, the year China resumes complete control over Hong Kong. Hong Kongers see the extradition bill as an example of China wanting to take away its independence. Many are afraid that China will abuse its power to pull anyone from Hong Kong who has appeared to criticize the Chinese government and prosecute them in China – a country without a fair and transparent judicial system. Many scholars agree that this fear is legitimate, especially considering how China has previously kidnapped several bookstore owners in Hong Kong who were selling material that spoke negatively about China.
All Hong Kongers – be it businessmen, stay-at-home moms, and the youth – are afraid of this bill. Yelim Lee, a Hong Konger who is back home after studying at Pepperdine University in the United States, took part in the protests “because it is important for us to fight for our freedom of speech and political beliefs.”
Speaking with Yelim, she describes a scene of protestors many in America may find surprising. “It was surprisingly silent and incredibly peaceful,” she said. “We occupied the car roads. No one harassed the police and the police were just watching us from the sides. There were also a lot of food stations, first aid centres, and even impromptu recycling bins that the protesters made. This really goes to show how the people care about each other regardless of who you are.”
Despite roughly a million people coming out to protest, Hong Kongers have made headlines for being incredibly tidy and organized, even without a clear central leadership.
Since last week’s protests, Carrie Lam – Hong Kong’s Chief Executive – has announced that the bill has been suspended. Suspension does not remove the bill from consideration, and instead only temporarily pauses the process.
“I see the suspension as a small victory, but it’s still not the end,” said Yelim. “I think it’s a bit hopeful, but the protests won’t stop until Carrie Lam resigns and the bill is withdrawn.
Photos from Yelim Lee (Instagram @justyelim)
The bill’s suspension has triggered protests double the size. Now, approximately two million Hong Kongers are continuing the fight. In Osaka, Japan where the 2019 G20 Summit is taking place, demonstrators are calling on the world’s major governments and economies to discuss Hong Kong.
Gari De Ramos is an aspiring environmental justice reporter lucky enough to call the Philippines, Hong Kong, and New York City her homes. She is currently an Editorial Intern for Overachiever Magazine. Outside of OM, she is a Magazine Editor at Her Culture, Fellow with Our Climate Voices, and intern at the Worcester Magazine. Gari is pursuing her bachelor degrees in Political Science and Human Security at Clark University, where she is also a mentor for students of color and first-generation college students. In her spare time, you can catch her dreaming about a gender-swapped version of Hamilton: An American Musical.