Since June, Hong Kong has been embroiled in protests that have captured international attention. The situation has escalated in intensity as police forces have used increasingly violent means to suppress the protests. While the protests initially seem complex, the history of Hong Kong provides clarifying context to why citizens of Hong Kong are protesting.
According to the New York Times, the protests began in response to Hong Kong’s legislative council’s proposal of an extradition bill, which would allow citizens of Hong Kong to be transferred into Chinese or Taiwanese custody if accused of a crime. The bill was proposed to remedy an apparent loophole in the Hong Kong legal system that does not allow citizens to be extradited. The legislative council said that the bill is meant to bring justice, but protesters disagree.
The protesters believe that the extradition bill violates the “one-country, two systems” policy that defines Hong Kong’s relationship with China, according to BBC. Hong Kong was a colony of Great Britain from 1841 until 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back over to Chinese control. Until 2047, Hong Kong will maintain its own economic system, currency, legal system, legislative system and personal freedoms. However, the protestors believe that the extradition bill would allow the Chinese government to target political opponents in Hong Kong and extradite them to China.
The protesters initially presented five demands to the government of Hong Kong, and have added a sixth in the past month. Their rallying cry has been “Five demands, not one less” to convey that they will not stop until the government meets all of their demands.
The first demand is the only one that has been met by the government: the full withdrawal of the extradition bill.
The second demand is an independent commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality, and into the protests themselves. This is meant to expose police officers that were unnecessarily brutal, as they have been accused of using excessive amounts of tear gas, firing live rounds of ammunition and sexually assaulting detainees. In addition to looking into police brutality, this investigation will determine if the protests are domestic or influenced by international forces.
A current Texas A&M doctoral student from Hong Kong, who would like to remain anonymous, said the second demand is important because it will clarify to the world what is happening in Hong Kong.
“In the end, what we want is to know the truth [about the source of the protests]. We want to have a fair judgement.”
The third demand is retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters.” Ying Fung Yiu, a computer science doctoral student from Hong Kong, said the classification as rioters, while seemingly harmless, is so important.
“By labeling the demonstration as riots, they tried to do their best to influence the law enforcement system and the court system to charge you with rioting,” Yiu said. "Before the trial even begins, they’re labeling it as a riot. They’re using the riot police before people even start to assemble.”
The fourth demand is amnesty for arrested protesters. The anonymous student said that he felt that this demand is vital because the protesters feel as if they have no choice but to use violence.
“We have tried all peaceful means,” he said. “And since the Hong Kong people found that peaceful means don’t make the government listen, they increased their violence.”
The fifth demand is dual universal suffrage, meaning free and fair elections for both the legislative counsel and the Chief Executive, as this would eliminate the need for constant protests. All the sources agree that if Hong Kong had universal suffrage in the first place, they would not have to protest, as they could use their vote to voice their opinion.
The sixth demand is the reformation of the Hong Kong police force, as the trust in the law enforcement has declined after their way of dealing with the protestors. A second anonymous student said it was hard to focus on school when he wants to help his friends and family in Hong Kong.
“I can become very emotional when I read all the news,” he said. “I’m writing a dissertation for my PhD and when I read the news, I cannot concentrate on my work. It affects my studies and my research.”
In 2014, the Umbrella Movement took place in Hong Kong. According to The Guardian, the Umbrella Movement’s goal was to occupy Hong Kong’s central business district, in response to the Chinese government’s plan to select its own candidates for Chief Executive, the highest political position in Hong Kong. The protesters peacefully demonstrated in the central business district for 79 days, bringing business activities to a halt. They demanded universal suffrage to allow them to nominate and vote for their own candidates, and the resignation of the chief executive at the time, C. Y. Leung.
Neither of the demands of the Umbrella Movement were met, and the movement ended.
“I wouldn’t call it a failure, but it didn’t succeed either. It just ended with no result,” said Yiu. “At that point, people find it very devastating that we failed to change the government after occupying the business district for almost three months.”
The Umbrella Movement provides important context for the tumultuous protests happening now. After the Umbrella Movement failed to sway the government, many protesters argue that the government will only respond to violence.
“More people started to believe that we need to use some violence to put more pressure on the government and that is the only way we can get what we want,” the first anonymous student said. “I want the world to understand is that we have already tried many peaceful means, and we are not rioters.”
A third anonymous student moved from Hong Kong with his family when he was nine years old. He said the protesters communicate via apps about protest and police locations, and since these apps are the main source of communication, many police officers join the apps to pose as protesters to gather information and manipulate protesters. He monitored accounts on these communication platforms to alert protesters about imposter accounts.
“I was constantly on [the app] trying to catch up and really identify who were the cops,” the third anonymous source said. “When I spot behaviors that are very cop-like, I try to upvote it so people would know.”
Out of fear that the Hong Kong Public Broadcasting Company, the last independent news company in Hong Kong, will be censored, the third anonymous source said he downloads videos that are posted before they are taken down to preserve them for the future.
Daniel Cheng is a biomedical engineering sophomore who moved to the United States from Taiwan when he was in the sixth grade. Cheng said he wanted to help by writing a resolution to introduce to the Student Senate at A&M. He said one day he was taking a break from studying to read the news and watch videos about the protests and was surprised to notice the affect the protests were having on him.
“Out of nowhere, I started crying,” Cheng said. “I realized how touched I really was by the unity of people in Hong Kong. These people were all previously strangers to each other before they were marching alongside each other, arms interlocked and just fighting for freedom.”
Cheng said that when writing the resolution, he wanted to be factual as possible about the protests without sugarcoating. He also uses strong language to condemn the Chinese government for their actions.
After writing the resolution, Cheng contacted off-campus senator Dang Dang to have the resolution presented to the Student Senate. The Student Senate listened to supportive A&M students talk about the protests during open forum, and Senator Dang presented the resolution in open session. The Student Senate unanimously and enthusiastically passed the resolution.
“One of our core Aggie values is selfless service, and in my opinion, marching on the streets to fight for freedom knowing that you could be gunned down the next second is selfless service,” Cheng said. “Fortunately, the Student Senate agrees.”