Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Protests in Hong Kong, a Chance for Civil Rights

By Marc GetzoffPublished October 24, 2014

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The recent protests in Hong Kong have only signaled much of what is to come. In order to promote civil rights and democracy, the United States must come to the aid of the protesters and must prevent the Chinese government from silencing them without consequence.
By Marc Getzoff, 10/24/14

September 26th saw protests erupt in Hong Kong on a scale very different from past years. In 1997, Britain gave up rule of Hong Kong to China, and ever since the civil rights of the people within Hong Kong have deteriorated. Although China expressed its faith in the "one country, two systems" ideology (which would respect Hong Kong's democratic principles), there have been continuous protests on an annual basis against the government's repressive tactics. In late September, the Chinese government released a statement detailing election reforms for Hong Kong's future 2017 elections. The executive would have to be from a list of candidates already approved by the Chinese government. Student protesters began assembling outside the central government office calling for a repeal of these reforms and emphasizing traditional democratic elections. The police responded fiercely, attempting to crush dissent. Use of violence by police involved tear gas and attacking protesters, reminding many of the tragedy that occurred in Tiananmen Square.

A military crackdown is unlikely to occur in the present circumstances but is a possible outcome in future protests. Yet the election reforms are targeted for the 2017 elections for chief executive of Hong Kong. Looking at the way annual protests have been staged against the Chinese government, it is likely that another large scale protest will occur. Police have used tear gas and water cannons and there have been instances of police officers instigating pro-Beijing protesters to attack the protesters for democracy. With the increasing violence and clear bias in policing the region, the area may become the ground for a severe crackdown in response to clashes between protesters.

The United States must make sure that the Chinese government is not in a position where it can freely silence the protesters without consequence. If Hong Kong loses its democratic principles, it would only further harm any attempts at gaining civil rights in mainland China. Currently, China is ranked 50th in human rights amongst all the nations despite it having the largest population and increasing economic activity. To move China towards democratic and civil rights principles would be impossible if the Chinese government feels free to silence the protests. For the United States, this means that delivering humanitarian aid and providing substantial media coverage is crucial.