For the last two months, a rising hub of economic activity has been verbally battling with the Chinese government over democratic voting rights in the semi-sovereign territory. The most interesting thing about the protest to me is seeing the creativity and ambition of the students pouring in to the cause. The protest became the “Umbrella Movement” when the security forces began using tear gas and pepper spray on the protestors, who responded by bringing umbrellas as shields. The protest art found all over the city takes on this umbrella theme, with beautiful pieces ranging from “The Umbrella Man Statue” to a large canopy made of assorted umbrellas.
While some amazing things have come out of the protestors (I really do suggest you go Google some of the art!), the politics behind it is not all that pretty. Hong Kong, which was returned to China by Great Britain in 1997, was filled with tens of thousands of protestors asking to end voter suffrage. The idea and the art are beautiful, but unfortunately it appears that an entirely democratic Hong Kong is pretty unlikely any time soon.
Hong Kong does have freedom of speech and freedom of press, and for the first time ever all registered voters will be allowed to vote in Hong Kong in 2017. However, the candidates that will appear on the ballot are essentially chosen by the legislature in Beijing. China would not support a pro-democratic territory because of the precedent it would set to others. China has a long history with protests and movements, and as the state is rising in the international system they are forced to maintain a stable balance between societal rest and international relations. If this is not what China wants, it is most likely not what Hong Kong’s officials want, considering they are elected from a Beijing committee.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s no. 2 official did hold a televised debate with some protestors to listen to the proposal of moving towards a full democracy. “Listen” is all she did at the debate, however, and could not set up any roadmap or make any promises on where the smaller system of the “one country, two systems” will wind up with this issue. The fact that Lam even met with the protestors is a good sign, regardless of what she could deliver, and taking steps towards ending voter suffrage is not entirely off of the table.
Hong Kong definitely has not had a shortage of public protests since 1997, but this one seems to be on an entirely different, larger scale. As an outsider lucky enough to grow up in a democratic country, I can only hope that these voices are heard and acknowledged.