What The Philippines Can Learn From The Hong Kong Protests
Hong Kong is a tinderbox.
For the last four months, the streets have witnessed millions of Hongkongers marching in protest of the highly controversial extradition bill proposed by the Hong Kong government. The bill would allow for the extradition of wanted individuals to countries Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement with, like China. At first glance, it appears to be a reasonable proposal to extradite fugitives from the city, but Hong Kong citizens have criticized the bill for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China.
The peaceful protests took on a greater meaning when the protestors were met with extreme instances of police brutality. China has never looked kindly on democratic protests, no matter how peaceful, and its track record has proven that is capable of suppressing dissent no matter the cost to human lives. The 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre is proof of this.
And so the 2019 Hong Kong protests were no longer about the extradition bill but for the greater freedom of Hong Kong in the face of China’s creeping authority.
While the issue has stolen the international spotlight, it has also divided Chinese nationals. Disney’s Mulan actress Liu Yifei blasted the Hong Kong protests for opposing China, inadvertently causing #BoycottMulan to trend online. Popular personalities like Jackie Chan also came to the defense of the mainland in the name of “one China.”
But therein lies the crux of the problem: The struggle to resist the rule of “one China.”
“One China” and the Hong Kong handover
Internally, the People’s Republic of China has attempted to exert its authority over autonomous “special administrative regions” in China, namely Hong Kong and Macau. The “one China” principle is also challenged by the existence of the Republic of China, also known as Taiwan, which has consistently aimed to establish its independence from China, despite the latter’s disputed claim over the island.
Since the day Hong Kong was handed over by the United Kingdom to China, Hong Kong has enjoyed a high level of autonomy and independence from the mainland. The handover, which took place in 1997, was agreed upon on the condition that China would allow Hong Kong to govern itself independently for 50 years in what they called the “one country, two systems” principle. Hong Kongers would be allowed to continue their way of life, free of China’s communist rule, and in return, China would reap the benefits of Hong Kong’s booming financial hub. The agreement will end when the 50 years expire in 2047. In retrospect, Hong Kong had always been intended to be under Chinese control eventually, but it looks like China is trying to speed up the process by 28 years. That’s not even half the time originally promised.
A lot has changed since 1997. In 1997, Hong Kong was a shining economic center in the Eastern corner of the world, but in the last 20 years, many other cities have caught up, particularly those in China. China is no longer an emerging economy—it’s now an economic superpower in its own right. In essence, China no longer sees the value in Hong Kong the same way it did before, as Hong Kong’s contributions to the Chinese economy are not as notable as they once were, compared to the current might of Beijing.
There are already plans in place to make Shenzhen, the nearest city to Hong Kong under the central Chinese government, a “better place” than Hong Kong—run on China’s terms.
A “better place”
Hong Kong is hardly the ideal place to do business right now. There are whispers of companies considering pulling out of the financial hub and a speculated economic recession that would undoubtedly impact the world. The protests are expected to hit the economy hard, yet Hongkongers aren’t stopping anytime soon.
Despite the police brutality they face at each protest, the people of Hong Kong are braving the streets with their umbrellas in tow, the only defense they have against the tear gas and weapons used against them by the police. Even the city’s most respected lawyers made a rare silent protest march against the political persecution and democratic violations of the Hong Kong government.
But even as China flexes its military might in Shenzhen, with a palpable threat that a second Tiananmen could occur, Hong Kong remains a pillar for the fight for democracy in this modern era, and people are taking notice of the bigger picture. In the face of China’s overwhelming power and influence, Hong Kong, a relatively small city on the edge of its territory, stands to challenge its Goliath. While China flaunts its tanks, Hongkongers carry only their umbrellas. And while tourists blast the locals for ruining their trip, Hongkongers reply with, "Sorry for the inconvenience. We are fighting for our freedom."
It’s the apology of the people of Hong Kong that humbles the rest of the world, because they understand the privilege that is peace and democracy. They march for their freedoms now, despite the fact that a greater challenge already awaits them 28 years from today. It’s an enormous, unprecedented undertaking—one that puts the rest of the world to shame.
In light of the actions taking place in Hong Kong, it puts the spotlight on our own inaction at home. If Hong Kong, which is technically under China, can protest the country’s authoritarian rule, why can’t the Philippines, a separate sovereign state, stand firm against the Chinese government’s claim on the Spratly Islands, its attack on a small Philippine fishing vessel, or its illegal harvesting and fishing in Philippine waters?
The issue of China-Philippine relations is another issue altogether, but one thing is clear: Hong Kong’s fearless protests are a symbol to all nations that there still exist Davids in this world of Goliaths.