By Rhea Arora
Elm Staff Writer
Conflict arose in Hong Kong when The Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) initially allowed Hong Kong to conduct direct, democratic elections, but later stated that only PRC-vetted candidates would be allowed to stand for elections. The PRC’s decision sparked student-led protests, which have had serious civil and economic repercussions: police and civilian clashes and the dip of the Hong Kong dollar.
Beijing wants to protect its own interests by ensuring that its economic and social powerhouse develops only pro-communist policies in the forthcoming elections. Thus, it decided to allow only candidates to contest the 2017 elections that have been approved by a nomination council. The people of Hong Kong believe that this is a violation of their freedom and breaks all promises made to them by the Chinese government.
There has been a recent “freedom” trend in the world, from the Russia-Ukraine crisis, to Scotland’s vote to secede from the UK, to the protests in Hong Kong. One could rope in the ISIS crisis and argue that even terrorists want “freedom” from Western influence in their regions of operation. Although all have a range of causes, they have one similarity: they set precedents. Events such as the civil protests in Hong Kong allow similar occurrences in the future where they wouldn’t have been before. It is not the outcome of the events that matter but rather the fact that they happened in the first place.
With advanced communication the world has become increasingly connected and events all around are interrelated. For example, while the Arab Spring did not start in Egypt, it is a good example of how democracy proliferated into its neighboring countries. Why did this happen? Firstly, because seeing the Egyptians attempt to overthrow its government gave citizens of other countries motivation to do the same. Whether successful or not, the basic happening of a freedom movement paves the way for subsequent movements. This also applies internationally when we see the freedom movements started by Ukraine and Scotland inspiring other efforts in different parts of the globe for autonomy.
Student leader Joshua Wong said the riots were like “planting a seed.” Hong Kong’s empowerment is unprecedented. The population, particularly students, has taken an interest in national politics and sought to defend the integrity of their nation.
The PRC is now facing a double-edge sword. If it does allow direct elections again, the new government in Hong Kong could very well be bitter towards the PRC and develop pro-West and anti-Chinese policies. If it does not allow the elections to proceed the way they were initially designed to anti-PRC sentiments could spread from Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland and threaten the communist regime in China. China could assert its dominance over Hong Kong, quell all riots, and suspend the 2017 elections just to rein Hong Kong back into its sphere of control, but that could possibly worsen relations between the two, especially since a majority of protestors are the youth of Hong Kong. This means that the current generation will not forget Chinese capriciousness, whether Hong Kong is allowed direct elections or not, and the population will grow up to be at odds with the Chinese mainland. If the citizens are unsatisfied with their government and cannot change it they would try to flee the country and settle elsewhere; since a majority of the agitators are young people, this could cause a future “brain-drain” in the Chinese economy. If the Chinese submit to the will of those who identify themselves as “Hong Kongers,” Chinese communist supremacy will project an image of declining power and this might pave the way for an overthrow of the Chinese communist government.
The international community is hesitant to pledge support to the protestors due to lucrative Chinese trade relations. However, China has dubbed the protests as instigated by the US.
China faces long-term issues along with these current protests. Only time will tell whether the Chinese government decides to honor its commitment in the hope of repairing relations with future government of Hong Kong or use its global and local influence to undermine it. However, to salvage whatever diplomatic relations it can with Hong Kong China should allow direct elections as initially promised.