By Acadia Otlowski
Hong Kong is in turmoil following protests Sunday night that have finally boiled over after tensions have built all summer.
The recent protests are a result of Beijing’s controversial plan, which would allow citizens to vote for their representatives, but would restrict candidates to those approved by a committee. Politicians opposed to the plan say that pro-Beijing representatives dominate the committee.
Students led by Occupy Central and Scholarism, pro-democracy groups, have been peacefully protesting all week, and in essence shutting down a large part of the city. This came to a head Sunday night when police began using force on the protesters, including pepper spray and tear gas.
Hong Kong is technically part of China, but it operates under a different set of rules than the rest of the country. Not only is the press free, but also protests are allowed. The Chinese government justifies this through the phrase, “One country, two systems.”
In 2013, I visited both Mainland China and Hong Kong through a study abroad program at CCSU. Visiting both on the same trip really defined the sharp contrast between the two systems.
In Beijing, the government heavily controlled the newspapers. The newspapers praised it excessively. But in Hong Kong, the newspapers were more similar to our own. We visited CNN Hong Kong and found it to run similarly to a news station in our country.
In Hong Kong, we could access all of our social media, while in mainstream China we could not. But even with all of these differences, it was clear that the system was tenuous at best.
Chinese citizens had to get special passes to Hong Kong, which our hosts from the mainland failed to acquire before our arrival. But imagine being a Chinese citizen going to Hong Kong for the first time. Imagine seeing the apparent freedom of the people living there and then going back to Mainland China.
Also, imagine being a citizen of Hong Kong, with free and open access to the Internet, and not being able to participate in the same sort of democracy that is displayed in a lot of the rest of the world.
That would make me protest too.
China has a decision to make. A country can’t have two systems — one “free” and one heavily restricted.
This causes internal turmoil like the events that transpired weekend, which according to Occupy Central, was only a precursor to the larger Oct. 1 event, which will have occurred by the time this article is published.
It seems Hong Kong is being offered a sort of pseudo-democracy in place of a real one. While this could work if it were being implemented in a place like Mainland China, this bait-and-switch tactic will not fly with the residents of Hong Kong.
They know something better is out there. They’ve seen it.
The people of Hong Kong have been watching. They have seen protests around the world. They also interact with Western democracies on a regular basis.
It will be interesting to see how Mainland China will react to further protests. They can either crack down, wherein the populous of Hong Kong will lose all hopes of democracy, or procure further freedoms.
The implications of this will be global, because they will affect the mainland as well.