Dr. Alexander Lai

Dr. Alexander Lai

While the wildcats are back in the classrooms, students in Hong Kong are on strike. These students have been, along with millions of fellow Hong Kongers, protesting in the streets for almost three months now, but to no avail. They are protesting against an extradition bill and for autonomy in the response to the tightened grip of the Chinese government. They also protest for rule of law and universal suffrage. These rights, which we so often take for granted, were promised in the Basic Law and the Joint Declaration when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997.

Hong Kong was seized as a colony by the British after they won the “Opium War” 150 years ago. This former small fishing village was transformed into an international financial center because the British established a government based. In the early 1980s, when the British tried to negotiate an extension of a 99-year lease for the New Territories, former People’s Republic of China leader Deng Xiaoping demanded the return of Hong Kong instead. To stop people from leaving, he formulated the “one country, two systems” principle and promised Hong Kong a continuation of rule of law, civil liberty, and “Hong Kong's way of life” for 50 years.

These promises were not kept.

Although some lawmakers were elected by democratic process, Beijing holds the majority in the legislature. Furthermore, law makers elected by the people were removed and pro-democracy candidates disqualified without grounds. For example, a candidate was deemed not qualified for a seat because of his comments on social media; a lawmaker’s faces losing her seat after her “slow-motion” oath protest during the swearing-in ceremony; the chief executive was elected by a special interest group of only 1,200 people, instead of by universal suffrage.

Beijing’s control has deepened in recent years. As the saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely” goes, the pro-Beijing government has become highly corrupted. Policies favor the local tycoons, who control everything from real estate to utilities and public transport. This had made Hong Kong one of the most expensive cities to live in. In addition, many large infrastructure projects, such as the bridge connecting Hong Kong to mainland China, were over budget by hundreds of million dollars, but lawmakers were not allowed to audit or to intervene. The people are wondering where the money goes.  Although Hong Kong is said to be the “Pearl of the Orient,” beneath is a society with wide disparity of wealth, unjust legal system, and unhappiness in general.

The trigger for the protest was an extradition bill, where any person in Hong Kong could be extradited to China. The so-called judiciary system in China works for the Communist Party, not justice. China tops the world in number of executions. Public confessions are common (a situation not unlike the infamous TV confession by Otto Warmbier in North Korea), and the courts are used as a tool to suppress oppositions, or in some cases, against business partners.

The chief executive, Carrie Lam, turns a blind eye to millions of peaceful protesters. Instead, she mobilized the police to brutally suppress these demonstrations. You might have seen these conflicts on TV and on YouTube. Furthermore, the Hong Kong Police collaborated with local criminal gangs to terrorize demonstrators and conduct indiscriminate arrests. Some arrested persons include children as young as thirteen.

On August 31, we saw the worst of police brutality when they stormed a subway station and beat innocent passengers with their batons. Many were severely injured. With the 70th anniversary of the Peoples’ Republic of China coming soon on October 1, it is believed that the Hong Kong Government will use more excessive force to subdue these brave young protesters. Bloodshed, similar to that of Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, may be a possibility.

Carrie Lam has just announced she will withdraw the extradition bill, but I don't think the students are satisfied. They will continue to fight for freedom and democracy. I ask you to show your moral support to these brave young people of Hong Kong, and to pray for a peaceful resolution to this dangerous situation.  

former postdoc/research specialist at the Gluck Equine Research Center