Students in Hong Kong make historic stance against government
By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung has seen quite a view from his window in the past few weeks.
Large crowds of predominantly Hong Kong students have been standing outside government buildings, where Leung and other leaders hold office, since Sunday, Sept. 28 as part of a call for universal suffrage in the 2017 election of their chief executive.
The students held signs and filled the streets, causing parts of the financially robust city to shut down completely.
In August, the Chinese government in Beijing issued a decision that the chief executive to be elected in 2017 would ultimately be decided by a 1,200 member board of people affiliated with the Beijing government, rather than a universal vote of the people of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong, previously ruled by Britain, came under Chinese sovereignty in 1997 because of an agreement between Britain and China known as the “Basic Law.”
The goal for the “Basic Law” was that China and Hong Kong would co-exist despite their different rules as “one country, two systems.”
However, many people in Hong Kong feel that China has increasingly taken steps to exert its system of government on them and take away the rights that they were promised, particularly with its recent decision from the Beijing government.
Shortly after Beijing detailed their limits on the 2017 election, students in Hong Kong planned to protest on Sept. 28 and organized a student boycott the week before by skipping classes.
The protest on Sept. 28 escalated when demonstrators stood outside of Hong Kong’s government headquarters. Police, in an effort to clear the roads, shot tear gas at protesters, according to the New York Times.
In response, activists used umbrellas to shield themselves from tear gas, which led some to coin the demonstrations as the “umbrella revolution,” according to CNN news.
Since the start of the protests, there have been a reported 148 injuries, which include demonstrators and the police.
Guanyi Leu, visiting assistant professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington, cited two other instances of protests in Hong Kong that have taken place over the past few years. However, she said these instances did not reached the intensity of the most recent protests or possess the level of involvement with the police that these demonstrations have.
“This protest is on a more massive scale,” Leu said.
For many of the protesters, the hardships of the past few weeks have strengthened their resolve.
“For as long as we fail to see a chance for true universal suffrage, the people of Hong Kong will continue to occupy so we can put pressure on the government,” read a statement from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the driving pro-democracy groups.
Goretti Wong Wai Ming, a UMW student from Hong Kong, admired the courage that it has taken for Hong Kong’s young people to take action.
“Especially since they normally have different beliefs than their parents. That is difficult to do,” Wong said.
However, Wong feels that the campaigners’ youth and immaturity concerning the demonstrations may hurt their cause in the long run.
“I’m not sure if teenagers have critical thinking skills in some areas. It was originally about universal suffrage for them, but now some have now become completely angry with police. This could pose a danger,” Wong said.
Going forward, Wong said that both Hong Kong and China need to establish a concrete goal in order to better communicate with and understand one another.
“It’s important that everyone is able to make rational decisions and think critically before they can take the next step,” Wong said.
Government leaders in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Federation of Students held preliminary meetings on Monday, Oct. 6 and plan to hold additional negotiations.
Officials say they look forward to continue meeting with the student protesters in person, but ask that the students take their cause off the streets, as the demonstrations have impeded workers and businesses.
“We hope to have a frank, direct and mutually respectful dialogue. We have very good progress, and we have agreed on three principles of the dialogue, and we hope to have this meeting as soon as possible,” Kong-wah said, according to CNN news.
Over a week after the initial protest, demonstrators refused to leave their target areas despite warnings given by Leung. They plan to stay until Chief Executive Leung steps down and protesters receive universal suffrage through negotiation with government leaders. Crowd numbers have dwindled slightly, but the protests remain.