Student-led protest blazes political trail

Queen's students should support the youth protest movement in Hong Kong

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong, to demand a fair democratic process.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong, to demand a fair democratic process.
Supplied by Pasu Au Yeung.

Susanne Lee, Comm ’15

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Hong Kong to demand that residents of the region be able to choose their leader for the upcoming 2017 election — for which China has said they’ll be determining the candidates.

The people within Hong Kong are entitled to a complete democracy, and they’ve remained resolute in their wants since protests began Sept. 22.

Regardless of whether their calls for action are answered, Hong Kong’s people have proved they have political power and agency. They’re a force to be reckoned with.

A history of colonial rule – followed by paternalistic rule from communist China – hasn’t deterred them from seeking what they believe they should have in their region: the right to a functioning free democracy.

Many of those protesting are young. The major protests began when students boycotted their university classes to demand Beijing bring universal suffrage to the region.

As students of the same generation, we should be standing in solidarity with these protestors. They serve as an example of what young people are capable of, even when up against a strong and often corrupt government.

Hong Kong was handed over from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1997. This pre-existing legacy of colonial rule shaped an individual culture and lifestyle that is vastly different from that of Mainland China.

The handover went under the premise of “one country, two systems”, in which Hong Kong would have a high degree of autonomy with executive, legislative and independent judicial power. It was promised that Hong Kong’s social and economic systems, and rights such as freedom of speech, the press, and association, would remain unchanged for 50 years.

Seventeen years after this handover, Hong Kong has already seen an erosion of its identity and values. An influx of wealthy, mainland Chinese people into Hong Kong has been a “source of great resentment”, according to the CBC.

The government is seen as unyielding to the concerns of citizens, as the legislative council fails to pass legislation proposed by the public. This has created tension in recent years between Hong Kong’s citizens, their government and the PRC.

The Chief Executive — the head of the government of Hong Kong — is currently elected by a 1,200-member election committee, which has been criticized for only including pro-communist and business figures. The current Chief Executive, C.Y. Leung, has faced backlash for only obeying the PRC and not caring about the concerns of Hong Kong citizens.

Although the coverage of the current protests has been sufficient, it’s disappointing that few heads of leading countries have said they stand in solidarity with the protesters.

The young protesters in Hong Kong serve as an example of how young people should be engaged in politics within their country. A strong will for democracy should bring the unrelenting support of democratic countries.

Hong Kong’s citizens have lobbied for an electoral reform for the upcoming 2017 election of the Chief Executive, demanding universal suffrage as promised by the PRC. Citizens were angered by the decision that the PRC will choose their election candidates, which is seen as a fake democracy and unreasonable intrusion.

Protesters are afraid that the PRC will only continue to communize and control Hong Kong further.

The Hong Kong protests have been referred to as the most polite protest in history, with protesters maintaining order and cleaning up after themselves. But from the start of the protests, students peacefully occupying the civic square were met with batons, pepper spray, and tear gas from the police force.

It’s unacceptable to see that kind of force being used instead of negotiations being offered.

The Umbrella Revolution – referencing the umbrellas protesters have used to protect themselves – has now become more than just a fight for the 2017 election. It’s an outcry of the younger generation of Hong Kong, following years of tension. It’s their last resort to secure more freedom for the future.

The movement has been led by the young, as they’re the ones who will have to face the consequences of a failed democratic process in the future.

As Queen’s students and educated members of a democratic society, we should follow and support Hong Kong’s fight for democracy. The excessive violence used against peaceful protesters is heartbreaking, and this behaviour shouldn’t be condoned.

It’s inspiring that students had the courage to take this step, to sacrifice their current comforts and demand change. To support the cause, we can follow the news more closely about the protests, spread the word on social media and inform our friends and peers who may not be aware about the issue.

C.Y. Leung has done little to control the current situation, and many citizens have lost confidence in the Hong Kong government after last week’s events. People fear that the PRC will intervene with even more force or manipulative tactics, comparing this protest to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

As the city becomes divided and the protest continues, many are waiting to see how the events will unfold. Our support can raise more international attention, in hopes of pressuring the PRC away from taking extreme measures to remedy the situation.

Susanne Lee is a fourth-year commerce student.

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