Protests against the Chinese government in Hong Kong have lasted almost six months.

Although the protests began on March 31 after the introduction of an amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO) that would alter extradition laws, the movement has evolved into a call for increased democratic rights.

Currently, the protests lack a central authority. 

Senior Bill Tsui witnessed the protests in his hometown over the summer.  

His return to the United States on Aug. 12 was delayed for 10 days due to the cancellation of his flight when protesters occupied Hong Kong International Airport.

“Flights couldn’t go in or out because the airport was blocked,” Tsui commented. “Even if you tried to sneak in, (the protesters) would just pull you out, which is kind of outrageous.” 

“Even if you tried to sneak in, (the protesters) would just pull you out, which is kind of outrageous.” 

—Bill Tsui

The protests often affected Tsui.

“(It was) difficult for me to go to the places I wanted to go,” said Tsui. “The protesters will block roads, which makes it hard for cars to get around. Sometimes, (the protesters and police) fight in the subway station. What some of (the protesters) do to disrupt the train is sit in front of the train door when it tries to close so the train can’t move.”

Protesters have a variety of objectives: the withdrawal of the extradition amendment, the release of all arrested protesters, an independent investigation into the police and its use of force during the protests, the implementation of universal suffrage for the legislative council and chief executive elections, the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and the retraction of the “riot” description of the June 12 protests.

The first major victory for the protesters came on Sept. 4, when Lam announced that she would withdraw the extradition bill.

Tsui expects the protests to end soon — at least in Hong Kong. 

As Hong Kong is a city in China, Tsui said he doubts the government in Beijing will allow the protests to continue. 

Tsui said he believes that the increasing city and economic damage will force the protesters to stop.

“I don’t think they will actually end, though,” he said. “Even if China comes in, I think (the protesters) will protest outside of Hong Kong and China. They’ve been talking about going to Germany, the United States (and other places) to protest.”

Tsui also reflected on the Chinese coverage of the protests, commenting that it’s often biased against the protesters. 

“When there are clashes with the police, (the media) never talk about the police being violent. (Instead), they talk about the protesters doing ridiculous things, even if it’s the police who provoke them to do it. 

“I just want people to know that what you hear isn’t necessarily true, so you should dig deeper if you really want to know about this protest.”

“I just want people to know that what you hear isn’t necessarily true, so you should dig deeper if you really want to know about this protest.”

—Tsui

The protests were caused by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill, an amendment to the FOO, on March 29. While the bill would affect multiple parts of the FOO, one of the most important changes would be introducing a procedure for case-by-case transfers of criminals to any jurisdiction with which Hong Kong lacks an extradition treaty.

As this change would allow Hong Kong criminals to be extradited to mainland China, critics argue that it would undermine the relative autonomy of Hong Kong.

The autonomy that Hong Kong has enjoyed is the result of a deal between the United Kingdom and China that put Hong Kong back under Chinese control in 1997.

Originally, Hong Kong was a British colony; part of it, Hong Kong Island, was ceded to the United Kingdom after a war in 1842. Later, the rest of Hong Kong — the New Territories — was leased to the British for 99 years. 

With the 99-year deadline approaching, discussions took place in the early 1980s concerning the future of Hong Kong. 

A deal was reached in 1984 that would return Hong Kong to Chinese control under the premise of  “one country, two systems.” This meant that, although Hong Kong would be a part of China, it would have autonomy — except with regard to foreign and defense affairs — for 50 years.

As a result, Hong Kong has developed its own legal system, with a constitution known as the Basic Law of Hong Kong, and rights, such as protection of free speech and freedom of assembly. 

However, critics say the increased freedom and rights of Hong Kong are being reduced by the Chinese government. 

“Over the years, China has been putting more restrictions on the Hong Kong population,” Tsui said. “(People in Hong Kong) don’t think China respects their rights. This protest (was) inevitable, because the Hong Kong people feel like they haven’t been treated fairly — like second-class people.”

Tsui cited the election process for the chief executive, the head of the Hong Kong government, as one of the contributing factors to the protests. 

The chief executive is selected by a 1,200-member committee based upon various interest groups in Hong Kong. However, Article 45 of the Basic Law of Hong Kong requires the “selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”

—By David Situ

Originally published in the Sept. 17 edition of the Octagon.

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