Saved You A Google: The Hong Kong protests

Saved You A Google: The Hong Kong protests

Youth-led movements, the gradual rollback of civic rights, and unchecked vigilante violence? Where have we heard all that before?

An overview of the Hong Kong protests

Since April 28, Hong Kong citizens, human rights groups, and professional unions (e.g. nursing unions, lawyers’ groups) have been staging a steady series of region-wide strikes, protests, and “occupy movements”  across the autonomous region. 

Protests initially arose out of widespread opposition to the Hong Kong government’s proposed extradition bill, which would have given states such as mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau the right to summon and arrest Hong Kong citizens accused of committing crimes against these states, even if they were on Hong Kong soil. 

Recent protests however have began to cover a wider range of public concerns about both the current government’s handling of the protests, and the region’s long-term political future. Examples of issues that are or have become the focus of various protests include: police recklessness and brutality, universal suffrage, and government apathy.


How “violent” have protests and police skirmishes been? 

Protests were mostly non-violent, until about July 25 at the latest, when alleged pro-China triad members attacked unarmed protesters and commuters at the Yuen Long subway station. Since then, many clashes have seen the police use tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets to suppress (mostly unarmed) protesters. 

Protesters for their part have broken into and vandalized the Hong Kong Legislative Council Building (read: their version of our Senate and House of Representatives buildings combined), have managed to stop flight operations at the Hong Kong international airport for two consecutive days, and have been accused of beating at least one alleged mainland Chinese journalist/policeman during the airport occupations. 

As for casualties, latest reports estimate that at least 200-300 people were injured, at least 700 people, including one OFW, were arrested, and five suicides were documented in connection with the protests. Some of the more notable recent casualties include a protester allegedly blinded by a rubber bullet round fired by police during a mobilization on Aug. 12, and the person being arrested in this video


Who are the key players (and figures of note)?

The protests are primarily being contested between two sides: a series of loosely affiliated, largely “leaderless” pro-democracy and anti-extradition bill public interest groups and professional unions, and the China-backed Hong Kong government led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong police force, and a smaller if still sizeable number of pro-Beijing and pro-police Hong Kong residents. 


What are protesters demanding for, more specifically?

Protesters have five main demands, namely: the complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, that the government withdraw the use of the word “riot” in describing the protests, the unconditional release of arrested protesters and that the charges against them are dropped, an independent inquiry into police behavior during the protests, and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage. A sizable number of Hong Kong protesters have also added Chief Executive Lam’s resignation to this list of demands. 


Have protesters gotten any major concessions?

As of this article’s writing, both the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government are refusing to give in to any of the protesters’ demands. Chief Executive Lam and her administration has additionally come under fire for unilaterally condemning the protest actions, and defending a number of controversial police actions against protesters. 

However, she has gone on the record to say that the extradition bill was “dead” and suspended indefinitely at the legislative council level (think: mix between our Senate and House of Representatives). Protesters have continued to criticize her statements on the matter, given that neither she nor her government has taken official steps to permanently remove the bill from the government’s legislative agenda. 


So what should we be looking out for, as Filipinos and members of the international community?

Simply put: how China responds. The Chinese government has been largely hands-off during the duration of the protests (though it has strongly condemned protesters), but has increasingly hinted at its willingness to explore military interventions to suppress the conflict. Multiple news outlets have in fact tracked down a sizeable number of Chinese military tanks and troops gathering at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border. Monitor those developments closely.

From a Philippine point of view, however, it’s admittedly a bit of a non-starter from a national security perspective, if only because of the localized nature of the conflict, and the geographic distance between us and Hong Kong. 

That having been said, it is still good for us to take note and offer support for the protesters, if not empathy for their cause and their plight. What makes the Hong Kong protests so striking is that there are many parallels between their current struggles and the ones we currently face back home. 


[READ: What’s in store for young people in the next three years of the Duterte admin?]


Be it the youthful make-up of protesters, the gradual rollback of many civic rights we take for granted, the increasing influence of authoritarian governments and regimes, or even unchecked vigilante violence, such concerns are not foreign to us though the contexts may be a bit different. The primary difference between their protests and ours (besides their more ingenious deployment of laser pointers, Lennon Walls, and traffic cones) are that their days of reckoning are now, whereas perhaps our most harrowing days of struggle are still to come. 


Google also hit by Chinese disinformation campaigns

One of the heads of Google’s cybersecurity platform just disclosed a few hours ago that Youtube has disabled 210 channels demonstrating similar behaviors to the accounts suspended by Twitter and Facebook for their associations to a mainland China-linked disinformation campaign in Hong Kong. Accounts were traced and documented to have used virtual private networks to have bypassed Chinese government censorship protocols. Google has not however, confirmed whether or not the Chinese government was directly involved in the creation and management of these Youtube channels.

#news #politics

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