Tuesday, 3 September 2019

What are the Hong Kong protesters asking for?

For the past three months protesters have been taking to the streets in Hong Kong to show their unhappiness over actions taken by the Chinese government. The events were sparked by an attempt by the CCP to introduce a law enabling the Party to extradite people from Hong Kong (which has a different legal system to the mainland) to face trial in China proper. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, had to announce, as a result of the displays of outrage, that the law would not be introduced at that time.

But the protesters are now asking for more than just that the CCP drop an unpopular law, as this sign shows.

I’ll list the demands that the protesters now have but first I think we need to establish the legitimacy of this photo. It was taken, on Sunday 18 August in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, by Sandra Eckersley (on Twitter, @SandraEckersley), an Australian. After asking permission from a protester in the street, she snapped this photo. At the same time, Eckersley asked some other people she knows there if these demands were actually what is being asked for and heard in reply that, “Yes, this is what is being asked for.” I saw the photo on Twitter on Monday 2 September. 

Here are the demands:
  1. Complete withdrawal of the extradition law
  2. Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police behaviour
  3. Retraction of 612 “riot” characterisation
  4. Unconditional release of all arrested protesters
  5. Implementation of dual universal suffrage
The first four of these demands are pretty clear just on the face of it, and without any additional explanation. The protesters want China to give up the Party’s demand that people resident in Hong Kong could be tried on the mainland (item number one). They also want to be able to protest (item number three) without hindrance from the police or any other arm of the government. In addition they want the conduct of the Party in the present case to be the subject of an inquiry (item number two). And the release without charge of people the police have arrested (item number four).

To understand the last of the demands (item number five) most people will require a bit of explanation. In Hong Kong two arms of government are the chief executive and the legislative council. The chief executive is chosen by the Party and the Legco is controlled by the Party. The demand for “dual” universal suffrage means that the protesters want the people of Hong Kong to elected both the chief executive and the legislative council. One person, one vote. I saw a story from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation dated 2 September that says the protesters want “full democratic elections”. 

Currently, half of the Legco members are elected by the broader community in five geographical constituencies (Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, Kowloon East, New Territories West, New Territories East), and half are elected with a limited franchise. The Party, however, largely controls what the Legco does. It has no power that the CCP does not want it to have.

The ABC story also says the protesters want Lam to step down. They don’t like Lam much, and this is clear from the following photo, which was also snapped in Hong Kong by Eckersley (@SandraEckersley).

So, nothing less than the future of the world is at play in the current impasse in Hong Kong. Either the Party moves closer to democracy or else it continues to cement its power more firmly by backtracking further from a settlement that conforms to global expectations. Do the protesters also want to inspire a similar movement in mainland China? The ABC story says they do.

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