In two days, Americans will unite and celebrate July 4th, full of pride, with parades. Across the ocean, Hong Kongers commemorated July 1st – the city’s Establishment Day since the 1997 handover – in an entirely different fashion: divided, and for many, filled with anger and shame.
On one end, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying stared onto the flags of China and Hong Kong, as the Chinese national anthem is played in the background, and will sure enjoy an extravagant firework display across the Victoria Harbour later that evening.
For Leung, his bureaucrats, and (no doubt) many patriots, July 1st is of as great significance as the Independence Day to Americans. But for all that, Leung has distanced himself further away from people across the aisle, who took the streets of the city under an uncanny storm to show their discontent towards, amongst all things, China’s vision for the city’s political future.
A resolute march
Tens of thousands of citizens went on a protest to support the pro-democracy call to make the next Chief Executive election in 2017 to meet international standards for democracy. The protest, in the form of a march through Hong Kong’s Central district, is an annual event to voice citizens’ mixed demands of democracy, universal suffrage, rights of racial and sexual minorities as well as to show resentment towards the administration in Hong Kong and it’s puppet masters in China.
The number of participants is expected to match or exceed the benchmark set in 2003 when a crowd of 500,000 marched in light of a proposed anti-subversion law, Article 23, combined with the fact that the government handled SARS poorly. Prior to that, 1.5 million gathered sympathising the victims of 1989 Tiananmen Square protests in China during its immediate aftermath.
Turnout this year is proliferated by a recent white paper from China which said that Hong Kong’s autonomy under ‘one country, two systems’ is restricted and comes solely from the authorisation of the leadership in Beijing. This document exacerbated the effects of the city official’s misplaced economic priorities (which are, themselves, shortcoming) and repeated, bureaucratic call for ‘stability’ coupled by words (but not action) of ‘trying hard to forge consensus’.
Change is desperate
Many citizens also feel misrepresented by the parliament of Hong Kong which, because nearly half its seats are only open to a small number of voters belonging to an assigned professional or special interest group, is largely occupied by pro-Beijing legislator. Though even the most outspoken patriot amongst these legislators silent this night and refused to defend Leung’s unhurried political reform on television amidst strong opposition voice.
Leung’s legitimacy is no better than the parliament’s because he was elected by a 1200-small council which makes up for a pitiful 0.017% of Hong Kong’s population. This council is also largely occupied by special interest groups and thus, unlike the rest of Hong Kong, has a strong Beijing-bias; in the most recent 2012 vote Leung received a mere 689 votes because of infighting within the pro-Beijing representatives combined with infidelity reports of his opponent, not because there was genuine competition.
Protesters are numbed by the state’s failure to deliver change which had momentum back in 2012 but fell quickly on its feet due to officials’ successful delaying tactics. Many feel that the government is unable to deliver and consequently their altitude has been radicalised despite the fact that Hong Kong is by tradition a socially conservative city and intolerant towards change, particularly among its large elder population.
Young student groups are among those which are radicalised. Scholarism, led by 17-year-old Joshua Wong, has emerged in 2011 when the group opposed a proposed scheme of ‘Moral and National Education’ which aimed to elevate patriotism amongst youngsters but in its textbooks included bias and often fictitious language that favoured the Communist Party of China.
An uncertain future
This frightened the public and brought politically inexperienced students to the front stage of opposition through speeches and silent protests. Three years has passed that even but when Beijing insisted that the next Chief Executive to be ‘patriotic’ recently, fear of a Communist crackdown reignited. Only this time it is met with an increasingly aggressive crowd.
Growing in number and strength, strong believers of democracy such as professor Benny Tai sponsored a plan of civil disobedience as their last resort if they fail to achieve their goals. Some 10,000 citizens are organising sit-in protest in Central which will cripple Hong Kong’s financial district. The student group Scholarism has planned for a trial run of such occupy movement after today’s protest and they fully expect to be arrested.
It will be a shame if government’s neglect is met with violence and violence is met with arrests in order for progress to be made. The first of its kind, Hong Kong’s ‘one country, two systems’ promised 50 years of autonomy and is designed to make the city flourish economically as well as socially and politically, and act as a shining example for Taiwan – which China wants to overpower under a similar system but has gotten nowhere – and to the world.
America will mark their 238th anniversary of independence on Friday; Hong Kong’s political system is only 17 years old. Yet the city is already exceedingly divided and politicised, and a gloomy future seems set for the three decades ahead.