he proposal of a contentious extradition bill by the Hong Kong government
has stirred unrest in the region.
The bill arose after a Hong Kong man
killed his girlfriend in Taiwan but could
not be criminally charged because there
was no extradition arrangement between
the two countries. Fearing this legal
loophole would transform Hong Kong
into a haven for criminals, the chief
executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam,
introduced a bill to establish a process to
This bill immediately garnered
criticism from many citizens of Hong
Kong because it included an extradi
tion agreement with mainland China.
Many viewed this as an encroachment
of power by politicians sympathetic to
mainland China and feared it would
lead to the prosecution of Hong Konger
political activists critical of the Chi
nese government. After Lam refused to
withdraw the bill, the citizens of Hong
Kong took to the streets to protest.
Watching these events unfold is a good
reminder of China’s repressive history
and prompts both a consideration of the
importance of the collective struggle
waged by the citizens of Hong Kong and
the reasons for current U.S. inaction.
As tensions grew between the police
force and protestors, clashes became
more frequent. The protestors’ demands
expanded to include investigations into
claims of police brutality during the
protests, amnesty for the protestors and
Carrie Lam’s resignation. Their demands
went unheard, and the contentious bill
was initially shelved rather than with
Protesters were met with increased
violence from the police and white-
shirted assailants wielding metal pipes.
Rather than reducing tensions, some
Hong Kong government officials mir
rored the rhetoric of mainland China by
declaring that the protests are a form of
terrorism. After three months of protests,
Lam withdrew the inciting bill. Despite
her concession, the protestors have re
fused to back down until their remaining
demands are met.
The situation has drawn warranted
comparisons to the events at Tiananmen
Square. Police brutality, securitization
rhetoric and increased state presence are
all common precursors to the institution
of martial law under the guise of restor
ing order. Under those conditions, the
use of excessive force to crush dissent
will be justified. Due to the sociopo
litical climate and culture cultivated in
Hong Kong, however, the crackdowns
will likely not be able to create a chilling
effect on protest analogous to the mas
sacre at Tiananmen Square. Repression
will meet resistance.
The opposition displayed so far by
the citizens of Hong Kong is admirable.
From their resourcefulness in neutral
izing police tear gas to organizational
protest tactics, their efforts give me hope
that protest is still a productive way to
engage with politics.
The United States’ inaction is severely
worrisome, but due to the “America
First” sentiment championed by Presi
dent Donald Trump, I’m not surprised
by it. Trump has framed the protests as
an internal issue that China needs to sort
out on their own. This framing may have
the unintended consequence of shifting
the perception of the U.S. from a bastion
of democracy and human rights to a
non-actor on the global stage. Beyond
this, the U.S. has much else to lose.
Trump has already strained U.S.-Chi
na relations with his trade war. Armed
or economic conflict over Hong Kong
would only exacerbate the situation.
Given Trump’s handling of the murder
of Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi gov
ernment, we can assume that he is will
ing to overlook the actions of repressive
regimes in service of economic gain.
From this perspective, the future looks
bleak. The Chinese government will
continue to encroach on the freedoms
enjoyed by the citizens of Hong Kong
under the guise of returning order to the
territory. Much like the annexation of
Crimea, the U.S. may end up denounc
ing such actions and levy sanctions
against China to no avail.
Visibility of the protestors’ actions
may restrain the repressive methods
implemented, but because of U.S. inac
tion, taking to the street may be the best
and only course of action for the people
of Hong Kong.