Today was meant to be a day of celebration, an opportunity for Chinese premier Xi Jinping to project himself and his vision to the world, as well as to the Chinese people. 620,000 free television sets have been given to Chinese who are unable to attend the large parades, fireworks and military display taking place in Beijing. Banners across overpasses have been hung reading ‘Today’s China is a result of the Chinese people’. However, against the backdrop of four months of protests in Hong Kong, it was inevitable that there was to be unrest on this symbolic day.
The government had been preparing for protests. Walkie talkies, and any devices using radio waves were banned. During rehearsals for the military display, those living near Tiananmen Square, the site of the 1989 protests, were instructed to ‘stay away from windows’. Internet access has been restricted even further than usual, causing the editor of China’s state run, nationalist tabloid to post ‘This country is not fragile. I suggest society have more access to the outside internet, which will benefit the strength and maturity of China’s public opinion, scientific research, external communications, and China’s national interests’. This post was deleted. Chinese activists who have voiced support for Hong Kong had been banned from travelling in the run up to National Day. In Hong Kong, a ‘modest but solemn’ day was planned, in an effort to curb protests, with fireworks displays cancelled and parading minimised.
However, despite these measures, protests in Hong Kong have exploded. Thousands of people have taken to the streets, where petrol bombs and tear gas have both been used. 15 protestors have been hospitalised, with reports of one man shot in the chest. These numbers are sure to rise as reports emerge. Protestors have dubbed today a ‘day of grief’, and took to the streets in central Hong Kong and at least 6 other districts to voice their despair at the regime.
The latest bout of protests in Hong Kong, starting in June, were triggered by proposed changes to the extradition law, allowing people from Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. This led to fears from opponents that Hong Kongers could face unfair trials.
These are not the first protests to happen in Hong Kong since its return to Chinese rule, and are a continuation of the fears that have surfaced hince Xi Jinping came to power in 2012 that the relationship between China and Hong Kong was moving away from ‘one country, two systems’ to a more ‘one country one system approach’. In 2014, protests were launched in Hong Kong, the so called ‘Umbrella movement’ that aimed to achieve true universally fair suffrage in the territory, but faced by a lack of movement from the Chinese government these protests petered out. However, despite apathy since then that allowed Hong Kong to eject six pro- democracy lawmakers and pass many unpopular laws, Hong Kongers have not given up on their democratic dream, and the government has underestimated this.
The values that Hong Kongers a calling for are ones that have no place in the regime of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – democracy, the rule of law and basic civil rights. The fact that a generation of people raised under the Communist rule of the CCP have grown up and become not only unpatriotic, but increasingly estranged from China and what it stands for, represents a failure of the CCP. the generation of young people today in Hong Kong are more vocally, more likely to candidly express their dissatisfaction with the CCP rule and challenge the established authority. Given the ideologies now represented by Mainland China and the territory of Hong Kong are now so radically different, a confrontation is inevitable.
All eyes are turning to Xi Jinping. After removing the two-term limit on rule in March of 2019, Xi has cleared the path for him to rule for his lifetime. The way that he handles this crisis will define how he is viewed by his party, as although his move to lifetime rule was an exercise of authority and power, he now lies open to shoulder the blame of everything that goes wrong for China, potentially weakening his position. Xi will not want to be seen as retreating in front of the masses, and so is likely to continue to ignore and subdue the protestors, his approach since he came to power. By doing this, he can hope to show the Chinese that these so called ‘democratic values’ the Hong Kongers are calling for only end in chaos.
Through making the debate ideological, the protestors have unwillingly turned it into something that Xi and the CCP simply cannot compromise on, without exposing the flaws in the system that allows them to stay in power.