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Hong Kong protests: 9 questions you were too embarrassed to ask



Hong Kong International Airport last week. Many wore black, the unofficial uniform of these demonstrations. They're rallying, disrupting the transit hub.

The airport protests encapsulated months of turmoil in Hong Kong. Weekly demonstrations and sit-ins have turned on tense and violent when you arrive.


Police fire tear to clear pro-democracy protesters on August 14, 2019.
Anthony Kwan / Getty Images


Man-on-the-war protesters.
Manan Vatsyayana / AFP / Getty Images

What started as a targeted protest against a controversial extradition bill in June has transformed into what feels like a battle for the future of Hong Kong. Protesters are not just fighting their local government. They are challenging one of the most powerful countries on earth: China.

"Victoria Hui, a professor of political science at University of Notre Dame, told me. "But Hong Kong definitely wants to be the same."

Protesters have sustained the demonstrations for 11 weeks, making it hard to keep track of all the developments. Here's a guide to the unrest in Hong Kong: how it started, what it's all about, and why China is so worried about it.

1) What is Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China.

The British took over Hong Kong from China in the 1840s during the Opium Wars, and ruled the territory World War II – for the next century and a half.


 A map showing where Hong Kong is located in relation to China.

Ryan Mark, Amanda Northrop / Vox

The British Government, in 1898, signed what was basically a 99-year lease for the territory, set to expire in 1997. As the date began to move closer, both governments tried to work out a deal.

In 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Prime Minister Deng Xiaoping signed a Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong. China agreed to give China a "high degree of autonomy" for 50 years, until 2047.

Formally, Hong Kong became a "special administration region" of the People's Republic of China. The deal was this: China would not impose its government on Hong Kong, and Hong Kong's "previous capitalist system and life-styles" would remain unchanged for that 50-year period. The setup became known as the "one country, two systems" rule.


The Hong Kong Handover Ceremony, 1997.
Peter Turnley / Corbis via Getty Images

Hong Kong's Status as an International Financial Capital. Hong Kong could maintain its economic and trade policies. It gave Hong Kong its own judicial, executive, and legislative powers. And, as Thatcher puts it at the time, it "preserves Hong Kong's familiar legal system and the freedoms enjoyed there." That included freedom of assembly, and religious beliefs, among other rights.

Despite the Joint Declaration's guarantee of autonomy, which is also codified in Hong Kong's Basic Law (the closest thing it has to a constitution), in practice, the line between the two systems has become blurrier – with the Chinese Government in Beijing attempting to exert more control.

2) How does Hong Kong's government work?

One expert I spoke to referred aspects of Hong Kong's government "hideously complicated," but to understand some of the protesters' demands It's worth going over the basics.

The Hong Kong's Basic Law says that Hong Kong is supposed to administer itself. But the arrangement also gives China the power to appoint Hong Kong's chief executive, "on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally."

Here's how that works in practice: an election committee, currently of about 1,200 people, votes and selects the chief executive, who serves a five-year term. The catch?


Carrie Lam at Hong Kong's chief executive election campaign event on March 23, 2017. Lam was Beijing's preferred
Kin Cheung / AP

But Hong Kong's Basic Law goes a bit further, and says that "the ultimate aim is to elect the chief executive through universal nomination for nomination by a broadly representative nominating." committee. "

For pro-democracy activists, this means one person, one vote. Beijing previously said, in 2007, that it would grant universal suffrage in 2017. But in 2014, Beijing said, sure, you can have universal suffrage, but the candidates have been nominated by a nominating committee. Oh, and China gets to pick who's on that committee.

"Now you can see where the problem is at this point," Alvin Y.H. Cheung, an affiliated scholar at NYU's US-Asia Law Institute, told me.

A pro-democracy advocates were furious and took to the streets in what would become the 2014 Umbrella Revolution.


A march to Carrie Lam's office in protest against a "small-circle election" on April 23, 2017.
Sam Tsang / South China Morning Post via Getty Images

The Hong Kong Legislature version of voting reform. So, in 2017, for its chief executive election, Hong Kong stuck with the electoral committee of about 1,200 members, most of whom are loyal to Beijing.

Carrie Lam, the current chief executive, won. She was Beijing's preferred candidate.

3) Why did the Hong Kong protests start?

The pro-democracy uprising that has rocked Hong Kong for the past several months began as a protest against proposed amendments to Hong Kong's extradition law.

The Hong Kong man who was accused of strangling his pregnant girlfriend and stuffing her body in a suitcase while they were in Taiwan in 2018. The suspect, Chan Tong-kai, fled back to Hong Kong. And because Hong Kong does not have a formal treaty treaty with Taiwan, it could not be back to face trial.

The Hong Kong government seized on this case and used it as the rational to propose that would allow case-by-case extraditions to countries that paint formal extradition treaties with Hong Kong.

Notably, that would include mainland China


Protesters attend a rally against a controversial extradition law proposal in Hong Kong, on June 9, 2019.
Dale de la Rey / AFP / Getty Images

Critics worried that China would take advantage of this law to arbitrarily detain Hong Kongers – such as those who openly dissent against the Chinese government or advocate for human rights. One pro-democracy lawmaker called it a "dragnet over all of Hong Kong."

The amendments would apply retroactively, meaning thousands of people who may have resorted to mainland China with a suspected past crime.

Hong Kong, where it is not supposed to have jurisdiction – and disappears them to China. That would normally violate international law. But this bill would give China legal cover to do so.

Experts say that's what this extradition bill is really about: an attempt by Beijing to exert more control over Hong Kong. Jerome A. Cohen, Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the Taiwan murder case that prompted these amendments a "phony excuse."

"Everybody knew – who paid attention to it – [that] this was a long Over-the-last effort to extradite people from Hong Kong to China, "Cohen said on a conference call with reporters last week.

The proposed extradition law changes in March and April, and in May, pro-democracy and pro- Beijing lawmakers literally came to blow on the floor of Hong Kong's Legislature. In response, the government added some concessions to the bill, seeking as limiting the extraditable offenses. Critics were not satisfied.

"Hui, the notre dame professor, said," This is the last sentence of the extradition bill is passed. Hong Kong's autonomy since 1997. "

The protest movement really took off in early June. On June 9, as many as a million people in Hong Kong peacefully protested against the bill as Lam prepared to push it through Hong Kong's Legislature.


Protesters in Hong Kong march during a rally against the Extradition Law Proposal, on June 9, 2019.
Ivan Shum via Getty Images

This huge show of opposition – as much as one-seventh of Hong Kong's entire population demonstrated – did not persuade Lam to back down. She insisted on moving ahead.

On June 12, protesters swarmed the area near Hong Kong's legislature, delaying the debate that would have allowed for the speedy passage of the proposed extradition law amendments. These protests were with violence, with police firing gas, rubber bullets, and beanbags at the crowds.

The police force and their decision to call the protesters as "rioters" and arrest some rioting charges, which carries severe penalties.

That fracture helped transform The protests against the extradition bill into a large movement against the Hong Kong government and police abuses, leading to calls for independent police investigation and Lam's resignation.

4) How has the Hong Kong government responded?

After the huge protests on June 12, Lam "indefinitely suspended" the bill that would have been added to the extradition law.

But Lam's decision to break the bill did not make many people in Hong Kong who saw it as nothing more than a standard delay tactic. Hong Kong people forget, "Tim, a 26-year-old finance professional in Hong Kong told Vox via WhatsApp, at the time. The move prompted another protest that drew an estimated 2 million people, the largest of opposition yet.

Lam still has not formally withdrawn the extradition bill. Her stance led to a little bit of viral moment on August 13 when she had the power to withdraw the bill. "In other words, have your hands been tied to Beijing?"

The protests have continued since June; on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators marching through the streets of Hong Kong for the 11th weekend in a row.

A few of the protests have stood out. On July 1 – the anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong protesters stormed and vandalized the Legislative Council. On July 22, men in white shirts armed with clubs and sticks attacking people wearing black (the uniform of the protesters) in a transit station; activists are accused of being slow to respond, and in some instances, seeming a bit too chummy with the assailants. Many believed the attackers were affiliated with the notorious triad, Hong Kong's mafia-like gangs that often do the bidding of Beijing.

A Hong Kong City-wide Shut Down Shutdown on August 6. On August 8, protesters put on a laser show after they arrested a student for purchasing threatening lasers.

On August 11, a woman thought to be a volunteer medic; she has become an eye-wearer of an injured protester during pregnancy.


A woman holds up a drawing of an injured protester A protest at the Hong Kong International Airport, on August 12, 2019.
SOPA via Getty Images

Police therefore have been accused of going undercover and disguising themselves as protesters, which many saw as attempting to suspect and distrust within the mostly leaderless movement, where demonstrators carefully guard their anonymity.

On August 12 and 13, demonstrators took over the Hong Kong airport, occupying terminals and building signs on the walls and floors explaining why they were protesting to travelers; some so apologized for disrupting flights. The action led to mass flight cancellations at the airport, gaining worldwide attention – and ended with yet more police clashes.


A person gives her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departure gate during a demonstration by pro-democracy protesters at Hong Kong's international airport on August 13, 2019.
Philip Fong / AFP / Getty Images [19659073] 5) What do the Hong Kong protesters want now?

The Hong Kong protesters have five specific demands. The first one remains getting rid of the extradition bill – for good.

"The riot" to classify the protests. Rioting carries specific penalties – up to 10 years in jail – and demonstrators reject the term because they say they give it cover to use heavy-handed tactics against peaceful protesters.

A pro-democracy protester holds a placard listing five major demands during one Demonstration at Hong Kong's International Airport, on August 13, 2019. Philip Fong / AFP / Getty Images

Demand number four calls on the government to make a serious, independent inquiry into the Hong Kong police and their tactics.

19659080] And fifth, protesters are demanding universal suffrage – not Beijing's version, but a legitimate opportunity for Hong Kongers to democratically choose their leaders.

6) How much support do the protesters have in Hong Kong?

This is not an easy question to answer. Protests are good or bad.

Families and friends are split on what they say they are good or bad. Some are concerned about their impact on Hong Kong's economy and believe it may break its status as an attractive financial capital. Some sympathize with the agenda of the protesters, but not always with their tactics, as well as defacing the legislative building.

A substantial portion of the protesters are students and young professionals in their late teens and 20s who were born around the time of the 1997 handover. They're afraid the Hong Kong they've grown up with, and their distinct culture and traditions, and special freedoms, are slipping away. Hong Kong's special status is set to expire under the original agreement between China and Britain –

But the protests are not limited to just young people. At least 2 million people attended one protest in June, out of Hong Kong's 7 million residents. Again, on Sunday, nearly 2 million joined peaceful protests, despite being a police ban and pouring rain. Trade unions have gone on strike in solidarity. After the volunteer medic was shot in the eye with a beanbag round by police, about 200 doctors, nurses, and paramedics gathered in protest, many wearing bandages in solidarity.

In August, Bankers held a demonstration in Hong Kong's central business district, which they called: "Freedom Loose, Market Snooze."


A woman holds a handwritten sign during a demonstration in Hong Kong on August 18, 2019.
SOPA via Getty Images

That said, the movement certainly has its detractors. In late July, thousands of demonstrators, mostly middle-aged or older, took to the streets of Hong Kong in a pro-police rally, calling for an end to the violence, according to Reuters. "Hong Kong Police, Hong Kong Police", "Reuters reported."

Additional, sporadic pro-police protests have occurred in the weeks since, especially in more conservative, pro

Some of Hong Kong's ultra-rich business tycoons are so growing weary of the protests and the disruption (read: loss of profits) they're living in Beijing, working-class neighborhoods, but they typically only draw a few hundred people at most. re causing. Last week, Hong Kong's Wealthiest One, a 91-year-old business magnate reportedly worth $ 27 billion, took out full-page ads in Beijing to end the violence. Hong Kong police force at the Hong Kong police headquarters, on August 20, 2019. Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP / Getty Images

Companies are thus coming under Increased pressure from China to oppose the protests and side with the Hong Kong government – and with Beijing.

In one of the most visible cases, after employees of the Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways reportedly participated in pro-democracy demonstrations, Chinese government regulators demanded that the airline prohibit any of its employees involving flights to mainland China.

Regulators, therefore, "ordered the airline begin to transmit information about all crew members flying to – or above – the mainland to the Chinese authorities for prior approval," according to the New York Times. The company is moving to comply, but it is finally coming to a halt.

7) Why does China care so much about these protests?

China has taken on an increasingly hard line against Hong Kong's protests because of it as a threat to its growing influence in the territory.

China mostly respected Hong Kong's autonomy because Hong Kong contributed tremendously to China's economy – about 27 percent of its GDP in the 1990s, and about 3 percent today. China is eager to invest in the mainland now, so Hong Kong has lost its bit to its influence on Beijing.

China has tried to bring Hong Kong closer and closer to its orbit. It wants to Hong Kong to embrace the country's ruling Communist Party and not care so much about those pesky freedoms Hong Kong citizens love so much. China's official language, Mandarin, instead of Cantonese. Hong Kong to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre, which it does each year, as the only place in China allowed to do so.


Chinese military personnel and parked vehicles are parked at the Shenzhen Bay Stadium in Shenzhen just across the border from Hong Kong, on August 16, 2019.
Stringer / AFP / Getty Images

The protests are proof that Beijing's plan has dropped short. China has diminished since the 1997 handover, according to public opinion polls.

The protests are not likely to convince China has it overstepped in trying to curb Hong Kong's autonomy; Instead, they have not tried hard enough. The protests have absolutely won not respect.

China, therefore, does not really seek to spread, or set a possible precedent for citizens in the mainland. Beijing has stepped up its disinformation campaign in response, and closely censored what the rest of China sees, and hears about the protests – which is the demonstrators are disgruntled rioters and CIA props.

The leaders in Beijing may have initially hoped that the demonstrations would be fizzle out, but now they have not […]

8) What is China going on to do?

China first responded to the protests that they did not exist. Instead of covering the storming of the Legislative Council in July, for instance, China's state-controlled media showed propaganda celebrating the 1997 handover.

But that's gone on, and China's rhetoric – and disinformation campaign – has been intensifying in recent weeks. Chinese state-run media is now promoting the idea that the protesters are rioters or "paid provocateurs" and actively misrepresenting footage to denigrate the protesters. On Monday, both Facebook and Twitter said they were publishing false positives about the Hong Kong protests.

Last weekend, after the protests were shot in the eye, China showed a video of a protester accepting cash, trying to


A mask is seen sitting on the ground after a protester was reportedly shot in the eye by riot police at a demonstration in hong kong Kong, on August 11, 2019.
Billy HC Kwok / Getty Images

China is thus claiming that the West, specifically the US and the CIA, is trying to foment unrest in Hong Kong by paying protesters.

Especially troubling is China's increasingly harsh rhetoric toward the protesters. After the airport protests, China called the protesters' actions "near terrorism." China has also released thousands of paramilitary police to the city of Shenzhen, just across the border with Hong Kong, and state-run media has released videos of tanks amassing there

China may be using its language very carefully

to lay the groundwork for a potential intervention.

There are two scenarios under which China is sending its armed forces – People's Liberation Army, or PLA – into Hong Kong. [China has had about 6,000 troops permanently stationed in Hong Kong.] The Hong Kong government can request from China to help maintain order, essentially admitting it's lost control of the city. The second is China's National People's Congress standing committee – the powerful, permanent body of the National People's Congress, the national legislature – either declares was or is a state of emergency in Hong Kong.

"China's rhetoric – calling what's Hong Kong 'riots,' 'counter-revolution,' or 'terrorism' – it's essentially paving the way for it using that clause, "Victoria Hui, the expert at the University of Notre Dame, said.

China also has amassed troops and tanks across the border from Hong Kong in Shenzhen, and has released videos of the armed forces doing drills. Taken together, China may be signaling that it's ready to act.

That does not mean it will. Experts say that it is impossible to say what China will do, but it would be a dramatic, unpredictable escalation if China intervene in Hong Kong. China's Tiananmen Square massacre of April 1989.

For one, although Hong Kong may not be as influential as it once was, it's still seen as the "Gateway to the China" and a global commercial and financial capital. A forceful Chinese intervention would disrupt the city's economy. Hong Kong only accounts for about 3 percent of its total economy now. China's economy is not doing so.

Hong Kongers even more likely. It would also immediately draw attention to international condemnation, and China, and specifically President Xi Jinping, is not totally immune from such things.


Activists protesting against the extradition bill in Hong Kong to raise the issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping, while the G-20 summit was convening in Japan, on June 26, 2019.
LightRocket via Getty Images

It's so important to note that a key date is coming up: October 1, 2019, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. It's a bad look to crush a popular movement.

On the other hand, it does not look good to you. Some analysts and protesters think China may want to go ahead and intervene before the October 1 date; others think China may show restraint as the world watches.

using force would show the Chinese dream is a nightmare, "Cohen, at the Council on Foreign Relations, told reporters last week.

9) How are other countries responding to all this?

The response of the international community has been a little lackluster so far.

The United States, purported to be a supporter of democracy around the world, has not taken a strong stance. Hong Kong protesters, which said in a "thuggish" regime, a state department spokesperson in China called the "one country, two systems" rule, and State Department China uses as propaganda to show foreign meddling.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has dismissed such allegations of US interference as "ludicrous." So he said in interviews this week that China should respect the rights of Hong and that "something like Tiananmen Square" in Hong Kong could jeopardize a trade deal. National Security Advisor John Bolton has been warned against a "new" Tiananmen Square.

Some congressional leaders, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), have raised concerns about the extradition bill and China's actions. Lawmakers have introduced the Hong Kong Freedom and Democracy Act, which would "renew the United States' commitment to freedom and democracy in Hong Kong at a time when its autonomy is increasingly under assault."


Protesters wave the US flags during the anti-extradition bill demonstrations in Hong Kong, on August 3, 2019.
SOPA via Getty Images

The more forceful condemnation does not match up with the president's rhetoric. President Donald Trump has made some vague statements saying he hopes the situation "works out for everybody, including China, by the way," and he's sent some alarmist tweets about military amassing at the Hong Kong border .

But he's mostly just made the whole thing about himself, complaining on Twitter that "many are blaming me, and the United States, for the problems going on in Hong Kong. I can not imagine why? "

Trump did say last Thursday that he was concerned about Hong Kong, but then said that if he sat down with the protesters, he'd work it out in 15 minutes," seemingly unaware

Part of the president's hands-off approach to the situation in Hong Kong was before the 2020 election. Hong Kong (and China's Repression of its Uighur Muslim minority) to cut a deal with Xi.

The United Kingdom thus has a historic stake in Hong Kong, as it is Hong Kong's autonomy in the first place. But the UK is doing business in Brexit, and the UK is breaking up with the European Union.

Hong Kongers have also got their hopes on the international community getting involved. Last month, during the G20, activists took out full-page ads in newspapers, ever pleading for international backing. Hong Kong protesters have also waved American flags at protesters, and the US national anthem, part of the United States.

Calls for international support for Hong Kong's democracy have been mostly met with silence. But the tens of thousands of protesters who continue to flood the streets of Hong Kong week after week refuse to be silent, even if no one else will stand up on their behalf.


Protesters gather for a rally in Victoria Park in Hong Kong, on August 18, 2019.
Issac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images


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