Comment Writer Dominic Staniforth argues that the attitude of the political protestors in Hong Kong could be applied to other international crises
The Hong Kong protests should stand to all democratic peoples as an example of the importance of political action. Yet the political problems we face in Britain are often underplayed. No matter how minor an issue may seem, it is important that we should act with the same spirit as the people of Hong Kong in all political issues.
Whilst we may think of Hong Kong as a modern, liberal country ranking above the United States in terms of GDP per capita, protesters argue that the region is still heavily under the control of Chinese influence.
Ever since the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, critics of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) have claimed that the autonomy and freedoms of Hong Kong are being slowly abolished. There seems to be the sentiment that the ‘One country, two systems’ approach to Chinese control of Hong Kong outlined in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration has been consistently infringed upon by Chinese meddling.
Critics argue that the NPCSC have been abusing Article 158 of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution The Basic Law. Article 158 states that ‘The power of interpretation of [the] Law shall be vested in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.’, allowing the NPCSC to have final say upon the interpretation of Hong Kong’s constitution.
With Hong Kong’s chief executive being elected by a ‘mostly pro-Beijing body chosen by just 6% of eligible voters’ and Beijing’s controversial intervention within Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, widespread protests have been anything but avoidable.
Standard authoritarian tactics provide a definite enemy and clear issue at hand. The NPCSC is making little effort to hide their interference with the democracy of Hong Kong. However, in Britain we face often-understated and unclear attacks on our democracy; such as the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, the ambiguous Brexit referendum, and the proroguing of parliament.
Often, we are accused of overreacting to political events. However, it is exactly this attitude we should avoid when operating in today’s society. The issues we face today like climate change, the migrant crisis and even conflicts such as the military coup in Crimea have no easily discernible instigators or immediate effects. This often means that reactions to these emergencies are insufficient.
As much as we should support the ongoing battle for Hong Kong’s democracy, we should use the spectacle to reflect on our own political process itself. Organisers of the Hong Kong protests claimed two million attended the protests the day after Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive, backed down from the contentious extradition bill. This turnout of over 25% of the population demonstrates the power of the people when the significance of the situation is clear to see. It is therefore important that we act with the same passion and dedication of the people of Hong Kong when facing political issues that may at first seem relatively insignificant.
Fortunately, political apathy does seem to be decreasing. In light of recent parliamentary events, over one hundred thousand people applied to register to vote. This is undoubtedly a good sign for the future state of our democracy.