What started as small but vocal student-led protests in Hong Kong has grown into widespread civil disobedience. The local government’s efforts to crack down on protests with tear gas and other heavy-handed police tactics seem to have backfired. Instead of driving people off the streets, these tactics have swelled the ranks of protesters.
While it is easy to empathize with the protesters and their demands for more democratic input and less interference from the central government, it’s also hard not to worry that the widespread protests could lead to even more intervention from China’s central Communist Party.
Ironically, however, it may have been pressure from the central government on the local government that spurred on the protests. Many people who had previously been sitting on the sidelines have been enraged by the use of tear gas to suppress the democracy movement. So far, however, the protests have been largely peaceful.
Protesters want autonomy from central government
On the surface the protests in Hong Kong may not seem all too remarkable or notable in the grand scheme of things. Protests happen all the time, especially in modernized societies like Hong Kong. And yet, Hong Kong is only a small city-state within larger China, and the central Chinese government itself has proven to be extremely hostile protests.
Hong Kong does enjoy some autonomy as outlined in the basic law agreed upon between Britain, Hong Kong’s former ruler, and the Chinese central government. In recent years, however, many of Hong Kong’s citizens have come to feel that the central government is encroaching on their autonomy.
These current protests were spurred by the central Communist Party‘s demand that they screen candidates for election to the city’s top post. Many of the citizens of Hong Kong feel that this is undue influence and that the central government should simply butt out.
The protesters are also demanding that Chief Executive CY Leung resign. Many within the city feel that he is too closely aligned with the central Chinese government and is acting merely as a puppet.
Protesters walking fine line without realizing it
The protests have swelled over the last few days with students and young professionals leading the charge. The city has been ground to a halt, and while the protesters have thus far been peaceful, clean, and respectful, China’s central government is not enjoying the show of force.
If protesters are not careful the Chinese government could decide to launch a crackdown. It’s not difficult to imagine streams of Chinese tanks rolling through the city-center, or Chinese troops quelling any uprising.
For now the central government has been pressuring the local government to deal with the situation. Still, if protesters push too hard, or if uprisings or turmoil occur elsewhere in the country, the central government could be spurred into action.
Turmoil in Hong Kong hints at future challenges for China
As people become more developed and more-well educated there is a tendency for populations to demand more input in the government. With China’s economy growing rapidly, it’ll only be a matter of time before mainland China’s citizenry to demand more input, especially when autonomous regions such as Hong Kong are granted more rights.
Now Beijing has found itself in a bit of a quagmire. So far the protests in Hong Kong have been peaceful, and while the government may want to crack down on protests, doing so may flame tensions further, and look bad in the eyes of the international press.
At the same time, if the protests are not brought under control quickly, they might spur similar protests across mainland China. The Communist Party is well aware that power ultimately resides with the people, and that its own population will start to demand more and more in terms of quality of life.