Hongkong: the malaise behind the revolt

By Xin Z.

The mass protests in Hong Kong have lasted for over 100 days. Last weekend the tension has reached another peak when thousands of demonstrators clashed with the police. Protestors launched petrol bombs while the police fired water cannon and tear gas.

The long-lasting protests were ignited by a controversial Extradition Bill pushed through by local authorities earlier this year, which would have allowed individuals in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China for trial. Stating in June, the tension has been escalating on the island. The scale of the chaos is unprecedented, and the violence becomes increasingly fierce. The Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has suspended the bill in July and then formally withdrawn it in September, but this effort seems too little and too late to stop the unrest.

The outrage in Hongkong was initially triggered by the concern of losing political rights, since the Extradition Bill is believed to damage Hong Kong’s judicial independence, which is a key component of the island’s current semi-autonomous status. Over the past months, however, the protests have evolved from the demonstrations against a bill to a broader movement, which is rooted in deeper socio-economic issues.

Division of local citizens

We see in this movement a division of local citizens: liberals demanding more autonomy versus conservatives opposing chaos; unhappy youth who are struggling with sky-high housing costs versus older elites who have benefitted from it. Hong Kong’s wealth gap keeps enlarging while its economic growth lags way behind mainland China. The latter used to regard Hong Kong as its main channel to the international market, but with its own economy rising, Hong Kong’s economic importance is declining, mainland cities such as Shanghai are now competing with Hong Kong. There has been growing discontent with mainland China. The recent US-China rivalry has also aggravated the problem.

As China’s National Day (1st October) approaches, it becomes compelling for Beijing to see the end of the protests, but its options are limited. On the one hand, the government is unlikely to make further concessions that satisfy the protestors’ demands; on the other hand, extreme crackdown measures will be terrible for both sides, since they will not only cost Hongkong’s status of the global financial hub but also smash China’s international image. For the moment there seems to be no quick fix to the deadlock, and the further development in Hong Kong is full of uncertainty.

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