To Be or Not to Be: Hong Kong 2016

In the autumn of 2014, umbrellas instead of traffic filled the main streets of Hong Kong. The Occupy Central movement that lasted for 79 days[1] was a testimony to how much Hong Kong people, mostly youths, were growing frustrated with Beijing’s increasing bossiness. After Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been under the ‘one country, two systems’ doctrine and therefore enjoyed semi-autonomy; it had its own mini-constitution and legislative council, which was partially democratically elected. What’s more, Beijing even promised at the time that in 2017, it would allow Hong Kong to democratically elect its top leader, Hong Kong chief executive (HKCE).[2] But of course, until then, the HKCE was to be elected by a pro-Beijing committee.

If only it were true. In August 2014, Beijing severely restricted the democratic nature of the 2017 election by saying that only a select number of candidates approved by a special committee could run.[3] The news, unsurprisingly, was not met very well. The Occupy Central movement opposed this authoritarian behavior of the Beijing government and through peaceful protests and sit-ins the protestors demanded that Hong Kong is allowed a ‘truly’ democratic election. Despite all this, Beijing remained resolute and Occupy Central gradually dissolved without any real achievement.

However, the seeds of protest and radical political reform have already been sown. After Occupy Central, the core youth leaders of the movement became a new political force, namely the ‘localists.’ The results of 2016 Legislative Council (LegCo) election on 4th of September reflected their growing popularity, with localists/radicals taking 8 seats, out of which three are from the youth localists political groups (Youngspirational and Demosisto) that stemmed from the Occupy Central movement. The youngest of the three, Nathan Law, is only 23 years old.[4]

140611050938-hong-kong-white-paper-horizontal-large-gallery.jpgFreedom and individuality are inseparable.”

Why did Hong Kong youths suddenly jump into the political arena? Is it simply an emerging ‘popular trend’ that youths have taken a temporary liking to? Or is it a genuine start of what some candidates call ‘revolution’?

To understand why Hong Kong youths have suddenly become a headache for the Beijing government, we first need to know the region’s identity. Despite its current status (as a part of mainland China), Hong Kong people have always differentiated themselves from the Mainland Chinese. For one, they speak Cantonese, not Mandarin, and they enjoy more political freedom than the Mainland Chinese people. After all, less than 20 years have passed since Hong Kong was officially returned to China- not enough time has yet passed for Chinese culture to tint the region completely red.

This is why a crackdown on Hawkers, cheap local restaurants unique to Hong Kong, has caused so much anger and violence from the youths. For them, an attack on Hawkers symbolizes an attack on Hong Kong’s local identity. In their eyes, Mainland China is a threat to their identity, because Beijing government wants to ‘absorb’ the region and assimilate it to the more mainstream Mainland culture. This angers the Hong Kong people because they do not in fact fully identify with Mainland culture; they do not want their own local culture to perish because they feel that they are not ‘Chinese,’ but ‘Hong Kong-ers.’

 

Freedom and individuality are inseparable. Without freedom, there can be no individuality; in the end, it is only when you can determine for yourself what you wish to be that you can confidently say that you are an ‘individual,’ not a pre-programmed android. What Hong Kong youths demand is not a nominal democracy, but the freedom to choose their identity. This is why when you look through their lens, Beijing is inevitably seen as an oppressor- it is taking away their liberty to be who they are. It is not a choice between democracy and communism; it is a choice between keeping and losing their unique identity.

 

*Photo Credit: CNN, (2014). Hong Kong Occupy Central. [image] Available at: http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnnnext/dam/assets/140611050938-hong-kong-white-paper-horizontal-large-gallery.jpg [Accessed 15 Sep. 2016].

 

 

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/16/hong-kongs-occupy-central-protest-is-no-more/

[2] http://www.vox.com/2014/9/28/6856621/hong-kong-protests-clashes-china-explainer

[3] http://www.vox.com/2014/9/28/6856621/hong-kong-protests-clashes-china-explainer

[4] https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/09/05/legislative-legco-hong-kong-election-2016-triumph-for-pro-democracy-newcomers-as-opposition-camp-maintains-veto-power/

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Dissecting American Hegemony: Part II- Popular Peace

After witnessing the horrors of the two ‘World Wars,’ people have come to the conclusion that shooting guns at each other may not be the brightest idea. As states gradually came to favor the general people as the decision maker rather than a potentially despotic king or Fuhrer, the possibility of starting a war grew even dimmer. After all, people would never want to sacrifice their property and more importantly, their lives. Going to war isn’t popular, and in a democracy, politicians tend to distance themselves as far as possible from unpopular ideas.[1]

Such phenomenon is nicely summed up by what’s called Democratic Peace Theory (DPT). DPT is a “proposition that democracies are more peaceful in their foreign relations.”[2] Of course, even within the theory there are disagreements on how to define “democracies” or “peaceful,” but in general the theory proposes that democratic states prefer less brutal ways (like starting a war or arguably supporting a war) to deal with its foreign affairs. Now, this theory now poses an interesting question: are democratic hegemonic powers also more likely to be peaceful?

 

Reasons Behind Peace

Although there exist various types of DPT, in this article we will only focus on the most widely accepted, dyadic DPT. Dyadic DPT limits the scope of DPT by saying that democracies are peaceful with other democracies (i.e. with each other) but not necessarily so when dealing with non-democratic countries. There exist various explanations for this, but to list a few:

 

  1. Human Rights:

War is not humane. That is a fact, and people fully well knows this. In an age when people are ever more sensitive about ‘human rights,’ it would be a political suicide to openly say, “Let’s ignore basic rights of humankind and kill people!” Of course, this is often not the case, especially when a state with strong nationalistic sentiment feels ‘challenged’. In that case, concerns for human rights may not do much to prevent politicians from declaring war, since people will be supportive of trampling the human rights of the opponents.[3]

photo-1419848449479-6c8a7d8d62c2.jpg

“War is not humane.”

  1. Kinship 

You are less likely to shoot your family members and friends. The closer your personal connection to the other is, the more uncomfortable you become of turning 180 on them and declaring their destruction. In the modern world where globalization connects people from different civilizations and culture, people are less likely to revert back to the ancient ‘us and them’ logic and decry people from other countries as ‘barbarians.’ With this sense of kinship, people are less likely to call for war as they come to understand better the other culture and identify with them as humans.

 

  1. Marketplace

Democracy is often (although by no means always) accompanied by capitalism. In a capitalist point of view, the ideal world is a place where people play by the rules rather than use brute force to simply get what they want. For these reasons, democracies with advanced capitalist economy prefer the rule of international law to the rule of military force- with peace grows prosperity, and nobody hates prosperity.

 

Fatal Flaw

According to this theory, one would expect the US to be unlike the previous hegemonic powers- after all, it is the birthplace of democracy. But the world we face today is far from ‘peaceful.’ So what is the fatal flaw in this theory?

The thing is, America’s preference for peace in foreign policy is only applied when the counterpart is also a democracy. When the state they are dealing with doesn’t fit the moral standard America’s democracy upholds, the hegemonic power often declares them as ‘rogue,’ and uses force to ‘correct’ them. So does this mean that the US, as a hegemonic power in the modern world, is just like any other previous hegemonic power despite all the rhetoric about Pax Americana? In the next article, the question of whether American hegemony has been a recipe for peace or possibly, a recipe for neo-imperialism.

*Photo Credit:

Photography by Jordy Meow, uploaded on 29 December 2014, provided by Unsplahs

Available at: https://hd.unsplash.com/photo-1419848449479-6c8a7d8d62c2

 

[1] This is a sweeping generalization; for example, PM Tony Blair decided to go to war with Iraq despite the public’s grumbles against the decision. It may perhaps be better to add that even when politicians make unpopular decisions, they try to keep up their popularity as an individual.

[2]Oxfordbibliographies.com. (2016). Democratic Peace Theory – Political Science – Oxford Bibliographies – obo. [online] Available at: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756223/obo-9780199756223-0014.xml [Accessed 5 Sep. 2016].