Hong Kong: Umbrella for Change

14 Sep 2017

The sentencing of the three leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy ‘Umbrella Movement’ can incur more protests—in Hong Kong and worldwide. 

Image Credit: Business Insider


Why is it happening ?

Hong Kong holds a unique position in the world. It was under British control until 1997 and then classed as a part of China whilst having certain freedoms—like that of democracy. However, in 2014, one of China’s legislative bodies, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, issued a reform to Hong Kong’s electoral system. These changes better align with China’s method of centralized control, as they give China oversight over the candidates for Hong Kong’s next leadership election. This caused a series of mass protests dubbed the ‘Umbrella Movement’. The pro-democracy Occupy Central protest group began their campaign of civil disobedience. Joshua Wong (pictured), Nathan Law and Alex Cho were participants of this organization.


Last year, Joshua Wong was sentenced to community service for unlawful assembly. But in an unexpected move the Hong Kong government called for a harsher sentence. They now face six, seven, and eight months in prison, respectively. Many criticize this escalation as politically motivated, but the government claims there was ‘absolutely no basis’ for claims of political motives. Last month, Mr Wong and his fellow protesters started their time behind bars. Their prison record will prohibit them from standing for local election for years to come.


Why does it matter?

China’s move to assert control over Hong Kong’s elections and the consequent silencing of political activists matters for two reasons. First, it is a violation of the democratic freedom of the people of Hong Kong and masks their dissatisfaction. Mr Wong’s tweet following his sentencing suggests: ‘They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers’. Even as he faced 6 months in prison, the young leader spoke out on behalf of his generation. If further suppression of opposition occurs, there may well be an even greater tide of protests, destabilizing and adding more pressure to the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.


Second, the Chinese government might set a precedent for other areas under their control with international consequences. If the pro-democracy protests create enough pressure to revert Beijing’s oppressive legislation in Hong Kong, then this may inspire similar movements within China and the rest of the world. It also brings into question how world leaders will respond to the imprisonment of young activists, when the financial investment of the Chinese plays such a significant role in global economics. Mr Wong urged his government to recognize their calls for democracy—and the world must listen.


What can you do about it?

Stay informed of the development of this issue by reading online news articles, and show support by following Joshua Wong on Twitter. As the discussion and events of this issue are ongoing and current, signing petitions for the release of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Cho is important, either collectively or individually. Write to local representatives, and urge them to make this issue a priority at relevant platforms, namely at G20 and UN events.


This year, Netflix released a ‘rousing documentary’ about Mr Wong’s struggles, titled ‘Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower’. It provides coverage from the beginnings of fighting and preventing the introduction of China’s communist curriculum into Hong Kong schools to his activism for the Umbrella Movement.



Ethan Mclaughlin briefs from Birmingham, United Kingdom. He is a candidate for a Master in Arts in International Development with a focus on Conflict Security & Development.

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