cover image

Illustration by Vivi Zhu

Hong Kong’s Protests Are Deafening: China and the World Must Listen

As Hong Kong reels from the shooting of a schoolboy and the protests grow louder, the Chinese state can not afford to respond with further force. Instead, it must pay attention to the protesters demands and engage in dialogue.

Oct 5, 2019

On Oct. 1, 2019, both Beijing and Hong Kong were painted red; the former with Chinese flags and fireworks, the latter with the blood of an eighteen-year-old schoolboy who was shot down because he dared to dream of freedom. The atmosphere in Beijing was one of pomp and patriotism with extravagant fireworks, grand military parades and celebrations, which marked the 70th anniversary of the National Day and Communist Party’s rule. While President Xi Jinping basked in the glory of the Communist Party’s achievements and played with grace the politics of spectacle, one of China’s biggest political crises in decades was unraveling.
A movement that had started four months ago with peaceful demonstrations against the controversial Extradition Bill – a proposed law which aimed to allow extraditions to mainland China and would provide Beijing a systematic way to silence political dissent – has now morphed into a wider umbrella pro-democracy movement. Even after the embattled Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, has succumbed to the demands of the protestors and formally withdrawn the bill, the movement appears far from being contained.
In striking contrast to Beijing’s façade of pageantry, the city of Hong Kong was shaken to its core when teenage protestor Tsang Chi-kin was shot at point-blank range by the city’s police forces. As if that were not enough, Chi-kin has been made an “example” of what would happen if the citizens of Hong Kong were to rise against Beijing’s malign pressure tactics. While there has been a consistent pattern in police brutality, intimidation tactics and the charitable use of smoke bombs and rubber bullets, the shooting of Chi-kin is unprecedented and comes as a shock to many as it marks a disastrous escalation of police force and has the potential to act as an explosive catalyst in an already volatile situation.
Hong Kong’s Police Commissioner Stephen Lo audaciously defended the officer behind the trigger, calling the act “legal and reasonable” and claiming that the officer was under immediate threat of harm. The local media footage proves the claim to be false and the act as not just a gross violation of UN legislation on the usage of brute force and firearms, but also as a jarring violation of humanity.
Carrie Lam’s administration has been thoroughly incompetent in handling the crisis and reading public opinion. To make matters worse, the administration has condoned police brutality and reduced the concept of “rule of law” to meaningless jargon at this point. It is time that Lam, or the people that work her strings from Beijing, realize that sheer force will not quieten Hong Kong’s fury – neither will “community dialogues,” Lam’s tone-deaf public statements or any such political stunts satisfy the citizens of Hong Kong.
Unsurprisingly, the shooting has fueled immense public outrage and increased calls for the disbandment of the city’s police forces. It is the first time in a half-century that Hong Kong will enact the Emergency Regulations Ordinance – an emergency ordinance of the colonial era – in order to ban facemasks in public spaces.
The ordinance is not far from martial law, as it gives the government sweeping powers to arrest citizens, restrict communication, search private premises without warrants and essentially crush any dissent under the pretext of restoring peace. As Hong Kong tries to break free from the shackles of President Xi Jinping’s authoritarian rule, the emergency law will be a hard curveball to dodge. At this point, it could either be a political power move that restores peace in the city or a metaphorical Molotov cocktail that would wreak chaos in ways unimaginable. Either way, given the radical turn the situation has taken, Hong Kong’s fate and its relationship with Beijing remains unresolved in the present and unimaginable in the future.
The Hong Kong dilemma poses an immense political crisis for the Communist Party of China and President Xi. For years, there has been no sign of internal political challenge and while few would still dare to place the blame on Xi’s shoulders, his arguably illegitimate leadership is certainly under scrutiny. His approach towards Hong Kong has been sloppy at best and complacent at worst. At a time when China is experiencing an economic slowdown and simultaneously under fire for its ghastly treatment of Uyghur Muslims, this was not the sort of publicity President Xi was looking for.
The solution for Beijing and Hong Kong is to switch gears. The quintessential issue with authoritarian governments is that they are fearful of opposition. They are rooted in a naïve philosophy that isolates “the state” from “the people” and pits one against the other. It is now essential for Beijing to discard those fears, put an end to threats of force and enter a dialogue free of conditions with the people of Hong Kong. Furthermore, it is the responsibility of the international community to end the deafening silence and the submissive servitude that has so far characterized the global reaction to this Orwellian crisis. Hong Kong’s cries of freedom echo far beyond, and it’s only just that we stand beside them.
Vatsa Singh is Deputy Features Editor. Email him at
gazelle logo