Hong Kong Protests should not be ignored

By DE Staff

Many in the international community are calling for U.S. support of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. Yet, due to the current unlikelihood that change will occur in Hong Kong, the U.S should not defy China’s authority and support Hong Kong protesters. At the same time, Hong Kong is a major financial hub so all should keep the protests under a watchful eye.

Change is unlikely. 

While Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous region of China, it does not have full democracy. When the British gave back ownership of Hong Kong to China in 1997, it was agreed that Hong Kong would have universal suffrage in direct democratic elections by 2017.

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When the Chinese government recently announced that elections for the chief executive of Hong Kong would come from a list of pre-approved candidates screened by Chinese officials, young Hong Kongers began to protest.

Beginning September 22nd, students led a weeklong boycott of classes that extended to street protests joined by a group called Occupy Central.

Notwithstanding the international media attention given to the protests, the number of people taking part in the protests is relatively small, 100,000, and dwindling as the days go by.

Just this September, an estimated 525,000 Catalonians protested for independence from Spain—without success. In 2011, it took an estimated two million protesters in Cairo to overthrow their government.

Such a small turnout may convince Chinese authorities that the issue will blow over rendering true change unnecessary.

Many in Hong Kong have continued to go about their business as usual. Local businessmen have even spoken out in support of the Chinese-led government, leveling criticism at the protesters for disrupting their businesses.

Unless the movement gains greater traction among the general population, it seems unlikely the protesters will be successful. While the protesters appear resolute, such a scenario would see the status quo within Hong Kong remain the same.

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Rather astutely, President Barack Obama’s administration has not backed the pro-democracy demonstrators. While historically American governments have backed pro-democracy movements, it would be politically unwise to question China’s authority over Hong Kong. China is not losing its place of hegemony in the region anytime soon.

This is not to say that the outcome outlined above should be the normative desire; democracy should be America’s aspiration for all nations. The Obama administration must simply tread carefully when it comes to supporting dissidents of foreign governments.

An issue to watch. 

According to the Index of Economic Freedom, Hong Kong has been ranked the world’s freest economy for the past twenty years. With a strong commitment to open markets, it has become an international center of commerce.

Foreign companies operating in Hong Kong for investment purposes do so because Hong Kong maintains a secure investment setting. The city’s open economy and stability has made it a hub for such foreign direct investment to be channeled into the Chinese economy and economies around the world.

With national economies intertwined in one global economy, the instability of one financial center will affect all parties involved—including the American economy.

Within the last three days, the Chinese backed Hong Kong government has declared that all government offices and schools must be open. The government urges protesters to stop the occupation of major streets and to return to public order or face the police.

Protesters argue they are not blocking anyone from entering government buildings. They are simply protesting outside them.

Both sides have agreed to hold talks in an attempt to resolve their differences.

As this article goes to press, the standoff between the Hong Kong government and protesters is at a peaceful standstill despite past clashes. The number of protesters is lessening as days pass. This strengthens the position of the government.

While it is becoming apparent that major instability will not befall Hong Kong, it is still an unresolved situation. Given Hong Kong’s significance to the global economy, the U.S. should maintain a keen eye on the issue.

However, garnering attention is all this issue should do. The U.S. has done well to refrain from any action or strong statements of support as the situation is ultimately an internal matter for the Chinese to resolve.

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