This year’s protests in Hong Kong began with the aim to oppose the introduction of a proposed extradition law that would have let authorities detain and extradite suspects wanted in places such as Taiwan and mainland China, with which Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements.
Many were concerned that the bill would subject Hong Kong residents and visitors to Beijing’s jurisdiction, undermining the territory’s autonomy and civil liberties. The protesters laid out five key demands, which included investigation into alleged police misconduct against protesters and resumption of democratic reforms.
China today poses formidable challenges for international businesses. Rising nationalism, growing universality of social media and geopolitical tensions have made it increasingly difficult for multinational companies to stay apolitical in an increasingly sensitive and bullying China.
A recent incident between the National Basketball Association and China shows the difficulty in balancing support for democratic values and not upsetting a hugely profitable market of 1.4 billion consumers.
Hong Kong’s unrest illustrates the failure of Beijing’s “one country, two systems” model. Hong Kong protests echo the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, which is especially ironic as Communist China celebrated its 70th anniversary this month.
The problem of national identity might be more troubling. As feelings toward mainland China harden, some have initiated more radical calls for Hong Kong’s independence, as opposed to the proper implementation of the Basic Law that is supposed to protect the territory’s relative autonomy.
A worrisome pattern has emerged as some protesters have begun to act with greater ferocity. Hardline protesters see themselves as being forced to take justice into their own hands in a system that lacks accountability. Large marches have ended in violent confrontations, vandalism and arson.
Pro-democracy advocates have singled out companies such as Starbucks and Apple that they consider enemies of their movement, and vandalism and calls for boycotts have followed. Tourism numbers and financial markets have plunged, clear indications that months of clashes are decimating the territory’s economy.
The lack of an extradition treaty with Hong Kong and fear of compromising sovereignty have led to an unfathomable reluctance by Taiwan to exercise jurisdiction over Chan Tong-kai (陳同佳), a Hong Kong resident who is a suspect in the murder of his girlfriend in Taiwan.
Chan has recently expressed a willingness to surrender himself and face prosecution in Taiwan. That the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) immediately conceded to public criticism and is now willing to entertain Chan’s request, despite political considerations, ought to be commended.
As a beacon of Chinese culture and democracy, Taiwan continues to challenge China to abandon authoritarianism and embrace political reform.
The rule of law and human rights are imperative to Hong Kong, just as continued order and prosperity. Clearly, demonstrations are far more powerful when they are peaceful. That some protesters have resorted to violence can only be condemned, as must excessive force used by the police.
Radical violent methods by protesters and police alike do not help resolve the controversy.
Beijing and the Hong Kong government should respond to the legitimate calls for democracy. Peaceful communication and dialogue serve the better course toward reconciliation and stability.
Alfred Tsai is a doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin Law School and editor of the Taiwan Weekly e-mail newsletter.
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