While the American media continues with its obsession over Ebola, we have been paying very little attention to the major clashes going on in Hong Kong right now by the democracy protestors. The clash that is taking place in Hong Kong will arguably will have a greater long term effect on America and the world than this latest disease. Anytime the country with the highest population in the world is going through such an upheaval in its politics, it can change democracy and military decisions everywhere.
If you don’t know what is going on in Hong Kong, and I don’t blame you since the media has been so remiss in its reporting, here is the lowdown. About two weeks ago, huge throngs of demonstrators took to the streets and have occupied large parts of Hong Kong. The protestors are largely a mix of students and a pro-democracy group called Occupy Central. They are protesting because they want fully free elections in the territory's next elections. China is basically saying, sure thing, everyone can vote all they want, but China’s government will decide who can run.
Needless to say, that hasn’t gone over well.
While these protests have been rooted in China’s control over elections in Hong Kong, there have been other simmering issues that have helped further incite the protests. One such issue is what is called “birth tourism” by the people in Hong Kong, referring to the large numbers of mainland Chinese who travel to Hong Kong to have babies. The problem with that is the strain on resources for those who live full time in Hong Kong and the shortages of hospital beds and infant formula that have resulted. Another underlying source of tension has been the clash of cultures as Hong Kong residents feel that the mainland Chinese people who come over in droves do not fit in with their culture and are changing it in a negative way.
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So sure, democracy is the most important issue at hand in these historic protests, as the government and police force crackdowns have been deemed heavy-handed by many. But what is really at stake here is the future of China and its place in the world. Hong Kong is one of the most important economic districts in China, and the world. So what happens there will impact more than just the Hong Kong community. Should protests continue on and grow even larger, how will the Chinese government respond? And equally important, will these protests actually be a step towards China changing in its hardline rule of government? That alone could lead to major consequences around the world.
These protests - dubbed the "Umbrella Revolution" because umbrellas were used to block out the hot sun as demonstrators stood and marched and then later, to block tear gas used by the police - continue, as on of the pro-democracy leaders wrote in a recent article:
The Umbrella Revolution can only end with a political solution, for this is a political problem. Beijing wants to impose Iranian style democracy in Hong Kong. Hongkongers want real democracy and genuine universal suffrage. By rejecting to solve this issue through dialogue, the government in Hong Kong resorted to force. Force may move barricades, but it will not kill the people’s desire for democracy. Ultimately, it is Beijing’s call to make. So long as the Chinese government vows to keep the election process closed, umbrellas on the streets of Hong Kong will stay defiantly open.
Sooner or later America and Europe will notice that a major revolution is taking place on the other side of the world. And maybe we can help play a role in moving things forward and protecting those people when we do.