Lessons from Hong Kong

4 minute read

This was originally written for the Students for Liberty blogging series, posted here on 11.14.14.

Over five weeks ago, students, young professionals, and individuals of countless backgrounds in Hong Kong began to protest the puppet government being created by the mainland Chinese government . Contrary to an series of agreements signed in the 1990s between the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the UK government, Beijing has since then reversed its decision of allowing Hong Kong to maintain complete political autonomy to the CPC government. In this reversal, it was decided that a select 1,200 of Hong Kong’s over 5 million population would vet any potential candidates who wanted to run for the executive office of Hong Kong. As rightfully argued by many activists, universal suffrage doesn’t really mean anything when your choices are already predetermined for you, and as a result, protesters refuse to back down from their demands.

Source: Vincent Yu/AP

When news came of these huge protests, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands, commentators were quick to mention how Americans, and ‘Westerners’ in general, should learn about the importance of participating in the democratic process. How, when compared to the people of Hong Kong, we  have no excuse not to actively vote and voice our opinions to our representatives, despite the statistically insignificant possibility that it actually influences anything. Typical of mass media, this analysis isn’t anything new. We have heard the exact same thing with the Arab Spring, with Occupy in New York, and with the Venezuelan protests. It’s easy to look at a political demonstration and reflect, “Well, look at them! You should all feel ashamed of yourselves for not voting more!” It’s the classic “make your voice heard” argument that’s been echoed forever. While the protests in Hong Kong et al are obviously indicative of people who want more representation in their governments, the underlying cause continues to go undermentioned.

[caption id="attachment_668" align="aligncenter" width="750"]IMAGE EPA-ALEX HOFFARD


Why are protesters so hell bent on ensuring a truly open election? Besides being considered a ‘flawed democracy,’ Hong Kong ranks extremely high on practically every other rating for living standards. Why not give in and allow Beijing the single concession of determining potential executive officials? What do they really have to lose by allowing partial control? Unlike the majority of China, which since the 1950s has been devastated from various failed government policies, subjugated to gross violations of human rights, and has consistently been suppressed and oppressed for any attempt at change, Hong Kong has benefited from all of the merits of economic freedom. Open markets have heralded high levels of development, real GDP per capita growth, and overall prosperity not seen by the vast majority of CPC controlled China, let alone the world. A great irony then is the fact that the current political process is also a large source for the flagrant inequalities in Hong Kong. While it may be an economically ‘open’ region, ~70% of all wealth is held by only 10% of the population. Why? Because many of these historically wealthy families are granted special treatment and privileges by the mainland government. Furthermore, the selection method for the executive leader is a strategy that allows wealthy elite to circumvent the democratic process and preserve their power. This is an embodiment of the cronyism and nepotism that the CPC condones and that Hong Kong wants to finally rid of.

The reality is that the people of Hong Kong, unlike their mainland brethren, have had a taste of freedom for the past decades and refuse to lose that. Now that the political process is within the reach of the people of Hong Kong, why would it ever want to give control back to Beijing? As it goes to show, we see with Hong Kong a prime example of that when people are given a taste for personal freedom and its benefits, they will defend it and demand more of it. That when faced between the potential totalitarian politics of the CPC and the autonomy currently held by Hong Kong, the people will choose the latter. Given the financial wealth and security Hong Kong has, the populous knows that it can play hardball with the central planners of Beijing. Threaten Hong Kong, and you threaten the world’s financial markets. Harm Hong Kong, and you harm yourself. Add in freedom of speech and social media, and you’ve got a potent molotov cocktail that is ready to be thrown live on televisions across the world. Unlike in the mainland, Xi Jinping is not a name to be feared, and as far as Hong Kong is concerned, he is equally answerable to the law. Anywhere else in China, and you would disappear for such an opinion. Just ask Tienanmen Square.

Source: Wally Santana/AP

A old optimist named Ron Paul once said, “Freedom is Popular,” and nowhere is this better displayed than in Hong Kong. Rather than lie on the ground and allow a concession to Beijing, Hong Kong knows it deserves better than that. Not just because they’re a key economic center, but because they’re humans. Liberty brings out the best in humanity, and it’s voluntary association that has allowed the immense success that Hong Kong has experienced. When a people are faced with a situation such as Hong Kong’s, we see that those invested in this prosperity will do everything to defend it. While the fate of protesters is yet to be seen, one thing is certain: Hong Kong teaches us that once people experience freedom, they’ll never settle for less . Totalitarians everywhere should considered themselves warned, the Umbrella Revolution is alive and well.