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Students react to protests in China

| Monday, October 13, 2014

Protesters and students alike have rallied in critical intersections in Hong Kong since Sept. 26. The demonstration is the public’s response to the government in Beijing’s interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The semi-autonomous city’s constituents believe this interpretation, endorsed by Hong Kong’s chief executive Leung Chun-ying, ignores the portion of the Basic Law that promises a transition to democratic elections of the Chief Executive in 2017.

“The Occupy Movement was precipitated by the decision that the Chinese communist party made to restrict the voting rights of Hong Kong citizens,” associate professor of East Asian Culture and Languages Lionel Jensen said. “The Hong Kong Basic Law calls for a transition to a democracy — one person, one vote.”

Jensen said the Chinese government’s interpretations of the Basic Law are not in accordance with the spirit or the letter of the law.

“I feel that there is room for compromise here, especially on Beijing’s end of things,” Jensen said. “It would be a very effective and forthright maneuver for the government in Beijing to reconsider its coercive relationship with Hong Kong and to see that the protests that are going on are not against China and they’re not against the communist party. They are simply against illegality and the violation of the prospect of people’s freedoms that were granted under previous arrangements.”

Associate professor of political science Victoria Hui said she was surprised at Hong Kong’s use of a police force to try and control the protesters.

“I have never seen the riot police in the streets of Hong Kong,” Hui said. “It was so startling to see because of the civil and peaceful nature of the protests. If Beijing had just agreed to make the nominating committee, many people would have been less upset. By closing the option of direct election and using repression, the Chinese government forced the people of Hong Kong to organize.”

Hong Kong native and exchange student Johnson Kong said the protests are spurred on by a new form of self-identification for the young people of Hong Kong.

“The older generations are not that rooted in Hong Kong,” Kong said. “They feel that Hong Kong is just a place of transition. Our generation was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Hong Kong. We identify strongly as Hong Kongers.”

China-born freshman Flora Tang expressed her hope that the protests will lead to meaningful conversation between Hong Kong and mainland China.

“I’m hoping that the scale of the protests will cause the governments of China and Hong Kong to start talking and negotiating,” Tang said. “Previously China’s Communist government has been unwilling to listen to anything.”

Tang said that the protests are relevant to everyone, not just those living in China.

“This isn’t just about some country in Asia,” she said. “This is about universal suffrage and freedom of speech for everyone.”

Jensen said Hong Kong’s unique identity is important and should be valued, not suppressed, by Beijing.

“In the end, what makes Hong Kong flourish is the pluralist dimension of its life,” Jensen said. “Hong Kong has always been a melting pot of very seriously vital energies of Chinese people and to take that away by trying to limit it or contain it or control it will harm Hong Kong and China as a whole so deeply that it will be to the detriment of the Communist Party as well.”

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