Neeti Cherukupalli is a senior at North Allegheny School District. She enjoys writing about politics, eating hummus, and hates birds.
Democracy: What is it?
September 17, 2019
The story of Hong Kong is no simple one. Its history is comprised of various upswings and downturns, causing major social and political unrest. The current situation is no different.
Today, Hong Kong belongs to China, with its own political system, currency, and a shared cultural identity specific to the area. Hong Kong, once a colony as well as a territory, belonged to the United Kingdom for over 150 years, until it was officially transferred back to China in 1997. In 1898, the British government essentially signed a 99-year lease for the territory. However, the transfer of ownership was largely disputed between then Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, resulting in a policy popularly known as “one country, two systems,” otherwise known as the Hong Kong Basic Law. The deal promises to give Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy” for 50 years, set to expire in 2047. The establishment of the Basic Law gives Hong Kong freedoms unimaginable by the Chinese mainlanders, including freedom of speech, the right to protest and to develop its own democracy. Because of this unique status, Hong Kong formally became a “special administrative region” of the People’s Republic of China. In short, China vowed not to impose its government on Hong Kong, allowing Hong Kong to maintain its former capitalist system and to safeguard its residents’ freedoms.
THE ONGOING SITUATION
The recent pro-democracy uprising that has filled the streets of Hong Kong spurred as a response to proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition law. The case of a man from Hong Kong accused of brutally strangling his pregnant girlfriend to death and shoving her body in a suitcase while in Taiwan prompted the amendments to the law. Because Hong Kong does not currently have a formal extradition treaty with Taiwan, the man could not be sent back to face trial. This case pushed the Hong Kong government to consider extending extradition treaties with other countries, including mainland China, a country known for imprisoning its people for even the smallest infractions. Worried that China would abuse the treaty by detaining citizens of Hong Kong who openly advocate for human rights issues or blatantly disapprove of the Chinese government, many people opposed the government’s decision to move forward with amendments to the extradition bill.
From peaceful demonstrations, strikes across different professional fields, and group vandalism to violent outbreaks on the streets, Hong Kong has seen it all just this past summer. What started as a widespread pushback against an extradition bill has now expanded to demand complete democracy.
AND WHY IT MATTERS
Living in a free, first-world country enables us to enjoy a multitude of luxuries that are nothing but a fantasy to those living elsewhere. With this freedom comes the ignorance for those around us, leaving us to essentially live in a bubble where we do not truly understand, or even care, about various crises occurring in other parts of the world. A student in my philosophy class said it best, explaining that regardless of how many people tweet about an issue or follow the news covering it, no one cares unless it directly impacts us. The mere fact that I felt the need to include a section to this article discussing the background and cause of the major ongoing issues just goes to show that much of the American youth is unaware, or worse, dismisses the issue as being “just another headline.” In addition to this ignorance, we as a nation fail to recognize the true significance of such luxuries. We take for granted what others so desperately yearn for. One such example is democracy.
The American population is simply unable to understand the struggle and complexities of being free or being given a voice, because it has always seemed like a given to us. The people of Hong Kong cry out for the same democracy that we dismiss as a mere birthright. They scream and they scream, but we just don’t hear them.
Students affected with the ongoing crisis shared their views about democracy to the average American.
Khushi Kiran, an international student from Hong Kong at Penn State University claims, “I do feel like democracy is such a fundamental thing in the U.S. that it is assumed everyone has those rights. The people of Hong Kong are now fighting for it…I think it’s important for those in America to acknowledge Hong Kong…This is not the Hong Kong I know.”
North Allegheny senior Selena Brown further explains, “America definitely takes [democracy] for granted. People always complain here all the time about government being too controlling but other countries are still struggling with dictatorships and regimes.”
Time and time again, America has carelessly dismissed the affluence, prosperity, and freedom that our nation has to offer. It is time we take a moment to realize these truths — for Hong Kong’s sake.