09/09/2019, 17.03
HONG KONG – CHINA
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Who is behind Hong Kong’s youth?

by Bernardo Cervellera

Some suspect the US or other powers to be behind the steadfast resistance of he the past three months. In reality, the people of Hong Kong are united by a desire for democracy, fair wages, social housing, and freedom. Meanwhile, Western governments are silent, or just talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.

Rome (AsiaNews) – For the past three months, millions of Hong Kong residents, above all young people, have been protesting in various parts of the territory. They have many demands, include the withdrawal of the extradition law to China, and full democracy.

The protests, peaceful for the most part, have however seen an escalation by the most radical groups, with the police responding with disproportionate use of force: tear gas, water cannons, and mace. As a result, people have been injured, thousands have been arrested, including 12-year-old kids, and innocent passers-by have been beaten.

For their part, protesters have called for an independent inquiry into the excessive use of force by police, who are suspected of working with local organised and of being led, advised and supported by the police of mainland China.

After almost three months, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam agreed to scrap the bill, but she has rejected all other demands. But this has not satisfied the protest movement, which has become more vocal in its demand for full democracy, an issue also raised in 2014 during the Occupy Central movement but equally ignored by the government at the time.

The question that many people ask is: who is behind such unflinching resistance by Hong Kong youth? An ingrain culture of suspicion has led some people to think that these young people are being manipulated by some enemy power opposed to China and its impressive development.

Yesterday, after a protest in Chater Garden, a hundred protesters, unfurled flags with the Stars and Stripes, and reached the US consulate in Hong Kong to deliver a petition. Some now can say: “Aha! That’s it! Mystery finally solved. These young people are just puppets in the hands of the Americans; they are just another tool in the trade dispute and tug-of-war between the two superpowers!

In reality, young people have naively sought support for their cause precisely because no one has provided it. Beyond the fine words of Donald Trump, Angela Merkel and some British diplomats – who urged China to be prudent – nobody has so far taken up the cause of the anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement.

Too many governments, including that of Italy, will do anything to remain China's partner, in order to protect their trade interests, even at the expense of the young people rallying in the streets of Hong Kong. This is even more so since the charges against the government, of being deaf to their demands, perfectly echo the situations of so many young people vis-à-vis the powers that be, including those in the West.

So, who or what is behind young people’s demand for a ‘Free Hong Kong: The Revolution of Our Times’? the Civil Front for Human Rights, a coalition of 48 pro-democracy groups, has been the most active groups in the past three months. There are also dozens of student and university associations, not to mention the groups that grew out of the Occupy Central movement.

It should also be noted that most protesters are under 29, almost 60 per cent, including those who are angry and disappointed by the fact that two years since Occupy Central, the government is still deaf to their demands for democracy, something that China had promised to implement, first in 2006, then in 2017, and now in 2047.

There is also frustration at inaction in social housing, whilst luxury flats are being built thanks to government policy. For most young people, forced to live with their parents’ tiny flats even after marriage, buying a home is impossible. At the same time, rich mainlanders buy penthouses and luxury flats in Hong Kong as speculative investment or a pied-à-terre for week-end shopping.

The government's mainland-imposed immigration policy is another bone of contention, as it makes it easier for Chinese graduates to move to Hong Kong, to work for lower wages, driving down salaries for locals with the net effect that many young Hong Kongers have to emigrate.

Overall, millions of people have taken part in the protests: parents, teachers, merchants, lawyers, pilots, cooks, shopkeepers, workers, trade unionists, public employees. All of them share the same concern that Hong Kong’s current level of freedom will be eroded more and more, to the point that it will be just a second-rate Chinese city, where justice is subject to the Party, dissidents are jailed, and freedom of speech restricted.

The protests of recent months in Hong Kong are thus not only for freedom in Hong Kong, but also for the transformation of China. Protesters want to see respect for Hong Kong’s constitution, the Basic Law agreed upon by London and Beijing, but also wonder whether there can be economic development without freedom.

China’s media campaign against protests is a sign that Hong Kong youth have hit the mark. Many religious groups, NGOs, associations, farmers, pensioners and intellectuals are now asking the same questions in mainland China.

Beijing’s response to all this has been more repression and hyper-nationalism. Instead of building bridges, it is erecting barriers. By viewing the world as the enemy, it is making all of Xi Jinping's speeches about China’s friendly globalisation sound hollow.

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