Today marked the 17th anniversary of the end of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, along with the city’s resulting return to Chinese sovereignty. July 1 is typically marked by civic protests against Chinese rule, but this year “has taken on new significance” as police arrested peacefully protesting students from a downtown park and tens of thousands marched through the streets — all in support of democracy.
The handover of Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997 came with the understanding of “one country, two systems,” by which Hong Kong is allowed to make many of its own decisions and maintain relative independence. Immensely proud of these freedoms and the capitalist metropolis that they call home, Hong Kong citizens took offense to a recent white paper published by the mainland government that threatened the city’s autonomy.
“After seeing the white paper’s content, we should be worried,” said Jeff Kwok, 28, an export firm employee waiting at the rally’s starting point in Victoria Park. “The central government, they’re trying to tell the Hong Kong people that they are the host country and Hong Kong is just one of their regions. They’re trying to tell us they have absolute power to rule us.”
Another recent development fueling tension between territory and mainland is last week’s democracy referendum, in which nearly 800,000 Hong Kong residents voted on whether the next leader of Hong Kong should be popularly elected. Beijing has promised to allow democratic elections for the selection of the city’s next leader in 2017, but many worry that only candidates pre-approved by the CCP will be eligible to run. Beijing denounced the referendum as illegal.
Yet, the vast numbers and coordinated message of the protestors show that today’s demonstrations are much more than a return blow in a petty spat that’s on the edge of devolving to name-calling. "If we want real democracy right now, then this rally is very significant," said Johnson Yeung Ching-yin, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizers of the rally. "We can show the world and show the central government that Hong Kong people want democracy so badly and we will fight for it at all costs."