Bus and train drivers, teachers, doctors and nurses, lawyers, airline workers: these are among the people who joined today’s unprecedented strike in Hong Kong. Yet as the ninth week of protests begin, Hong Kong authorities have largely ignored protesters’ core concerns.
Last week, Yang Guang, an official in the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Office, called for an end to violence, adherence to the rule of law, and the resolution of political and economic grievances in the territory. But he is hardly a credible messenger. Beijing’s unwillingness to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy, disregard for the rule of law, and profound hostility toward peaceful protests have roused a broad cross-section of Hong Kong people.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, finally held a press conference today, but did not address protesters’ concerns, instead mostly repeating condemnations of violence by protesters.
Beijing is ill-equipped to deal with this situation. When faced with public criticism, it simply imprisons its critics or crushes protests. The July 31 release of a People’s Liberation Army video showing troops suppressing protesters has further unnerved Hong Kong people. Beijing has indicated that Hong Kong authorities should deal with the protests, but it is unclear whether the central government would allow those in Hong Kong room to respond to popular demands. Nor is it clear if Hong Kong authorities even want to try.
But in certain respects there is abundant clarity: Hong Kong people have for decades – not just in recent weeks – been calling for their rights to be respected. To vote and run for office on an equal basis, to be able to criticize policies and officials without fear of persecution or police violence, and to enjoy the protections of a free media and an independent judiciary.
Students, parents, judges, business owners, civil servants, and many others in Hong Kong are standing up to make sure their rights are respected. Hong Kong authorities should seriously consider these calls – and Beijing should not be standing in the way.