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Dwindling hope in Hong Kong

Student-led protests for universal suffrage likely to end in disappointment

As pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong charm the media with their dedication to pristine streets and completed homework assignments even as authorities douse them with pepper gas, it appears that the students’ commendable efforts will likely be for naught.

After two weeks of dramatic, large-scale demonstrations, the protests have largely petered out, though the demand for democracy is just as pressing. Public attention has also begun to fade, even as the situation remains unresolved and the people of Hong Kong are still under threat of oppression. And now, as China has backed out of even the most tenuous sign of progress – proposed discussions regarding the problem, in a move that bodes even more ill for a region that is most undeserving.

Since Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 after a century and a half of British colonial rule, the region has enjoyed greater autonomy than the rest of the country ruled by China’s harsh authoritarian regime. But recently China has gone back on its word, announcing on Aug. 31 that they would be vetting the candidates for the 2017 Chief Executive election.

In response, tens of thousands of citizens put their displeasure on display in the city streets, and Occupy Central joined the ranks of recent and now famed demonstrations like Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring.

But as is all too common in protests that gain worldwide recognition, the Internet doesn’t just spread the news but trivializes it as well.

Feel-good stories about protestors sweeping and scrubbing the streets after their demonstrations and eye-catching images of demonstrators forming large-scale messages with their phone screens have inspired the Western world, but the purpose of the protests, and their eventual outcome and possible failure, have quickly faded from the public eye.

Once the hashtag stops trending, the event stops existing for fickle audiences removed from the action. Viewers move from Ukraine to Ferguson to Hong Kong to who knows where with lightning speed, but the students who put themselves at risk to fight for democracy still leave in the region facing oppression and aggressive political interference.

China’s behavior is despicable, to say the least. The country’s political authorities shouldn’t be surprised that residents of Hong Kong rose up in fury at the prospect of losing their unobstructed suffrage.

Even though the protests have quieted, the actions of the citizens of Hong Kong is admirable, as they risk arrest and assault each time they step out onto the street with signs in hand.

The memory and terror of Tiananmen Square is unavoidable and yet despite the danger inherent in the decision to demonstrate, the importance of democracy has ruled above all else – and should rise above the suffocating policies that Chinese authorities are attempting to impose.

It’s one (unacceptable) thing to restrict civil rights, but it’s even more appalling to impinge on liberties that have been specifically and explicitly laid out and promised to an entire region. Hong Kong already existed for decades as a colony ruled by external authorities. Now, it faces yet another threat to the independence its citizens – and all citizens – rightfully deserve.


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