Tensions between mainland China and Hong Kong reached a fever pitch on Monday as pro-democracy protesters sent a message of frustration by breaking into a legislative building.
According to The Guardian, hundreds of citizens spent hours rampaging through government offices in the former British colony. Using graffiti and hoisting the colonial flag, they made it clear that the communist government faced an uphill battle for tighter control over the bustling region.
The presence of the colonial flag is especially significant. That banner features the famous British Union Jack as part of its design, and the symbolism was clearly meant to indicate that at least some Hong Kong residents prefer dealing with the West instead of communist leaders in China.
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“The direct action unfolded after a peaceful march of half a million people made its way through other parts of the city on the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China,” The Guardian explained.
“For the past month protesters have been demanding the withdrawal of a bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.”
Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese control in 1997 after being a British colony since 1842. While the mainland technically holds sovereignty over the region, however, the government and economic system is largely independent.
That mixed arrangement has caused conflict to brew for years. Many Hong Kong residents now fear that China may be tightening its grasp on the prosperous region, which could cause Western-style liberties to disappear.
“The rallies are the latest manifestation of growing fears that China is stamping down on the city’s freedoms and culture with the help of the finance hub’s pro-Beijing leaders,” The Guardian explained.
Wearing yellow hard hats as they carried out the protest, the activists seem to have taken some cues from recent riots in France, where “yellow vest” protesters expressed outrage at the left-leaning government for being out of touch with the people. But the Hong Kong situation is arguably even more complex.
“While the recent protests were initially sparked by [Hong Kong official Carrie] Lam’s attempts to pass the proposed extradition legislation, the demonstrations have morphed into a wider movement against her administration and Beijing,” The Guardian continued.
Although frustration and anger were rampant, the protesters did not appear to be targeting other people, even though they overtook the government office. Riot police had been on hand earlier in the day, but had largely dissipated by the time activists entered the legislature.
“For hours the protesters had been repeatedly striking reinforced glass walls with a metal trolley and poles as hundreds of others watched on. Once inside they threw chairs and tore down and defaced portraits of past lawmakers,” the U.K. newspaper said.
“The movement at large is peaceful, but some young people are overwhelmed by a strong sense of helplessness and they’re emotionally charged,” noted Hong Kong lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting.
Conservatives are usually hesitant to condone demonstrations like this. It’s easy to see, however, why so many in Hong Kong are deeply upset and frightened. China appears to be stretching its muscles and threatening the economic and civil liberties of one of the most successful cities in the world.
Hopefully, mainland China will get the message and back off sooner than later. These protests may be unsettling to watch, but they do seem to be bringing attention to the region’s dire problems.
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