Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region within the People’s Republic of China. The British returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 after over 100 years of colonial rule. Hong Kong is not an independent country, although it has a degree of autonomy as stipulated under the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. Under this agreement, Hong Kong would maintain pre-1997 legal, social and economic systems for the next 50 years, as well as being set on a path towards democracy as distinct from the communist governance of mainland China. The population of Hong Kong is about 7 million, and Cantonese is the main language spoken.
Political System in Hong Kong:
The Chinese government promised Hong Kong that it could vote for its leader, known as the Chief Executive, in the 2017 elections. The current process, last used in 2012, is that the Chief Executive – currently Leung Chun-Ying (also known as CY Leung) – is elected to a 5 year term by an election council of 1,200 members. On August 31, 2014, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (Beijing) announced a proposal for the 2017 elections that up to 3 candidates can stand for election, and each must be endorsed by more than half of the election committee. Once the candidates have been selected, a popular vote can take place. The election committee is comprised of predominantly pro-China/pro-Beijing members, and candidates who are not viewed favourably by the Chinese government (specifically, pro-democracy nominees) will not be endorsed.
The protest began on September 26 with students demonstrating outside the government buildings in Admiralty. In the early morning of September 28, Benny Tai declared that Occupy Central had begun. Occupy Central had originally been planned for October 1, but the gathering had been pushed back to carry on from the momentum of the student protests. Protests subsequently spread from Admiralty to Causeway Bay in Hong Kong Island, and then for the first time in Hong Kong’s recent history they crossed over into Kowloon, with particular spots of unrest in the Mongkok area.
Who is protesting in Hong Kong:
Occupy Central (with Love and Peace): an organisation started by university professors Benny Tai Yiu-ting and Chan Kin-man, with activist and Baptist minister Chu Yiu-ming calling for civil disobedience as means of achieving genuine universal suffrage free from Beijing’s interference.
Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS): the university student union led by Alex Chow, which has called for universal suffrage, the resignation of CY Leung, the withdrawal of the decision of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, and the submission of a new electoral reform plan that includes civil nomination of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.
Scholarism: a secondary student activist organisation founded by Joshua Wong which has opposed Chinese Moral and National education in Hong Kong’s education system, and has become one of the leaders in these protests. Scholarism organised a class boycott in secondary schools at the end of September in protest at the political reforms proposed by Beijing.
Most pro-democracy protesters identify with the yellow ribbon as a symbol of their defiance, although Occupy Central has its own symbol as well. Whilst there is no official alliance between any of the main pro-democracy groups, all have aligned on a central platform that emphasises “genuine universal suffrage” with public nomination of candidates.
Who is opposing the protests:
Leung Chun-ying (CY Leung): the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, “appointed” by Beijing despite winning just 57.4% (689 electoral votes) of the 1200 person election committee. 689 has become a nickname for Leung Chun-ying, in reference to his election win and a similar-sounding Cantonese swear word. Leung Chun-ying has been a polarising character in Hong Kong from the onset of his election, and his popularity among Hong Kong residents has never been high.
Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor: the Chief Secretary for Administration of Hong Kong Government, and main negotiator with the student protesters. She led a team of 5 government representatives in holding a dialogue with students protesters (but not Occupy Central) in late October 2014. She is a strong and powerful government official who has reiterated Hong Kong’s position as a Special Administrative Region and not an independent nation.
Alliance for Peace and Democracy (Hong Kong): a prominent pro-Beijing/anti-Occupy group has led a street campaign and organised petitions calling for the clearance of the protest zones by police and a return to normality for Hong Kong.
Blue Ribbon protesters: Supporters of the Hong Kong police and generally opposed to the yellow ribbon pro-democracy protesters. These people support the police, especially in light of ongoing criticism of their handling of the protests which included numerous allegations of police brutality.
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