Havoc in Hong Kong.

Author:Roa, Carlos

All modern revolutions apparently need to be named after something, regardless of whether they are successful or not. The overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia in 2000 was called the Bulldozer Revolution. Georgia had the Rose Revolution in 2003 and Ukraine the Orange Revolution in 2004. The Arab Spring was composed of the Jasmine Revolution (Tunisia), the Pearl Revolution (Bahrain) and so on. Honoring this trend, the protests that have rocked Hong Kong this year have been dubbed the "Water Revolution." The name supposedly derives from the demonstrators' strategy to, in the words of Hong Kong-born kung-fu movie star Bruce Lee, "be formless, shapeless, like water."

It is the word "revolution" though that has the leaders of the People's Republic of China (PRC) gravely concerned, and it shows. Consider comments by the Global Times--a daily tabloid published under the Chinese Communist Party. According to this official publication, the protestors in Hong Kong are "traitors" aiming to "create a violent movement" that "seeks to challenge the central government [in Beijing] and make Hong Kong 'independent. "The protestors are said to be working with foreign interests (namely the United States), and aim to "[subvert] the government" and "[brainwash] Hong Kong society with extreme 'Western values.'"

What exactly is going on in Hong Kong? Why have these protests so unnerved China's leaders? And is there a way for the current crisis to end on a peaceful note?

For many Hongkongers, the 2019 Extradition Bill introduced in February was but the latest endeavor by Beijing to erode away the region's autonomy. The proposed changes would have facilitated the extradition of criminal suspects from Hong Kong to other parts of the PRC and to Taiwan. While this would make sense for certain cases--the government referred to a case where a Hong Kong man murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan--observers noted that these changes could also mean that political dissidents could more easily be extradited back to the Chinese mainland.

These sorts of attempts to erode Hong Kong's autonomy have been going on for a while but have been especially apparent over the past five years. What kicked things off was that, in 2014, the National People's Congress in Beijing decided to impose a stringent screening mechanism on candidates for Hong Kong's top official post, the chief executive. In effect, this mechanism bared candidates Beijing disapproves of. This ran contrary to the promise made in Article 68 of Hong Kong Basic Law--essentially the region's constitution--that Hongkongers would one day be able to elect their own leaders. Then there was the 2015 disappearance of five booksellers affiliated with the Hong Kong-based publishing house that published books critical of senior PRC leaders. Then, in 2016, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba acquired the region's newspaper of record, the South China Morning Post, with a company executive stating an intent to "improve China's image and offer an alternative to...the biased lens of Western news outlets."

As evidenced by opinion polling, these incidents, along with many others, have had a dramatic effect on public opinion. The Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), formerly the Public Opinion Programme at the University of Hong Kong, has recorded a perceived decline in Hong Kong's various civil liberties since 2017, with ratings this year reaching their lowest points on record since 1997. Additional polling by PORI also reveals a perceived decline in the fairness of the region's judicial system, the impartiality of the courts, and whether the region is governed by the rule of law.

These trends, conversely, correlate with changes in attitudes towards mainland China. PORI polling shows that support for Taiwanese and Tibetan independence has risen significantly (from 9.4 and 11 percent, respectively, in June of 2006, to 43.7 and 25.7 percent in July of this year) while confidence in the "One Country, Two Systems" model has crashed (76.9 percent in August of 2007 to 33.8 percent in August...

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