By Patipat Kittichokwattana
Since 31 March, series of demonstration began as soon as Hong Kong government proposed the extradition bill. The possibility of Beijing interference activated anti-extradition bill movement. It further escalated peaceful demonstrations to the unprecedented political unrest since 1997’s handover. Although government decided to withdraw the bill afterward, but it cannot mitigate people’s anger. Public tension continues and indirectly challenges Beijing patience.
Beijing has been found behind Hong Kong government’s decision. To be noticed, Chief Executive is selected by Election Committee which found to be dominated by pro-Beijing politicians and tycoons. Furthermore, the Legislative Council in which comprises of geographical constituencies that is directly elected by universal suffrage whereas functional constituencies indirectly elected through trade-based voters. Certainly, functional constituencies have been widely criticized for pro-Beijing suffrage.
There were several large demonstrations in Hong Kong since 1997’s handover. For example, approximately 500,000 people participated in 2003 demonstration due to government attempted to pass the law that might harm civil rights and freedoms. In 2004, over 200,000 people took part in demonstration as Beijing attempted to modify the Basic Law that initially allowed direct election for the Chief Executive and Legislative Council in 2007 and 2008 respectively. And more than 500,000 people took part in the well-known 2014 Umbrella Revolution aimed to call for universal suffrage.
While Beijing insists that Hong Kong is their internal affairs, they widely and endlessly denounce the US and some Western countries as interference. China’s media reveals a group of younger activists received training and have been sponsored by the US. Apparently, as a picture of Joshua Wong was meeting with high-level US official and recent informal meeting with Germany’s foreign minister were undeniably raised suspicions by Beijing. Altogether with US-China trade tension, a more worrisome than civil unrest is that Hong Kong might step into insoluble dilemma.
Many of Thais who witnessed a decade of nearly civil war in Thailand express some concern about Hong Kong political turmoil. They indicate situational similarities to the 2014 Thailand crisis. Dubious intention of government’s bill sparked the biggest demonstration that expanded into calls for democratic reforms. Moreover, protesters started to manipulate government offices blockage, occupy international airport, and demand government leader to step down.
However, the social movement in Hong Kong has not developed on the same conditions as Thailand. Hong Kong demonstration against extradition bill aims at protecting their right and autonomy from Beijing interference. In contrast, Thailand crises were ideological collisions between old elites and new middle class that aimed to protect their values. Obviously, pro-democracy and young activists are the main actor in Hong Kong uprising while politicians led the red and yellow shirts movement in Thailand crises.
Other than economic downturn and political stagnant, Thailand crises have left a consequent effect on social divide. Incompatible views of the two distinct red and yellow are widely disseminated especially on social network. It deeply breaks us apart and may take generations to bridge the gap. Hong Kong, on the other hand, should learn from Thailand experience. Diversity and inclusion are needed to gain a better future of Hong Kong.
[Photo Credit: www.vox.com]
Patipat Kittichokwattana, PhD Candidate, College of Law, Government and International Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia