Will the Umbrella Revolution Return? Probably.

Umbrella-Revolution-Explainer-01In 2014, when the Chinese Communist party announced that it would require preapproval of candidates for Hong Kong’s highest office under Beijing’s proposed reforms, many residents of Hong Kong noted the apparent contradictions with Hong Kong’s Basic Law promising the right to self-determination and democratic and civil liberties. This lack of democratic safeguards angered many residents and the Party’s actions sparked peaceful protests across the city. While the initial protests resulted in no resolution and none of the protesters’ demands were met, the situation is still developing. When it came time to vote on the Beijing-supported electoral reforms that sparked the protests, most pro-Beijing legislators walked out before the Legislative Council (LegCo) vote, foiling Beijing’s attempt to influence Hong Kong’s elections. But as the 2016 LegCo elections approach, it has become increasingly clear that Beijing has no intention of honoring the “One Country Two Systems” agreement. And as resentment towards Beijing’s overbearing attitude on the island grows, we must expect the protests to intensify.

The government’s attempts to influence Hong Kong policy is nothing new. But Beijing’s attempts have grown more open, hostile, and desperate. Soon after the LegCo vote, five Hong Kong publishers disappeared. None resurfaced until January 2016 when Beijing announced that they were in Chinese custody. One of them was Lee Bo, a British citizen, and the UK’s resulting investigation found that his disappearance was likely the act of the Chinese security services, and noted that those actions contravened the UK and China’s 1984 Agreement. Lee Bo has since been forced to give up his UK citizenship. As of this article’s writing, the Chinese government has yet to give a reason for the publishers’ detention.

It is safe to say that the Chinese government’s actions in Hong Kong have only further inflamed resentment towards the regime, and with the 2016 LegCo elections approaching and the increasing likelihood that such elections will be rigged, the situation can only become more volatile. The Communist Party has failed to learn from its mistakes and has only stoked pressure upon itself, and the Umbrella Revolution will likely return. If the mainland regime wants to be seen as the legitimate government of Hong Kong, it must stop its repeated violations of the “One Country, Two Systems” agreement and CY Leung must be removed as Chief Executive given his unpopularity.

The Communist Party is presumably concerned that if it offers Hong Kong more sovereignty, the Tibetan and East Turkestan regions will agitate for further freedoms as well. These fears are legitimate, but Hong Kong’s claim to self-determination is far stronger than those of Tibet and East Turkestan. Those regions were not recently ceded from foreign control, while Hong Kong was. Those regions have no written agreement affording them basic rights whereas failure to honor the 1984 Agreement could bring about international action against the regime. Hong Kong, an economic powerhouse within China, has much more influence to wield than sparsely-populated Tibet or primarily-agricultural East Turkestan.

So how exactly should the US and its allies respond if the situation escalates? During the initial protests, Obama voiced his support for freedom of assembly and democratic accountability, but did not hold the mainland regime responsible for the protests. The UK was originally passive, but, since the kidnapping of their citizen, has become more openly distrustful of the Chinese government. Prime Minister David Cameron has even stated to President Xi Jinping that Hong Kong be allowed to elect its own leader. Nevertheless, if the “One Country, Two Systems” deal is to be saved, the US and its allies must take a more active role. Any European members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, China’s answer to the US-dominated international financial institutions, should withdraw to demonstrate their displeasure. With the Hong Kong situation and growing Chinese aggression in the South China Sea – two issues inextricably linked to China’s fear of democratic government and US influence in its sphere of influence – the US must attempt to contain further Chinese expansion. This is not without regional support, as Vietnam and the Philippines have both joined a US-led naval coalition to contain Chinese military activities. International pressure against an increasing authoritarianism could potentially cause the Communist Party to shift to less aggressive policies. The US should not stand idly by while the mainland repeatedly violates the terms of the 1984 Agreement.

Francis Shin

Author: Francis Shin

Francis Shin is a student currently majoring in international affairs and history. In addition to his majors' topics, he is interested in international politics, philosophy, theology, and the arts.