Written by Jennifer Eagleton.
According to Isaac Newton’s Third Law, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. For example, when you sit in a chair, your body exerts a downward force on the chair and the chair exerts an upward force on your body. Two forces result from this interaction – a force on the chair and a force on your body. These two forces are called action and reaction forces. Applied to Hong Kong’s political scene, the “action force” is something that the Hong Kong/Beijing Government/pro-establishment does or says, while the “reaction force” is what the Hong Kong people do or say in response – unlike Newton’s Third Law, the reaction may not be “equal” to the “action” since Hong Kong people do not have truly “broadly representative” government which is necessary for the reaction to be equal to the action. Although it is said that Hong Kong can achieve universal suffrage in 2017 for the election of Hong Kong’s leader, the chief executive, there is concern in many quarters over how the authorities’ define “universal suffrage” in the context of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which sets out the parameters of “One Country, Two Systems”.
The following are a few famous examples of “actions” and the “reactions’ in Hong Kong that took place in the new millennium and later repercussions.
Action: In 2003, Secretary for Security Regina Ip, responding to reporters’ question on her views over the planned protest regarding the planned Article 23 security legislation on 1 July, said “…we also cannot rule out the possibility that some citizens may join it as a kind of activity because it’s a holiday…That’s why we should not think that many people taking to the street will necessarily mean that they are against Article 23”. Many people thought that the content of Article 23 was too vague and the consultation process rushed.
Reaction: Around 500,000 people took to the streets from Victoria Park, Causeway Bay to the Central Government Offices on 1st July. There have been marches on “reunification day” every year since of varying sizes on universal suffrage and governance issues. This protest route has since become known as “Democracy Avenue”. As a result, Article 23 legislation has been indefinitely shelved.
Action: In 2009, Tsang claimed to speak for Hong Kong people in expressing hopes for an “objective assessment” of the Tiananmen crackdown in light of China’s economic development“I understand Hong Kong people’s feelings about June 4, but the incident happened many years ago. The country’s development in many areas has since achieved tremendous results and brought economic prosperity to Hong Kong,” he told a Legislative Council question and answer session a few weeks before the 20th anniversary of the crackdown in 2009.
Reaction: The candlelight vigil for June 4 attracted far greater numbers of young people than previous vigils. It prompted a T-shirt design bearing the slogan: “Donald Tsang, you don’t represent me” since he was elected by a “small circle” Election Committee. Many of the pro-establishment continually argue that the limited membership of the functional constituencies that make up the Election Committee are “broadly representative” of people’s interests. Public opinion shows that they are yet to be convinced.
Action: Tear gas was used in late September 2014 to disperse the protesting crowd near Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building. The last time this was used in 2005 when the World Trade Talks were held in Hong Kong. The protest was over Beijing’s decree that the election process for electing the chief executive in 2017 would be even more stringent than current arrangements. The Nomination Committee (which would replace the Election Committee and would still be largely made up of functional constituencies who are dominated by pro-establishment figures) would have to, as a whole, approve potential candidates for the election. People said that this was a “sieve” out pan-democratic candidates so that the choice would be between only candidates acceptable to Beijing would be offered.
Later, Hong Kong’s Assistant Commissioner of Police for operations Cheung Tak-keung said the decision to use tear gas and pepper spray on Sunday said the police had “no alternative” and described the option as “minimum force” He urged people to leave the occupied areas as soon as possible.
Reaction: The effect of this was to greatly annoy the public and bring many more of them out on the streets in support of those gassed as well as making many protesters more determined to stand their ground by continuing the protest. The sight of a young man standing in swirling tear gas holding two umbrellas aloft became an iconic image of the “occupy” or the “umbrella movement’ as it became known. The protests lasted over two months, blocking of various roads in Hong Kong before being “cleared” prior to President Xi Jingping’s visit to Macau in early December. Public opinion of the police declined since this incident with many seeing police being used as political tools.
Action: Just before Christmas 2014, a 14-year-old girl was placed in detention for drawing flowers (next to an umbrella symbol) in chalk on a wall near the Hong Kong government’s headquarters brought accusations that the authorities are using child protection laws to intimidate young pro-democracy protesters and their families. This wall had become known as the “Lennon Wall” after a similar protest wall in Prague. Hong Kong’s wall had been covered by multicoloured “Post-it” notes.
Reaction: People came back to the wall and nearby pavements and drew flowers and umbrellas in chalk; some people even became mobile “post-it” boards by pasting Post-it notes on themselves, or as someone had put it in Chinese, “a mobile human flesh wall” since police might arrest you for writing on the wall. During the occupy protests, people pasted and wrote on the walls around the Legislative Council building with impunity.
Dr Jennifer Eagleton is an adviser to the University of Hong Kong’s “Designing Democracy Hong Kong” project. Her PhD analysed how Hong Kong talks about democracy. Image Credit: CC by johnlsl/Flickr.