As you may have heard, Hong Kong has seen lengthy, largely peaceful protests in favor of universal suffrage, which was promised in the agreement between the UK and China when the British government handed its territory back to China in 1997. When I was in Hong Kong in December, the Occupy Central sit-in protest had just ended.
Another protest rally occurred on Feb. 1, the same day the Hong Kong government announced the composition of the nominating committee for the next Chief Executive of the Special Autonomous Region.
I happened to walk right into the rally in Causeway Bay before it began as I was on my way out of Hong Kong to Shenzhen. I snapped these photos with my cellphone as i walked to the MTR station from the bus stop. The former reporter in me wanted to stay and watch, but I also needed to move along to my next destination, so I resisted the urge to whip out my camera and play the journalist.
The young woman at left is holding a sign that says in traditional Chinese characters, “I ask for the gift of universal suffrage. It’s a good beginning.” (Hong Kong uses traditional characters, not the simplified characters favored in the mainland.)
The yellow umbrella has become the symbol of the pro-democratic movement in Hong Kong. Student protesters used umbrellas during their sit-in of Central, Admiralty and other districts of Hong Kong to fend off tear gas attacks by police.
In this second photo, you can see someone holding a yellow umbrella. The man holds a sign that says, “We denounce Beijing breaking the faith, violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration, violating the ‘one nation, two systems’ principle.”
“One nation, two systems” refers to the mainland government’s official policy of treating Hong Kong and the former Portuguese colony of Macau as Special Autonomous Regions, allowing them (supposedly) more self-governance than the rest of China enjoys.
In practice, the official policy is more obscure. In the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the signatories agreed that there would be universal suffrage by the 2017 election of the Hong Kong chief executive, who serves alongside a quasi-representative Legislative Council (LegCo). That may yet happen, but the Beijing government has made it clear that only candidates that it approves will stand for election.
Pro-democracy factions in Hong Kong, however, consider this pre-approval a violation of the Joint Declaration. They want the entire Hong Kong voting public to nominate, and then elect candidates for the chief executive. The disagreement led to the Occupy Central movement, which lasted 79 days before the protesters agreed to disperse.
As I walked around Causeway Bay, one of the big tourist and shopping districts, protestors, media and police were everywhere. There were barricades for traffic and pedestrian control, too. It was all very orderly, and remarkably quiet, unlike noisy American protests.
According to the South China Morning Post, the rally was peaceful, but the turnout was less than expected. I expect the pro-democracy forces will keep up the pressure on the Hong Kong government, however.