Police officers fire tear gas during a demonstration against what activists say is police violence in Hong Kong on July 28, 2019. Photo: Anthony Wallace / AFP

The Hong Kong government has formally withdrawn the extradition bill, thus bowing to “people power” is an indication that democracy is alive and well in the special administrative region (SAR). More important, the “pro-democracy” protesters are living proof that the self-governing city did not lose any of its “freedoms” under British colonial rule and the Chinese central government has lived up to the Basic Law, the constitution that governs the former colony.

The protest leaders have further confirmed that Hong Kong not only maintained but increased freedom of expression after returning to China in 1997. Joshua Wong and two of his fellow “pro-democracy” leaders were allowed to travel abroad to preach their messages without repercussions. In 1967, the British colonial government invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, empowering the government to censure the media, making arrests and deportations and other harsh undemocratic measures to put down a “leftist riot” that was far less violent than what has been occurring in the SAR recently.

Wong and his cohorts should be thankful that they live in “increasingly repressive” Hong Kong. In much of the West, they would be publicly reviled or condemned by the people and possibly even prosecuted by the government for treason.

The protesters themselves are in fact hypocritical, demanding democracy but jeering and even inflicting violence on those who oppose their views, as shown in television coverage of the protests. In a democracy, opposing views are respected and debated, not met with threats or violence.

The protesters must also ask themselves which Western democratic country would allow protesters to wreak havoc on its economy for weeks and destroy private and public property without being arrested or even shot by law-enforcement officers. Which democracy-loving Western country would tolerate protesters carry out treasonous acts such as waving colonial and foreign flags, explicitly preferring that foreigners govern them instead of their own people?

The latest act by the protesters, asking the US and UK to “liberate” Hong Kong from “communist tyranny,” could be construed as treason, a serious crime for which those who commit it could be executed in the US and a few other countries.

In light of the protesters’ own unruly and violent actions, one cannot help but sympathize with the view of many Hongkongers that the protests have nothing to do with “democracy,” but are an attempt to provoke a Tiananmen Square-type crackdown.

However, like the Tiananmen Square crackdown in June 1989, the losers would be the protesters who were left behind to suffer the consequences. The leaders of the 1989 protests escaped (with the help of foreign powers) mainly to the West, where they received an education at the best universities and were treated like “heroes” by those countries’ anti-China politicians. But some paid a very high price, unable to return home and without a future, at least not the one that they were promised. Wang Dan, for example, drifting between Taiwan and the US preaching messages that no one wants to listen to except some media.

China, on the other hand, stabilized and prospered after the crackdown, its economy growing at an average annual rate of around 9% since 1989 and securing more and more countries to its side. Indeed, increasingly large numbers of people in China believed the crackdown was necessary and the right thing to do because they felt it was not a pro-democracy movement, but “traitors” acting for selfish gains. Had Deng Xiaoping not crushed the protests, many people in China have suggested, the country might not be as prosperous as it is today.

In this regard, the Hong Kong protesters should be careful what they wish for, as history is not on their side. Protests based on “manufactured occurrences” produce outcomes very different from what their participants expect, as the “6/4 incident” attested. China prospered because that incident was about corruption and inflation, and only turned into a “pro-democracy” movement because a few in China could be bought to fan the narrative.

The fact of the matter is that neither China nor Hong Kong has taken away the “rights or freedoms” that the colonial government is said to have bestowed on the city. In fact, China has increased the degree of freedom that Hong Kong enjoyed under British colonial rule.

On the complaints that the Hong Kong government is responsible for the protests because it has widened the rich-poor divide, worsened the housing crisis and economic plight of the young and reneged on political reform, it is more complicated than what the world is led to believe. History will testify that it was the “pan-democrats” in the Hong Kong Legislative Council who rejected the government’s offer of universal suffrage in electing the city’s chief executive during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” protests.

They also opposed the Hong Kong government’s intent to reclaim land from the sea, thus limiting the amount of land available to build social housing, in 2017. Coupled with developers withholding land, its supply decreased, causing the price of housing to skyrocket, and preventing the majority of Hong Kong people from buying a home. Without social housing, many were forced to live in “pigeonholes” or worse.

The protests made bad situations worse, wreaking havoc on the economy and society. Employment opportunities, particularly for the young, dropped significantly because the protests discouraged investment and harassing of mainland tourists reduced tourism.

Sadly, Hong Kong’s economy will most likely shrink further if not be pushed to the brink if the protests linger. The central government might or might not employ troops to curb the protests. Or, it might just leave Hong Kong to rot. Given the “6/4 incident” experience, either way the protesters will suffer the most.

The Tiananmen protest leaders who were able to escape left their “flock” to receive the wrath of the People’s Liberation Army. Many in fact escaped to Hong Kong hours before the crackdown took place and flew to the West shortly after, prompting many to suggest that the protesters were misled and used as sacrificial lambs. Those who were left behind faced economic hardship or worse, treated as sellouts by many.

The same fate could be in store for the vast majority of the current protesters if they do not end their misguided and senseless violence.

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