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The Daily Tar Heel

Editorial: We value profit over democracy in Hong Kong

The Western world is not reacting properly to the months-long protests in Hong Kong. Is the time where we cared about —  or at least pretended to care about — the promotion of democracy over?

If you don’t know a lot about the protests in Hong Kong this summer, then I don’t blame you. It seems that most Western countries mainly focus its interests on other people in the Western hemisphere. Here is a short summary of the situation in the former British colony.

In 1997, after more than 150 years, the British agreed to hand over control of Hong Kong to China. The two countries came to the agreement that Hong Kong would have its own mini constitution called the Basic Law until 2047. The arrangement is known as "one country, two systems," and it stipulates that Hong Kong will keep its capitalist economic system, will have its own legal and legislative system and that people will have more rights and freedoms than in mainland China.

Yet, all foreign affairs and the legal interpretation of the Basic Law are controlled by China. It is unknown, and a controversial topic, as to what will happen in 2047 when the agreement ends.

There have been multiple demonstrations throughout the years aimed at the increasing Chinese control over Hong Kong. In 2014, the famous Umbrella Movement broke out following a legal decision that the Chinese Communist Party has the right to pre-screen all candidates for the Chief Executive, the leader of Hong Kong.

Similarly, in June this year new protests erupted after a bill allowing extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China was introduced. Both instances were seen as a violation of the Basic Law.

To sum it all up, Hong Kong residents got to experience democracy when under British rule, and are now slowly, but surely losing those rights.

The extradition bill ended up being withdrawn in September, but now the protesters demand a transition to full democracy. Over 25 percent of the nearly 7.5 million population have joined the demonstrations, which have been going on every single day for more than four months. In September, the protesters started waving American flags in hopes of Western intervention.

In the second half of October, the United States House of Representatives and Senate are expected to vote on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. The bill states that the U.S. State Department has to evaluate the human rights and democracy in Hong Kong every year, otherwise it will no longer enjoy the privilege of being treated separately from China when it comes to trade. Furthermore, it would make it possible to economically punish people responsible for extraditing Hong Kong citizens.

This bill would be a step in the right direction, and it is imperative that it is passed. But it is not enough. The Western democracies have allowed China to become too powerful. In this day and age, the Chinese can do whatever they want without consequences. We need world leaders to publicly and loudly condemn the violent and oppressive actions of the authorities in Hong Kong, and to invoke sanctions on China. 

Because of China’s great economic power, this has not happened. The only time someone really stood up for the Hong Kong citizens was when the general manager of the Houston Rockets tweeted about his support. The NBA immediately apologized and his critique was shut down. They were afraid of the economic repercussions China would inflict on them as a punishment for criticizing their system. Many NBA players spend time in the Chinese Basketball Association, whose strong relationship with the NBA could be impacted if coaches and players comment on the issue. 

As a consequence, no one dares to do so. But what happened to the historic American ideal of helping other countries become democratic? Here we have a population literally begging us to liberate them and we do absolutely nothing.

This shows how hypocritical the West can truly be. Every war we have ever fought in the Middle East has been initiated with the excuse of providing democratic rights for the people. The only reason Trump has defended the protesters in Hong Kong was so that he could use the critique as a political tactic in trade deal negotiations — purely selfish reasons. This narrative of going to war for democracy is a load of bull. 

Maybe it is time to admit that. If we don’t want to admit it, then we should do something about the Hong Kong situation. We can’t have it both ways.

People that are completely fine with only intervening in international relations if there is a self interest at stake, should also care about the protests. 

First of all, we need Hong Kong and their democratic institutions. The city works as a gate to the rest of China for international companies, because investors can trust their legal system to be independent.

Secondly, what is to stop China’s expansionist mission if we never act against it? Who says that Taiwan won’t be next? And then another defenseless Asian country? Will they ever stop?

More importantly, will we intervene? Or, will the Hong Kong protests be remembered as the time when the United States stopped fighting for others' democratic freedom?

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