Hong Kong Lawmakers Shout Down the City’s Leader

Nicholas L Shimanek

Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, was set to unveil a plan for real estate reform in front of the city’s legislators on the 16thof October.

Protests have been occurring for several months in the semi-autonomous city, initially sparked by a highly controversial extradition treaty that would bring Hong Kong prisoners into China.

The protesters are demanding universal suffrage in Hong Kong, a third-party investigation into the violence committed by police, and pardons for all the protesters who have been arrested. Some are also demanding the end to the one-party system and even the full independence of Hong Kong.

Xi Jinping, the leader of China proper, made his position regarding the final demand clear when he stated that “Anyone who attempts to split any region from China will perish, with their bodies smashed and bones ground to powder.”

Carrie Lam has stated that amnesty for the protesters would be illegal, and that universal suffrage is outside of her power.

The young population of Hong Kong are finding it increasingly difficult to find housing in a city with some of the highest costs of living and real estate in the world. The speech that Lam intended to give in person addresses this problem through a new plan to seize private housing in the city and to instead turn it into affordable public housing.

Unexpectedly, the hall in which she was supposed to give her speech erupted in thunderous shouting, forcing her to give the speech through video after two failed attempts to announce her new policy.

This event adds to the legitimacy and impact of the anti-Chinese protesters in Hong Kong, forcing the government to be reactive rather than proactive. The amount of resistance to the pro-Beijing administration headed by Carrie Lam is increasing and becoming more powerful.

Lawmakers held placards showing Lam laughing with her hands up, edited to appear as though her hands are stained with blood. This image appears to have originate from a slogan being spread by protesters, roughly translated to mean ‘The police and Carrie Lam have blood on both of their hands”. A projector displayed Lam’s face accompanied by more pro-democracy slogans.  Another lawmaker donned a paper mask displaying the face of China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

Xi Jinping has been very sensitive about the use of his image, especially on the internet. Some Chinese internet users have even been arrested for sharing and creating memes that compare the leader of China to the popular cartoon character Winnie the Pooh. These jokes, along with general mockery of Mr. Xi, are illegal in China. The protester who donned this mask also committed a crime by wearing a mask in the first place, as wearing masks in public places is illegal in Hong Kong.

Amidst the shouting voices calling for Lam’s resignation and the fulfillment of their five major demands, someone began to use speakers to play a recording of protesters suffering from the effects of tear gas. Their screaming and shouting were used to reaffirm their claim that the police have been far too brutal in their attempts to control the protests.

Hong Kong police have also used fire hoses, rubber bullets and have even fired live rounds into crowds – resulting in two known deaths. Images of protesters who have lost eyeballs and fingers in the chaos have become viral among internet users who are pro-Hong Kong. Police actions against mosques have grown more aggressive as well, and the meeting places of other religious minorities have been targeted because of the tendency for religious people in Hong Kong to empathize towards the protesters.

American iconography, and even songs like the Star-Spangled Banner, are being used by the protesters to represent Democracy. However, they have not received much support from Americans themselves. One notable exception is the General Manager for the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey. He tweeted an image that said, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” This caused a massive backlash that has caused the Chinese government to become extremely upset with Morey and the NBA itself.

Recently, Shaquille O’Neal has defended Morey’s statements. Shaq, as one of the most famous basketball players perhaps of all time, stands out amongst the crowd that is either remaining silent about Morey’s tweet or openly condemning it. Adam Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA, affirmed that Morey won’t receive any punishment for his tweet. He also confirmed that the Chinese government asked the NBA to fire Morey.

The NBA is particularly relevant to this issue because of basketball’s widespread viewership in both Hong Kong and China. The Houston Rockets are particularly popular because of Yao Ming, a 7’6” Chinese native who played for them. He has become something of a hero for basketball fans in China, and the team that is most closely associated with him has been given a similar reputation.

Many celebrities such as LeBron James openly defend the actions of China. Furthermore, James stated that free speech often has negative consequences, implying that his peers should watch their mouths in the future. He is Joined by James Harden of the Houston Rockets, who directly apologized to China after Morey’s tweet gained international attention.

Despite being entirely unwilling to address the specific demands of the protesters, the government of Hong Kong has decided to tackle their lack of living space, perhaps largest problem of their city. Protesters however are not happy with this small concession and continue to demand that the government there should reform itself.

There is a strong possibility this move will only benefit government-funded agencies, gifting them upwards of $5 billion in free real estate. The plan is to buy up living spaces from landlords who aren’t renting out their spaces at maximum capacity and handing over the property to a pro-government firm that would house as many people as possible. Carrie Lam’s policy may not help house all the people who are making sacrifices by living in more crowded spaces, and it will certainly not be enough for the protesters.