When students finally stood up in Hong Kong a month ago, tens of thousands around the world stood up with them. From demonstrations outside the Chinese embassies in London and Paris to the rallies in Taipei and Montreal, the world rose up in support of the protestors swarming the streets of Central and Admiralty. Across the United States, students on college campuses from Caltech to Williams held solidarity protests, with some even flying back to Hong Kong to take part in the revolt.
There is a remarkably diverse group of people that believes Hong Kong’s protests should be limited to the city’s inhabitants, and that no one not directly oppressed by the government of CY Leung should stand up for free elections in the Pearl of the Orient. The argument goes that those outside of Hong Kong, members of the Chinese diaspora or not, have no stake in the city’s future and thereby should stay out of its internal affairs.
The truth is that when the Chinese government signed their 1997 handover agreement with the British, they made people across the entire world – whether Chinese or British, French or American, Australian or Indonesian — have a defining stake in whether or not democracy comes to Hong Kong. Despite incredible efforts exerted by the government of Xi Jinping to claim otherwise, the Occupy Central movement is not a matter of internal Chinese politics; in fact, the Hong Kong protests have less to do with the development of democracy in China than with the idea that governments everywhere must keep their word to their people.
In 1997, the handover agreement between China and the U.K. put into writing the promise that 20 years after Hong Kong fell into Chinese hands, the Chinese government would allow free and open elections in the city, a promise repeated by Chinese leaders time and time again in the years leading up to 2017. Fundamentally, the issue behind the Occupy Central protests is whether or not citizens – not only in China, but everywhere — have a right to be secure in their lives and minds, to know that the people entrusted with their safety and security have not lied to them about their future.
This idea that governments cannot brazenly mislead their people is a global sentiment. It is the reason why Americans were outraged at Benghazi, Iran-Contra, and the Iraq War. It is the reason why the entire western world erupted in anger over government surveillance. And it is the reason why protestors in cities around the world have taken to the streets in support of free elections for Hong Kong.
The lack of free elections in Hong Kong threatens to set yet another dangerous precedent for governments to renege on agreements with their citizens, and it is because of this that Hong Kong’s fight for democracy is about not only the future of the island, but the future of governance.
Written by Mason Wong.