Riot police in Hong Kong are deploying tear gas and rubber bullets against at least 13,000 protesters demanding greater democratic reforms. The movement — dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” for the demonstrators’ use of umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas — is capturing the world’s attention and leading some analysts to wonder if the event could escalate into a broader push for greater democracy in the region.
A civil disobedience movement modeled on Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
In January of 2013, constitutional expert Benny Tai, frustrated with what he saw as the Chinese government’s reluctance to grant Hong Kong the political independence it had promised, called on residents to join a massive act of civil disobedience in Central, Hong Kong’s business and financial center. Joined by sociology professor Chan Kin-Man and the Rev. Chu Yiu-Ming, the trio sought to model the movement, they called Occupy Central, on Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
The push for greater autonomy and independence began after the United Kingdom transferred sovereignty over Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China in 1997. Under British rule, Hong Kong became a wealthy manufacturing center, with limited democratic freedoms unseen in mainland China. As part of the transfer-of-power negotiations, China agreed to a “one country, two systems” deal. Under those terms, Hong Kong can develop its own democracy without interference from the central government and in 2017 Hong Kong citizens are permitted to democratically elect their top leader who is currently appointed by Beijing.
The Chinese government, however, has repeatedly reinterpreted this agreement. In July, it released a White Paper reaffirming its “complete jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, adding that “the high degree of autonomy of [Hong Kong] is not an inherent power, but one that comes solely from the authorization by the central leadership.” In August, Beijing announced that “while citizens would be allowed to vote for the chief executive, the candidates for the election would have to be approved by a special committee just like the pro-Beijing committee that currently appoints the chief executive.”