Anh Cao shows his support for Hong Kong protesters at a rally at the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
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Opinion: Hong Kong protests are the American Revolution of the 21st Century

Waving the Stars and Stripes and singing the Star-Spangled Banner, the Hong Kong protesters beg President Trump to liberate Hong Kong.

Is it possible that Hong Kong is the American Revolution of the 21st century?

In fact, like the American Revolution, which was described in detail by Gordon S. Wood’s “The American Revolution: A History,” the Hong Kong protest is a fight for democracy. However, this fight for democracy is a fight that neither the Chinese nor Hong Kongers would risk transforming into a war for independence due to its geography, international support, and economy.

Thus, despite the similar ideals of democracy that fueled both movements, the Hong Kong movement is not and also cannot be one headed for independence the way the American Revolution evolved to become. 

In 1997, the British prime minister signed a contract with China releasing Hong Kong as a British colony and formally establishing China’s agreement to “one country, two systems,” according to Vox. Yet during the 22 years that followed, China has always had a say in who the chief-executive is, with the current one being the Beijing hand-picked Carrie Lam.

Beijing’s alleged reneging on an agreement to grant Hong Kongers open elections led to the Umbrella Movement in 2014, which, like the Boston Tea Party, served as a previous spark of the ongoing protest according to Kirby.

The Hong Kong Legislative Council, or the LegCo, is also dominated by pro-Chinese members including numerous corporations and is very much reminiscent of what the Coercive Acts entailed: that all government officials should be approved by the higher government, in this case, the Chinese Communist Party. In addition, China has control over Hong Kong’s military forces.

Kirby also added that China has required students to learn Mandarin instead of Cantonese at schools. China has caused the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers with alleged treasonous material. The list goes on.

Like the Tea Act, the extradition bill that the council recently presented was merely another symbol of China’s encroachment of the British contract, and most importantly, of Hong Kong’s democracy. These parallels show that built up resentment over this denial of democracy serves as the fuel for both the American Revolution and the Hong Kong protests. 

Hong Kong’s geographic and military vulnerability, however, does not mean that China can quickly resort to military control over it, and this is largely due to international pressure. Nevertheless, it is uncertain if international pressure would be sufficient.

During the American Revolution and after France lost to Britain during the Seven Years War, the French joined the American army while the Spanish allied with the French because of territorial issues with Britain. Today, democratic countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States are idealistically invested in supporting a democratic Hong Kong when China is authoritarian, but there exists no truly tangible pressing reason or consequence for them to be involved, according to Tony Cheung of South China Morning Post.

Cheung furthered that the United Kingdom has requested “substantial dialogue” with the Chinese government, and Trump threatened to impose economic sanctions on China, and Congress has passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which allows the US to investigate Hong Kong’s autonomy issue.

However, no one has spoken up to provide Hong Kong direct aid, and it is unsure as to whether those requests for dialogue, potential economic sanctions, and plans to investigate, together with media coverage, would be strong enough to stop China from continuing with the encroachment upon the freedoms of the Hong Kong people. 

Besides, neither the Chinese nor the Hong Kongers can make a move due to their economic interdependence. True, the Americans rebelled against the British Empire despite mutual economic interdependence, which, according to Wood, included the increasing British demand for food and raw materials from the Americans that led to soaring prices of those American exports and raised the standard of living in the colony

However, the Americans were willing to risk their economy for democracy because simultaneously the British were imposing immense taxes on the Americans without their representation in government affairs. Although Great Britain was the largest global power in the western world at the time, Wood wrote that America could also afford independence because it itself had a lot to offer to other economic partners, especially considering its landmass and population.

China and Hong Kong, on the other hand, are unquestionably more interdependent than America and the British Empire were. For China, Hong Kong acts as a gateway for foreigners to invest in.

According to Reuters, Hong Kong’s freedom of expression and judiciary have made it a gateway to China’s economy by creating a reliable market where foreign investors can confidently buy mainland stocks. Over half and even double of mainland’s own initial public offerings belongs to Hong Kong, Hong Kong is China’s biggest trading partner in services, and Chinese banks’ investment in Hong Kong also contributes to 9% of China’s GDP.

If Hong Kong were to be independent, it will take away a lot of opportunities and profits from Chinese state-run corporations. In addition, according to Hong Kong’s Trade and Industry Department, mainland China is Hong Kong’s main destination for domestic exports, and is also the biggest supplier of imports for Hong Kong, according to Reuters.

Those statistics revealed that if Hong Kong broke ties with China, they would lose almost half of their trade, and the economic impact is already evident seeing the dropping value of the Hong Kong dollar, the sharp decline in tourism, and the overall economic crisis.

Foreign investments still prefer Hong Kong over China because of the opacity of Chinese law and government, while Hong Kong depends on China for its economy since most of its income involves investment and transactions instead of actual manufacturing or natural resources they can offer to the outside world. It is unlikely that they will be able to operate without each other as the Americans and the British could.

In theory, the Hong Kong protest and the American Revolution were both a fight for democracy under long-term oppression. In reality, however, Hong Kong’s disadvantage in geography, lack of foreign aid, and interdependence with the Chinese economy make the Hong Kong protest very unlikely to become the beginning of Hong Kong’s independence.

Like the American Revolution when the Americans rebelled against the British due to a series of unjustified acts and taxation without representation, the Hong Kong people are protesting against the unjust laws, bills, and government that the Chinese have imposed on them.

Unlike the American Revolution, Hong Kong is a small area directly adjacent to China, Hong Kong does not have military assistance from other countries in the world, and Hong Kong and China depend more heavily on each other than the American colonists and the British ever did.

It is important to realize that war, especially one that is likely to lead to vain and staggering casualties, is best to be avoided, yet Hong Kong’s democratic ideals should not be ignored. While they might not be able to bring about a revolution against the Chinese government physically, their spirit should be valued as much as the American voices during the Revolution.

The Hong Kong protest, regardless of its outcome, has already influenced the world, its dynamics and values, and will continue to do so just like the Revolution that is undoubtedly still relevant today.