A Pathway to Peace

For nearly a year Hong Kong has been facing a growing number of seemingly insurmountable challenges. A U.S.- China trade war, an ongoing stream of anti-government protests, and a global pandemic have all pushed Hong Kong’s economy and political stability closer and closer to the cliff’s edge. Like many of you, I have grown rather pessimistic and can no longer state with absolute certainty that this will all pass, that our lives will soon get to catch even a glimpse of normality. However, I refuse to believe that there is no path forward, that Hong Kong will inevitably meet a disastrous end. There is a way out for Hong Kong; it all comes down to how willing people are to put their differences aside and compromise. In my view, Hong Kong will find the peace it desperately needs as long as the following conditions are met:

Anti-government movement

  1. They must cease all forms of violence at once. This approach is not only utterly anti-democratic, but it also polarizes a society whose divisions cannot be stretched any further.
  2. They must peacefully raise their concerns about Beijing’s policies, but never take their anger out on law-abiding Mainland citizens. Targeting mainlanders simply because of their origin will only perpetuate the conflict. We all become better citizens (and better people) when we embrace diversity.
  3. They must uphold true democratic values. In a democracy, factions cannot hope to impose their will at all costs. Virtually by definition, democracies strive to integrate different viewpoints. Protesters need to accept that there are people out there who don’t share their ideology.
  4. They must look into the future and never into the past. Reminiscing about Hong Kong’s colonial past is not only foolish but it also undermines the movement’s supposed democratic character; there is nothing democratic about being a colony. Hongkongers will prevail as long as they fight for what this city can be, not for what it once was.

Governments of Hong Kong and China

  1. They must actively listen to the people’s demands. Most observers will agree that the conflict’s origins largely emanate from a widespread lack of trust, and this lack of trust is nothing but the result of the city’s and China’s failure to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition. The government is not required to give in to every single demand, but it has the moral obligation to address the opposition’s anxieties for the sake of Hong Kong’s stability.
  2. Regarding the nation’s symbols and identity, they must educate, not impose. Under the “one country, two systems” framework, it is legitimate for the governments of Hong Kong and China to pursue any piece of legislation aimed at consolidating China’s national identity. However, punishing those who believe that the flag and anthem don’t represent them is an act of futility that will only drive people further away from China.
  3. They must offer solutions. Carrie Lam’s biggest failure has been her inability to propose a path forward for Hong Kong. After nearly a year of political instability and economic recession, the Chief Executive’s plan for the city remains unclear.
  4. They must be bold. As of today, the most unlikely solution to the conflict is also the most effective and politically powerful: China should commit to “one country, two systems” beyond the 2047 deadline or maybe even indefinitely. Unlike what many skeptics believe, this framework has brought much progress to both China and Hong Kong. The perceived inadequateness of the system is merely the result of its mistaken association with the opposition’s grievances. Although not completely unfounded, their fears have largely emerged as a result of not knowing what China has planned for Hong Kong beyond 2047. A written, legally-binding commitment on the part of Beijing to keeping the current system in place permanently would undoubtedly send a strong, positive message to the people of Hong Kong.

Western governments, media, and other foreign interests

  1. They must show respect for China’s political process. As a sovereign nation, China has the right to rule over its territory however it pleases. Foreign interference would only be appropriate if there was clear, tangible evidence that China’s policies towards Hong Kong were detrimental to human rights.
  2. They must steer away from misinformation. Western media outlets have spent nearly a year telling the world one side of the story. By ignoring street violence and the doxing many have suffered for speaking out against the anti-government movement, Western media outlets have whitewashed the movement’s most radical elements and deliberately constructed an image of Hong Kong that does not fully correspond to the city’s reality.
  3. They must stop viewing Hong Kong as simply a tool to gain political leverage. Today, the dreams and aspirations of millions of Hongkongers are being threatened as foreign actors consider targeting the city’s economic engines in order to pressure the central government. In doing so, however, they seem to ignore the sheer size of the Chinese economy and the fact that the only victims of a foreign crackdown on the city’s economy will be the people of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong has proven to be quite resilient, but the city cannot be embroiled in a permanent state of crisis. The people of Hong Kong must band together for peace.

And the Expected Happened

Yesterday I wrote on this blog that Donald Trump’s rhetoric has been tapping into the ignorance and fears of many of his supporters. When someone running for public office relies on these two factors rather than on actual policy to be his campaign fuel, the canister is bound to spill and catch fire. That is exactly what happened today inside a campus pavilion at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Donald Trump was getting ready to speak at one of his rallies when the expected happened. Anti-Trump protesters and a group of his supporters clashed in the middle of the rally. There was yelling, shoving, sign-ripping, and insults flying in all directions. Trump had to call out the event, but was later faced with yet another disturbance at a rally in Dayton, Ohio, where members of the Secret Service were forced to lead Mr. Trump out of the premises. The result? Three people injured and at least five arrested by the authorities in Chicago. So, there you have it, folks. This is the culmination of months of hate-filled campaigning and name-calling. I honestly believed that Donald Trump had lowered the bar of what is (un)acceptable in politics to its lowest point, but I was wrong. I will give him credit for never ceasing to surprise me.

Secret Service agents surround U.S. Republican presidential candidate Trump during a disturbance as he speaks at Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio
Secret Service agents surround U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a disturbance as he speaks at Dayton International Airport in Dayton, Ohio, March 12, 2016. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Jokes aside, what happened today should have us all very concerned. How did we get here? Why did we allow it? This is not what the political discourse of a seemingly advanced democracy should look like. It is great to have both Democrats and Republicans debating and arguing over policy. That’s what democracy is all about. How dull would everything be if only one voice could be heard? But what Trump represents has nothing to do with politics or the diversity of a healthy political system. He represents demagoguery, hypocrisy, and yes, even political violence. Trump has, intentionally or not, ignited a flame that will take years to put out. His dreadful campaign strategy may or may not take him to the White House, but his ideas will remain embedded in our society for a long, long time.

There is a silver-lining to the terrible events of today, though. I would suggest you all keep a close look on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, because I wouldn’t be surprised if soon you start reading articles about Donald Trump’s poll numbers beginning to drop considerably after this. The image of Donald Trump being escorted out of his Ohio rally while hundreds of people clashed in Chicago in an outcry of violence, and on the same day, won’t be easily erased from the memory of his campaign manager.