(Updated) As thousands participate in pro-democracy protests on the other side of the world — people here are watching what’s happening in Hong Kong very closely.
Right now, the demonstrators — most of them young students — are stockpiling supplies and erecting barricades because they fear a push by police before ‘National Chinese Day’ which is tomorrow.
Just to give you some perspective of just how big this protest is, this drone footage has gone viral.
The crowds are filling the streets in front of the stock exchange, central government offices and Hong Kong police headquarters.
The reason the protesters are standing their ground is because Beijing isn’t backing down from its decision to pre-approve all candidates for Hong Kong’s leadership in the upcoming 2017 election.
The pre-approval process pretty much makes it impossible for anyone criticizing the Chinese government to get on the ballot.
And today, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said the protests are illegal and are jeopardizing social stability and peace.
While the situation in Hong Kong has been ongoing for days now, the rest of us are just catching up. Images like the one we just showed, along with video of protesters facing tear gas this past weekend are causing people to take notice. We talked with a few who are doing what they can here.
After nearly a week of protests, Hong Kong is peaceful, for the night. And they’re reaching out to the west.
Hong Kong protester: “You have free election rights, but we don’t. Please help us. Please spread the news to all over the world.”
And today on the campus of McMaster University, students from Hong Kong are relaying that message.
Benz Tsz Kiu Kwok: HK alliance president: “If we don’t do it now, we may not have the chance to do it in the future.”
Benz Tsz Kiu Kwok is a mathematics student and a member of the Hong Kong student alliance. Seeing people his own age, facing tear gas for a peaceful protest in his home, brought him to action: “People in China are suffering. They don’t have the right to protest. They don’t have the right of speech. But we do.”
So students here are handing out pamphlets, yellow ribbons to symbolize safety, and collecting signatures to send to the protesters.
Adele So: “We know in Canada, we can’t do anything physically to help them, but they need emotionally support.”
But as the protests continue back in Hong Kong and right here, people from the area and experts will tell you that this is about more than a municipal election. This is about a promise that was made nearly 20 years ago.
When power over Hong Kong was transferred from Great Britain to China in 1997, it came with conditions.
Charles Burton: “20 years later, they would allow for a free and fair election of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.”
According to Charles Burton, the world had expected China to be democratic within 20 years. Now there is fear that this could end like the disaster at Tiananmen Square: “Well, there are very striking similarities.”
Burton says that the students are asking for something that they are unlikely to achieve, but it doesn’t appear that they are going anywhere soon.
One difference is that back in 1989 we didn’t think that the government of China would go so far as to violently suppress the protest
Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron is now speaking out about this because he says certain promises were made about Hong Kong’s democracy when Britain handed over Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997: “When we reached the agreement with China, there were details of that agreement about the importance of giving the Hong Kong people a democratic future within this two systems approach that we were setting out with the Chinese. So of course I am deeply concerned about what is happening and I hope that this issue can be resolved.”
The protests are being closely watched Taiwan. The island of Taiwan is not far from Hong Kong’s coast and it has full democracy. However, it’s considered by the Chinese government as a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland one day. Today, Taiwan’s opposition party voiced its support with the protesters.
Joseph Wu, Taiwan Democratic Progressive Party: “Fundamental rights, such as the freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression, should be protected.”
Taiwan has ruled itself since Chinese nationalists fled there after being defeated by communists in a civil war in 1949.