By: Pooja Gundimeda
The people of Hong Kong have been protesting for months now in response to the extradition bill proposed by the local government. The bill would have allowed for criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland, posing a major threat to democracy as the bill could be used to target activists speaking against the Chinese government. Protests against the extradition bill began in June 2019 and continue today. Outside of stopping the severe police brutality and thousands of civilian arrests ensuing from the protests, there are two main reasons why China should act quickly to stop the unrest: the economic downturn resulting from the protests and negative attention towards China via foreign media influencers.
The Hong Kong protests have directly resulted in detrimental economic effects on China’s large retail and tourism sectors. Despite the region historically bringing in significant revenue, tourists are choosing not to visit Hong Kong at the rates they once used to, due to the protests and concerns about safety. The five months of violence and vandalism in Hong Kong has caused the city’s economy to tank, and Hong Kong officially entered a recession in October. This is problematic because the wellbeing of China’s economy affects other economies worldwide. If this economic downturn continues, experts say that the Chinese stock market would likely crash, followed by the housing market, which would undoubtedly impact economic wellbeing around the world.
Additionally, since the protests began, foreign media influencers have spoken out on social media platforms in support of the Hong Kong protesters; drawing more attention to the protests. As a result, China has been quick to censor content from the foreign media. One censorship that gained significant media coverage and caused outrage was that of YouTuber PewDiePie. The famous YouTuber made a video criticizing the country’s brutal treatment of political protesters in Hong Kong. In response, in an attempt to lessen any further attention to the protests, China has been censoring media from PewDiePie and other international public figures who have expressed support for Hong Kong and those protesting.
The core of the censorship problem stems from the Chinese governments’ desire to control the narrative about what is happening in Hong Kong. Because China’s government is authoritarian, its citizens have limited freedom to express their thoughts about the rulership due to the degree of plurality held. The Chinese government has justified its censorship and the harsh treatment of dissenters by casting the media influencers speaking in support of the Hong Kong protesters as a threat to Chinese ideology.
Although the Chinese government has chosen censorship as a tactic to control the image of Hong Kong, this is not the route China should be taking. China must stop the censorship of foreign media influencers as it is only making the situation worse and strengthens the country’s authoritarian image. These actions have brought more attention to the issues in Hong Kong, because of the resulting outrage as more people become aware of the injustice. As a result, the protests have arguably become more public, in turn hurting the economy and tourism in Hong Kong. Thus, it is in China’s best interest to address protester’s concerns in order to stop negative attention and to mitigate the economic downturn.
To stop the wide-ranging economic effects of the Hong Kong situation and deter negative press, China must focus on the core of the issue: the protests. One of the protesters’ main demands is the right to choose leaders in a democratic fashion. If government officials adhere to this demand, one of the five requested, the turmoil would be closer to ending. Subsequently, with protests dwindling, we could eventually see major industries, including tourism, begin to recover. Considering that China is one of the biggest players in the world’s economy, it is crucial that political change occurs in Hong Kong. Additionally, by addressing protester demands, attention from foreign media influencers will lessen and slow the flux of negative sentiment towards China. Though at first glance the main consequence of the Hong Kong protests seems to be physical damage, their influence is much larger and has consequences for the world economy.