Opinion: Hong Kong Protesters Might Bother Tourists, Or Pierce Their Conscience

Aug 17, 2019
Originally published on August 17, 2019 4:21 pm

It may be strange for tourists to land in Hong Kong to find throngs of impassioned protesters. They might wonder: What do they expect me to do about the Chinese government?

Tourists come from all over the world to see the elegantly industrious city-state.

"It is like a cauldron," Jan Morris wrote in her book Hong Kong, "seething, hissing, hooting, arguing, enmeshed in a labyrinth of tunnels and overpasses, with those skyscrapers erupting everywhere into view, with those ferries churning and hovercraft splashing and great jets flying in."

But there are also visitors coming to Hong Kong from China's mainland. They are citizens of a country in which they have no political freedom and little uncensored information, and live under threat of imprisonment if they dissent.

They come from the country the Hong Kong protesters don't want to be their future; even as they know each day brings them closer to 2047, when Hong Kong is to be absorbed into the whole of China.

President Trump is vocal when he decries China's trade policies. "China was killing us with unfair trade deals," he said again this month.

But he has not raised his voice against China's human rights crimes, including the mass detention of Chinese Uighurs in reeducation camps or the widespread imprisonment of political dissidents.

To be sure, even those U.S. and world leaders who criticize China about human rights have been reluctant to risk losing any of the lucrative trade with the country. Their moral indignation has mostly stayed rhetorical.

But when Trump was asked about the protests in Hong Kong this week, he once more praised Chinese President Xi Jinping as "a very great leader" and called for a "happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem" — which seems to say protesters are "the problem" — not China's increasingly steely rule of a place to which it had promised autonomy for 50 years.

I think a reason protesters descended on Hong Kong's vast international airport was to appeal personally to people from all over the world. Their protest might have inconvenienced tourists. But it might also pierce their conscience and make them consider if China's vast wealth can buy the silence of the world.

The protesters have made a song from Les Misérables, a Western musical, their anthem as they sing, "Who will be strong and stand with me?"

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It may be strange for tourists to land in Hong Kong to find throngs of impassioned protesters. They might wonder, what do they expect me to do about the Chinese government?

Tourists come from all over the world to see the elegantly industrious city-state. It is like a cauldron, Jan Morris wrote in her book "Hong Kong," seething, hissing, hooting, arguing, enmeshed in a labyrinth of tunnels and overpasses with those skyscrapers erupting everywhere into view, with those ferries churning and hovercraft splashing and great jets flying in.

But there are also visitors who come to Hong Kong from China's mainland. They're citizens of a country in which they have no political freedom, little uncensored information and live under threat of imprisonment if they dissent. They come from the country the Hong Kong protesters don't want to be their future, even as they know each day brings them closer to 2047, when Hong Kong is absorbed into the whole of China.

President Trump is vocal when he decries China's trade policies. China was killing us with unfair trade deals, he said again this month. But he's not raised his voice against China's human rights crimes, including the mass detention of Chinese Uighurs in reeducation camps or the widespread imprisonment of political dissidents.

To be sure, even those U.S. and world leaders who criticize China about human rights have been reluctant to risk losing any of the lucrative trade between the two countries. Their moral indignation has mostly stayed rhetorical. But when President Trump was asked about the protests in Hong Kong this week, he once more praised China's President Xi as a very great leader and called for a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem, which seems to say protesters are the problem, not China's increasingly steely rule of a place to which it has promised autonomy for 50 years.

I think a reason protesters have descended on Hong Kong's vast international airport is to appeal personally to people from all over the world. Their protest might inconvenience tourists, but it might also pierce their conscience and make them consider if China's vast wealth can buy the silence of the world.

The protesters have made a song from "Les Miserables," a Western musical, their anthem, as they sing, who will be strong and stand with me?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing) It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again. When the beating of your heart echoes the beating of the drums, there is a life about to start when tomorrow comes. Do you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.