Haynes: A Seattle journalist reports from Hong Kong’s battle for freedom

Oct 25, 2019, 7:18 AM
The umbrella has become an iconic part of Hong Kong protests. (Alexander Haynes) Police during protests in Hong Kong. (Alexander Haynes)

Alexander Haynes is an aspiring journalist raised in the northwest with a background in investigation and policy. He is a graduate of an internship program at KTSW 89.9 in San Marcos, Texas and will always have a new book recommendation for anyone who asks.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary in southern China. With over 7.4 million people of diverse nationalities in a 426 square mile territory, it is one of the most densely populated places in the world.

Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the Qing Dynasty ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War, and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898.

In 1997 Hong Kong was transferred to China as a special administrative region. As of today, Hong Kong maintains a separate governing and economic system from that of mainland China under the principle of “one country, two systems.”

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In June, Hong Kong’s protests started against proposals to allow extradition to mainland China. Critics feared this could undermine the city’s judicial independence and endanger those critical of mainland China.

Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong appointed by China, agreed to suspend the extradition bill, however, demonstrations developed to include demands for full democracy and an inquiry into police violence.

The extradition bill was withdrawn in September. Clashes between police and activists have become increasingly violent, with police firing live bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing petrol bombs in recent days.

The following is an account from Seattle citizen journalist Alexander Haynes, reporting on the ground in Hong Kong

There are some events in the world that are too important to simply ignore or even just scan. As someone with a journalism internship and a background in policy, the Hong Kong protests caught my attention almost immediately.

My interest began in early June, after seeing a video of Hong Kong police tackling a protester on Twitter. After speaking to residents on the ground, I knew I would need to find a way to Hong Kong so I could report on what was happening.

As more authoritarian governments across the globe continue to snuff out civil liberties, I know the results of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong will have a sizable impact on defining the next 100 years of history.

In the most simplistic terms, the Hong Kong protests have been a fight to maintain a future of freedom within the most powerful communist country of the 21st century.

Hong Kong is a financial center for the Asian world: A harbor country with eight universities, high rises that rival Manhattan, a network of intelligent youth, and imports and exports that are impressive for how small and tucked away the city is.

The generation of parents that are heading towards retirement have experienced the plethora of opportunity in Hong Kong; the youth breaking into those jobs have been unable to experience this. They wonder whether modern Hong Kong has a place for them in the coming decades, and this is what fuels much of the protest. Not just freedom, but economic need are key drivers to the youth movement on the streets.

Hong Kong has become predominantly reliant on tourism, specifically from mainland China. Financial firms have seen their shares overwhelmed by Chinese stakeholders. There is no more room to build houses, and Chinese firms have purchased what little stock is left, creating false scarcity and driving prices to exorbitant costs.

The common sentiment for the next generation is they will never own a house. Although China was set to absorb Hong Kong in 2047 — fifty years after an agreement for Britain to hand control back to China — that timetable has artificially and passionately escalated over the last six months.

These are the reasons that Hong Kong has generated months-long protests which still draw hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people to stand for their freedom against increasing aggression and corruption.

The brutal governmental response through the police force has only reasserted the opinion of the populace that freedom is at stake. As the demonstrations reach their fifth month, tear gas has been consistently utilized on any crowd. Anyone on the streets during a protest is a fair target to these police and are at risk of being attacked.

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Water cannons with blue dye spray protesters, citizens, journalists, and most recently, a mosque was randomly targeted. Protesters, feeling an urgent need to decry China, have begun to sack stores that support Chinese nationals (without stealing any merchandise) to make a statement to those corporations.

The press, while maintaining freedom, has been pushed into corners and pepper-sprayed. Search and seizure on anyone are the status quo, and the closure of the public transportation system at 10 p.m. every night has created the sense of quasi-martial law.

The state of fear in the October 2019 version of Hong Kong is something only very few, if any, saw coming. The mainland encroachment shook the average person in the territory back in 2014 during the initial umbrella protests – even then, Hong Kong turning into the present scene was unthinkable.

If it can happen here it can happen elsewhere.

The connection between Chinese money and the United States has become readily evident over the last few months as the NBA has been rocked by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey showing support for Hong Kong over Twitter.

In the following weeks, the American entertainment icon has lost millions, and to add insult to injury, the NBA was pressured to fire Morey for his offending characters by the Chinese government.

The NBA isn’t alone; from Google to Apple, corporate censorship has become the norm as the trade war extends into a battle on values like free speech. With the two largest corporations in the world, Seattle is not out of the loop, and in fact we are closer to Hong Kong than any other major American city.

In a world where technology is ever more connected and disinformation is amply passed around a controlled world with uncatchable speed, a new era of attacks on freedom have begun. This offers new opportunities to ensure freedom, but many more to snuff it out.

The Hong Kong story is of the utmost importance to freedom fighters around the globe. Stories an ocean away are telling for how the future of the world will be shaped, and Hong Kong specifically has historical implications for the geopolitical power struggle between the democracy based United States & authoritarian China.

You can follow Alexander Haynes’ reporting from the streets of Hong Kong on Twitter, @ACLHaynes – make sure to listen to The Saul Spady show every morning from 6-9am on 770 KTTH Pacific time for these types of stories and more.

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Haynes: A Seattle journalist reports from Hong Kong’s battle for freedom