MSU students watch Hong Kong protest with eye on future

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Vicky Lee, a sophomore in human development and family studies at Michigan State University, had slept less than four hours in three days.
“Every time I am going to sleep, there is something big that happened there,” she said of the current protests in Hong Kong against the Chinese government concerning the procedure for electing the region’s chief executive.
She is one of about three dozen students from Hong Kong at MSU, according to its Office for International Students and Scholars.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has decided that Hong Kong residents can elect their chief executive from a field of two to three candidates in 2017. Before that election, however, candidates must get more than half the votes of a nomination committee.

The committee is made of representatives from different fields including industry, finance and religion.
“The committee can nominate whoever they want, but the point is: who chooses the committee” members? said Ryan Pun, the president of the Hong Kong Student Association and a senior in supply chain management.
He said he didn’t believe the committee members can truly represent the Hong Kong citizens because only a small number of them are elected directly. Thus the election law change cannot guarantee their voting rights.
“We are not really choosing the people that we want,” he said.
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when it was returned to China under an agreement that makes it a “special administrative region” subject to somewhat more liberal political and economic rules than the rest of the country.
Pun said Hong Kong people’s distrust of the central government can be traced back to the 1989 protests, during which the Beijing government ordered the military to evict students from Tiananmen Square after their weeklong democracy movement, which caused hundreds of deaths.
“That is when the Chinese government made Hong Kong people scared of it,” he said.
“Right now every year, they still have commemorations for the 1989 students protest,” he added.
William Chung, a master’s student in choral conducting, added, “From what we can see in the current constituency of that nomination committee, most people are pro-establishment, so we don’t think they sufficiently represent Hong Kong people’s political views.”
That’s why students in Hong Kong, who are mostly pro-democracy, say they’ve been boycotting classes since Sept. 22. The boycott developed into large-scale protests and its location has changed from the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong to the busiest and most prosperous thoroughfares in Hong Kong.
One of Lee’s friends, a 19-year-old college student in Hong Kong, didn’t join the strike at the Civic Square until a week after it started. Like this woman, a lot of Lee’s friends went there only after things “turned to be really bad. They realized if they don’t start to do something, it’s gonna get worse,” she said.
But they didn’t expect police to spray tear gas that exploded next to them, Lee said. “I really don’t understand why the police are using so much violence. They would say they are doing the proper work, but in my point of view, it doesn’t make sense to me.”
She said the protest has been an interesting experience for her friends. “All they say on Facebook is that ‘once you got in, you really don’t want to leave. And you know why people are there.’ When people doesn’t feel well, somebody would help them find a doctor” though they don’t know each other.
Chung said his friend, a professor in the Computer Science Department at Hong Kong Baptist University, supported the students by canceling his classes.
The professor is a good friend of a Hong Kong legislative council member and frequently went to his office in the government building, where the protests and sit-in took place, photographing the protest and uploading them onto the Internet to show what’s happening there.
Another friend of Chung, who is also on the Baptist University staff, was among the first protesters arrested.
Chung said his friend was released within 24 hours and went to the protest again. “I really appreciate his courage. Even after being arrested, he is still willing to go back and support the students again.”
Chung also said there are Facebook groups of people who translate information and statements from Chinese into other languages. “Two of my friends were in it. They help translate the statements issued by the Federation of Students into languages like German, French and even Finnish. They try to spread the news to the world to let the world know what’s happening in Hong Kong.
“There are a lot of people helping the movement in a lot of different ways, either at home through the Internet or by participating,” Chung added.
The three Hong Kong students said they don’t know how the movement will develop and when it will end, but they said they would continue supporting the protests by using their network to spread the news.
Chung said the long-term benefit of democracy is more important than the short-term economic effects.
“We see the importance of universal values over our economy. If that is something we must sacrifice, many people you see outside there are totally fine with it,” he said.

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