It continues to be the summer of unrest in the streets of Hong Kong as Hong Kongers enter their 13th consecutive week of protests. As an elite public university, Binghamton University and the greater BU community have a moral obligation to stand in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong in fighting against the influence of the Communist Party of China, which is encroaching on civil liberties and democracy in Hong Kong.
According to Gary Cheung, a contributor at the South China Morning Post, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 continue to cast a shadow over Hong Kong today. Throughout Hong Kong’s history, Hong Kong has always served as an origin of defiance and liberation. From Ho Chi Minh’s exile to Hong Kong in organizing communist revolutionaries across Asia to Sun Yat-sen in planning the overthrow the Qing Dynasty and setting up the Republic of China, Hong Kong continues to be the beacon of defiance and freedom in Communist China.
Being that our University serves as a host to hundreds of international Chinese students from Mainland China, we have an obligation to provide our international Chinese students with open access to uncensored news and information regarding the Hong Kong protests and pro-Democracy movements in China. According to Vox, Facebook has suspended content regarding the protests, which included content that compared demonstrators to ISIS fighters.
According to Zak Doffman, a contributor at Forbes, China pays Twitter to promote propaganda attacks on Hong Kong protesters, and so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the country’s influence on other social media platforms. With many of our international Chinese students receiving their news via WeChat, a multipurpose messaging and social media app popular in China, many of our international Chinese students may not have been exposed to the different arguments and perspectives regarding the Hong Kong issue. With limited access to media from WeChat or other popular social media platforms in Mainland China, I am concerned that many of our international Chinese students are not taking advantage of the freedoms offered to them here in the United States with access to freedom of speech and of the press.
One solution could lie in providing our international Chinese students with a forum or workshops to discuss controversial topics not mentioned in China. In doing so, I hope we can prevent a clash of ideas and beliefs and bridge a connection between our international student community and our student population. According to a news analysis piece in ABC News Australia, many international students felt isolated from Australian friendship circles and that it is contributing to the greater sympathy felt for the Communist Party of China. In the piece, the authors argue that “International education should be a two-way transaction, deep in its engagement and fluid in its ability to change as we change.” We want to engage with our international Chinese students and make them a part of our advocacy for human rights and freedom around the world. We want to share our democratic values and ideas with our international students and the Hong Kong protests serve as a perfect opportunity in doing so.
It is imperative that we provide a forum to educate students about how the protests in Hong Kong are an international human rights issue that will have big implications on us if we do not show our utmost solidarity for people fighting for democracy. Being one of the world’s major financial centers, a collapse in the stability and democratic foundations of Hong Kong will have huge effects on us as students who are studying to become future bankers, accountants, financiers, diplomats and economists.
Many of us take for granted the freedoms and civil liberties that we enjoy here in the United States. The youngsters in Hong Kong are risking their education, livelihoods and lives to defend the freedoms and civil liberties granted to them by the British when Britain ruled Hong Kong for more than 150 years until the Handover back to China in 1997. According to CNN, four people have taken their own lives in Hong Kong and are now labeled as heroes of the cause. The seeds of democracy have been sowed into the social fabric of Hong Kong society, and we as students must advocate for people around the world in their universal struggle for freedom and democracy.
At BU, we have a long history of student advocacy for defending the rights and freedoms of mankind. From student-led protests and boycotts against companies with ties to apartheid South Africa to protesting against police brutality, it is crucial that we continue to stand up for our brothers and sisters around the world who are fighting for freedom and democracy. Hong Kong is no exception.
Eric Lee is a senior double-majoring in economics and biochemistry.