Editorial: Obama should show support for Hong Kong


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If you spent this weekend watching football games, you probably noticed the high influx of political advertisements. The November elections are approaching, and candidates are blowing the last cash in their electoral funds. As students probably muted the television and waited for the commercials to be over, most probably don’t realize how lucky they are to have the freedom of direct elections.
More than 7,700 miles across the Pacific Ocean, students in Hong Kong are fighting for this same right.

Hong Kong became a part of the People’s Republic of China in 1997, ending a long period of British rule. While technically under the umbrella of China, Hong Kong is a remarkably different place in which citizens experience freedoms unheard of in mainland China. Hong Kong has freedom of press and easier access to countries in Europe and North America. After all, this was Edward Snowden’s first choice to flee to.

When China’s Standing Committee of National People’s Congress released its decision on electoral procedures this September, Hong Kong’s rich culture of freedom became endangered. The new policy dictates that three candidates would be selected by a special committee. The public would be allowed to vote on these candidates, but the winner would still need to be vetted by the central government.

In other words, the government is playing the same game with its citizens as parents play with their 3-year-old children. The options for dinner are broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots. The Kids get to choose, but one way or another, they are going to eat veggies that night.

The result has spiraled into what is now referred to as the Umbrella Revolution. The umbrellas have come into play because protesters have used them to shield themselves from pepper spray. Led by a group called Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the protesters, who are mainly students, are demanding Hong Kong return to a full democracy. The method championed here is that of civil disobedience. On Oct. 4, thousands of protesters gathered in Hong Kong’s business district and packed the streets, preventing the passage of any vehicles.

This clear confrontation between freedom and authoritarian control puts the United States in a sticky situation.

Writing an opinion piece on McClatchyDC last week, President Obama addressed America’s role in promoting freedom abroad. In it the president wrote, “We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom … we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come.” Certainly, the United States has a history of vocally and militarily supporting democratic movements around the world.

Yet on this case, so far, America seems muted. The American consulate in Hong Kong released a statement declaring that, “we do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development … nor do we support any particular individual or groups involved in it,” Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry iterated America’s position on “universal suffrage,” but has not gone further.

Economically, both countries have too much at stake here. China holds over $1.3 trillion in U.S. treasury bonds. That’s a lot of our debt. China is also our second- largest trading partner, right after Canada. It’s easy to see how Obama may be hesitant to build on any tensions.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that while any criticism of the situation in Hong Kong may be politically inconvenient, a strongly worded statement from Obama could go a long way in the momentum for democracy on the streets of the city. Just as the president wrote, we must be a leader in standing for freedom worldwide. The United States can show the world that we are not hypocrites; we stand for freedom, even if it isn’t easy.  

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