If the Current Situation in Hong Kong Arose in the West

Hong Kong2.jpeg

The iconic Hong Kong skyline (Credit: Unsplash)

This article was written for The European Sting by a Chinese Visiting Scholar in Europe, Mr. Eric Wu. The opinions expressed herewith reflect exclusively the writer’s views.


Some Western countries have recently closely watched the situation in Hong Kong. Quite a few politicians and media outlets have made their comments. What is on earth happening? It is as well to look at it from a different angle. What would the U.S. and European countries do if they were confronted with a similar situation?

In terms of legislation, Western countries mostly have strict legal provisions about protests and demonstrations. In the U.S., the law requires that an application be filed with the police in advance for holding any demonstration, and it must be organized at the approved time, in the approved place and along the approved route. Offenders may face a fine or even a sentence of one year in prison. Protesters carrying items that can be used as weapon may face a maximum sentence of up to 10 years. American law focuses on maintaining the absolute authority of the police in the execution of official duties, and there is no cap on law enforcement against violence. In the course of performing duty, the police may use coercion against suspects for security reasons.

Similarly, France’s Anti-Riot Bill and penal code provide for the use of force by the police without warning in the event of violence against law enforcement personnel. Armed protesters risk up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros. Protesters are banned from covering their faces, and violators may face up to one year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros. The Police Act of the UK clearly stipulates that the police have the right to define the nature of an unlawful assembly and the right to clear the venue and use other means to ban the unlawful assembly. The laws mentioned above show that in Western countries, any protest or demonstration is under the strict control of the police, and the police’s right to enforce the law must be firmly upheld.

As for law enforcement, the police in Western countries mostly take strong measures against violent demonstrations. American police used tear gas and water cannons in the Occupy Wall Street movement that took place in 2011. French police used stun grenades and rubber bullets during the Yellow Vest movement. It is worth noting that, in all the cases from the London riots in 2011 to the Baltimore protests in 2015 and the recent Yellow Vest movement, Western governments authorized the military to intervene to maintain order and prevent escalation.

Major Western countries have imposed severe punishments on the participants in violent demonstrations. In the wake of the London riots in 2011, then Prime Minister David Cameron stressed the need to severely and quickly punish those involved in looting and arson, and proposed to deny the offenders and their families the right to government benefits. More than 1,300 people were arrested and over 300 sentenced, including one university student who was given a six-month sentence for stealing a bottle of mineral water from a store. In the Yellow Vest movement, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe repeatedly stressed that the violent protesters would be severely punished. Of the over 5,000 arrested people, more than 1,000 have been sentenced.

As far as public opinion is concerned, Western governments and media have a clear and consistent position on violence. For example, in the face of the Yellow Vest movement, the President, Prime Minister and even Cabinet Ministers of France publicly criticized the violence on many occasions, stressing that the government would not give in to violence. In response to the climate change protest in London in April this year, then Home Secretary Sajid Javid even urged the police to use the “full force of the law” to deal with protesters who “occupied” the streets of the city and told the police not to be “soft-hearted”. The mainstream media in the country actively supported the government’s position. The Daily Mail even directly referred to the protesters as “eco-mob”. All these provided a necessary public opinion environment for ending the violence rapidly.

The causes of the chaos in Hong Kong are complicated, but there is by no means excuse for violence. The whole world should apply the same standard when it comes to punishing violence and quelling riots. The rule of law must be upheld.

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