More than two dozen activists marched in Westwood Village on Saturday in solidarity with pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
The march in Westwood, organized by Free China Movement, a pro-democracy activist group founded two weeks ago, supported not only the Hong Kong protests, but also democracy in mainland China and the recognition of Taiwan.
Participants carried umbrellas, a symbol of democracy protests in Hong Kong, as well as signs in English and Chinese denouncing the Chinese Communist Party, through the Village on their way to the Wilshire Federal Building.
“To the young students protesting in Hong Kong, we Hongkongers in the USA, we support you,” said Yunjun Xiao, a Hong Kong businessman who participated in the march, through an interpreter. “And (the) opposition party, (China Democracy Party), our group will also support you.”
The Hong Kong government proposed a bill in March to allow the extradition of individuals from Hong Kong, which has a semi-autonomous democratic government, to mainland China. The move raised concerns among Hongkongers of overreach by the Chinese government. It is estimated that more than 1.7 million people, about a quarter of Hong Kong’s population, have paralyzed the region in massive demonstrations since June.
The protests have centered around five demands: withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry into police conduct, retraction of the characterization of the protests as “riots,” amnesty for arrested protesters and genuine universal suffrage. The first demand was met when Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, and Hong Kong’s legislature officially withdrew the bill in October.
Xiao, who has lived in the United States for a year, participated in the Umbrella Movement in 2014, a series of protests in Hong Kong sparked by an attempt by the Communist Party to control the chief executive seat of the special administrative region. Although the proposed electoral reform was rejected, Lam, a pro-Beijing politician, won the traditionally pro-Beijing seat in 2017.
“I hope (Lam) will step down as soon as possible because she’s just a puppet of the Communist Party,” Xiao said.
Demonstrations in Hong Kong started peacefully, but clashes between the police and protesters have grown increasingly violent, with at least one protester dead and thousands injured or arrested. The police have shot two protesters with live ammunition, and protesters have responded with arrows and Molotov cocktails, according to multiple news outlets.
Trevor Klein, a recent high school graduate and founder of Free China Movement, visited Hong Kong in October. Klein, who had been following the developments in Hong Kong, said he witnessed the Hong Kong Police Force using unnecessary force against protesters.
“I saw them beating everyone – women, children, anyone,” Klein said. “I saw an old man in a wheelchair, and they directly fired tear gas at him. He was barely able to be sitting up in that wheelchair. There’s no need to fire tear gas at that man.”
James Potter, a Chinese immigrant, was a student leader in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, a pro-democracy student protest that the Communist Party stopped with military force, leaving hundreds of civilians dead. He said the protests in Hong Kong echo the massive protests in Beijing 30 years ago.
“I think their spirits are the same,” Potter said. “We all fight for freedom, for the Chinese (and) Hong Kong people. The Communist Party still exists in China and … we will continue the fight until all the Chinese people get the freedom and democracy.”
The authoritarian government of China severely limits free speech. The Communist Party heavily regulates the media such that anything related to the Tiananmen Square or Hong Kong protests is subject to censorship.
Xin Li, a third-year computer science student at Tianjin Brilliance Vocational Secondary School in China, has long protested against China’s authoritarian government. As a resident of mainland China, Li said he was shocked at the police brutality that Beijing hid from its people when he visited Hong Kong to protest in August.
Potter said he hopes protesting outside the reaches of the Communist Party can bring reform to China.
“We hope that democracy and the constitution in Hong Kong and the independence of the law can reform China, can influence China and can be accepted by most of the Chinese people,” Potter said.
Free China Movement will hold another protest Sunday at Beverly Gardens Park in Beverly Hills in coordination with Human Rights Day protests around the world.