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Carleton professors, students, visiting speakers discuss recent Hong Kong events in panel

On Thursday, January 16, the panel discussion “Hong Kong in Vortex!” was hosted by Professor Seungjoo Yoon of the history department.

Filled with faculty, staff and students, Leighton 304 welcomed eight students and professors of Carleton, St. Olaf, Macalester and Vassar as members of the panel to reflect on how their areas of expertise intertwined with Hong Kong’s current situation.

After Carleton students “visited [Professor Seungjoo Yoon] over last fall to discuss Hong Kong demonstrations and related issues,” he decided to approach the idea of a formal panel to further these “semi-formal and informal,” discussions. Yoon hoped that through this panel covering a complex issue, students would “imagine a new possible [Hong Kong] through history.”

Since June of 2019, anti-government protests in Hong Kong have been commonplace in response to plans for the allowance of extradition to mainland China. Handed back to China in 1997 after long British rule, Hong Kong has existed under the motto “one country, two systems.” With the proposal of this extradition bill, Hong Kong citizens were concerned that their freedoms would be undermined and China would exert greater control over Hong Kong. The bill was eventually withdrawn, but the protests continued-demanding full democracy, and plagued by violence inflicted by the authorities.

Professor Chuen Fung Wong, a professor of music at Macalester and a native of Hong Kong, kicked off the brief presentations with a general background and history of Hong Kong and its recent protests. He articulated Hong Kong’s status as a “handoff between two sovreign states,” insinuating that Hong Kong simply went from being part of Great Britain to being part of China-truly obtaining little autonomy.

Having actually participated in a few protests while back home in Hong Kong, Wong describes the protests as “asking Beijing to keep its promises,” of the Basic Law, which allows Hong Kong to have its own judiciary and legal system separate from mainland China.

Professor Katherine Tegtmeyer Pak of St. Olaf proceeded to explain social movement theory and suggest what to look for in the protests that might hint at either success or failure. Central to Pak’s presentation was the number 3.5 percent-the amount of a population that typically needs to protest for it to be successful. She relayed the fact that since Hong Kong is trying to deal with Beijing, 3.5 percent of China’s entire population would most likely have to be in protest in order to reap the desired benefits.

Vassar professor Wayne Soon then presented the perspectives of Chinese communities overseas- mostly Taiwan. Soon described the relationship between Taiwan’s most recent election and Hong Kong as “deploying Hong Kong to win the election.” Although Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party used Hong Kong’s lack of democracy as an example and means for winning the election, Hong Kong and Taiwan share a “strong relationship and shape each other.”

Carleton professor of Asian Studies and History, Adeeb Khalid chose to take his presentation in a different direction by speaking about China’s extreme power and how they exert it in areas where “populations don’t see themselves as Chinese”-primarily the Uighur region of Xinjiang. Xinjiang is currently a “surveillance state,” where Uigyhers are not even afforded the opportunity to protest against the tight controls and restrictions placed on them either in “reeducation camps,” or outside of them. This alluded to what could happen in a place like Hong Kong, where as presented by Carleton Professor Kent Freeze, fewer and fewer Hongkongers are self-identifying as “Chinese.”

Carleton students Lydia Chau ’21 and Win Wei Ooi ’21 also gave unique perspectives about their experiences. Chau detailed her experiences participating in three protests while home in Hong Kong, one of which turned violent. Ooi then shared her perspective on the situation being an ethnically Chinese, Malaysian national.

Attendees of this panel were confronted with multiple perspectives of what is currently happening in Hong Kong, and Robin Rojas-Cheatham so eloquently put it, “were encouraged to think about this complex situation more deeply in ways not considered before.”

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