Just as the civil unrest in Hong Kong is considered the most serious popular challenge to the authority of President Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012, the young protesters in this city of ours have challenged the Chinese leader once again – this time for Time Magazine’s Person(s) of the Year.
And win they did, sort of. The international newsweekly has narrowed down its 10-person shortlist to the final five, and President Xi, who’s among the ten, is now out while the Hong Kong protesters are still in contention.
In fact, there’s a good chance that our defiant activists will grab this designation for the person(s) with the greatest impact on world events this year.
Hong Kong protesters secured 90 percent of the vote in an online poll, beating the four other contenders, namely US President Donald Trump, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the “Whistleblower” (the anonymous Central Intelligence Agency officer who triggered the impeachment inquiry into the American president), and Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish activist on the frontline of the worldwide campaign to save the environment amid the growing threat of climate change.
Much to the consternation of the Beijing leaders, and their local subalterns, the turmoil in Hong Kong has become a symbol of the fight against authoritarianism and inequality, inspiring protest movements in various parts of the globe, including France, Chile and Spain.
Those on the top 10 who didn’t make it to the final list, aside from President Xi, were Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, New Zealand President Jacinda Ardern and American footballer Megan Rapinoe.
Choosing Hong Kong protesters for this year’s Person(s) of the Year will not be without a precedent. In 2011, Time Magazine picked “The Protester” for the designation to represent the global protest movements such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement.
This year’s protest movement in Hong Kong started as a campaign against the government’s now-scrapped legislative initiative that would have allowed people in the territory to be extradited to mainland China to face trial, but has evolved into broader calls for democracy.
The Hong Kong protesters indeed fall within the general criteria for the Person of the Year, which is assigned to those who “for better or for worse … [have] done the most to influence the events of the year”.
Not only once did I see pictures of black-clad protesters with gas masks and goggles battling police amid heavy smoke of tear gas and thought they were taken in Hong Kong, only to realize that they were taken elsewhere. Even the use of laser pointers was adopted by protesters in Chile in clashes with riot police.
This year’s protests in the city have been unprecedented in terms of the number of people joining the rallies and their impact on everyday life (e.g., public transport and airport operations crippled, shops and banks vandalized, businesses counting the costs) as well as police action – more than 6,000 arrested and over 10,000 tear gas bombs used.
So how will Beijing and the SAR government react in case the Hong Kong protesters are chosen for this year’s Person(s) of the Year?
Will the authorities yield to the protesters’ demands, including the establishment of an independent inquiry into police brutality and amnesty for those arrested in the months-long unrest, because of it?
Highly unlikely. Beijing has, in fact, accused Western nations, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the civil strife in Hong Kong. And that accusation could very well be leveled against the American magazine.
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