Op-ed: The Hong Kong crisis and Northeastern

Courtesy+of+Creative+Commons
Back to Article
Back to Article

Op-ed: The Hong Kong crisis and Northeastern

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Courtesy of Creative Commons

Joe Lantow, contributor

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






I spent my first semester at Northeastern abroad in Berlin as an N.U.in student. While I thoroughly enjoyed studying abroad, I initially misunderstood my role as an international student. When any student studies abroad they aren’t simply passively absorbing the culture of their host country, they also become representatives of their own culture and nation. That certainly was my experience as a loud and gregarious American in Europe — my actions unfortunately reinforced European perceptions of Americans.

The current crisis in Hong Kong is an example of the unique burden international students face. Hong Kong, which was a British colony until 1997, is governed by both a local and Chinese government in a “two systems one government” model. While Hong Kong is fully part of China, its residents have enjoyed special liberties and freedoms those who live in mainland China do not. Unfortunately, for those in Hong Kong, liberty, freedom and basic human rights are not among the priorities of the Chinese government. Consequently, those in Hong Kong were justifiably concerned about a proposed extradition bill which would allow China to extradite Hong Kong residents to the Chinese mainland and try them in Chinese courts with a 99.9 percent conviction rate

To be clear: the question of this article is not whether the Chinese and local governments are violating the basic rights and dignity of those who live in Hong Kong. That fact is abundantly clear. Hong Kong inhabitants are being systematically stripped of their basic civil rights, which traditionally have made the city a thriving and unique metropolis inside a highly oppressive nation. The extradition treaty represents a restriction of civil rights from one aspect of life, but the Chinese government is closing in on Hong Kong itself. By beating helpless protestors, doubling its troop garrison and shooting high school students, it’s clear China has no plans to leave Hong Kong alone. 

Students who support the Chinese extradition bill, violent suppression of protests and stripping of Hong Kong’s unique rights should consider why they chose to attend Northeastern. The same values that China is currently attempting to stifle, including free speech, open expression and human rights, are the values that make universities like Northeastern such high-quality institutions. China is not helping Hong Kong by removing its heritage and instilling a totalitarian social order. If anything, China’s attempts to control Hong Kong have damaged its international credibility. It’s no surprise that Hong Kong’s recent offer to buy Britain’s London Stock Exchange was swiftly rejected, considering the current political turmoil. 

So what can students from Hong Kong and China do? Publicly, very little. There is almost no gain from attending a protest or public gathering, but there’s much to lose. It’s not unimaginable that the Chinese government will at some point scour through thousands of photos from such protests to identify and prosecute citizens for publicly criticizing the Chinese government or the Communist party.

This does not mean those from China should stay quiet. As private individuals in a country with stringent protection of and the highest support for free speech, Chinese students have the right and obligation to share their experiences with Americans. The Hong Kong story is simultaneously fascinating and terrifying. While abroad in Berlin as an American, I found myself constantly explaining the Trump phenomenon to Europeans. As residents of Hong Kong studying at Northeastern, many of our students stand in a unique position, able to directly connect with other students who may know little of Hong Kong’s past or extremely precarious future. 

Joe Lantow is a second-year politics, philosophy and economics and business administration double major.