The protests that shut down Hong Kong International Airport are over as of this writing. Flights resumed Wednesday after the arrival of riot police ended two days of disruption. The situation took an ugly turn when pro-democracy protesters seized and beat two men they claimed were Chinese agents.

On Wednesday, officials detained seven demonstrators on charges ranging from unlawful assembly to assaulting police officers, and have threatened them with life in prison. Protest organizers have issued apologies to both the police and to travelers inconvenienced by the airport’s closure, but tensions are still simmering in the former British protectorate. Chinese troops remain massed just over the border in Shenzen, China.

Demonstrations began in February when a bill introduced by city government would have allowed accused offenders to be extradited to communist China for trial. Although local leadership has since suspended that legislation, demonstrators are continuing to push for further debates on democratic reforms. In 2014, China’s government ruled to end open nominations in elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive and legislative council positions. Residents of Hong Kong who grew up in a free and democratic society are increasingly concerned at seeing those freedoms revoked.

The Chinese foreign ministry has accused both the United States and the United Kingdom of fueling the protests. According to the Chinese, the U.S. has openly instigated activities undermining Beijing’s authority. The U.S. State Department undoubtedly angered Beijing when it released a statement urging China to “adhere to its commitments” made when it regained control of the city from Great Britain in 1997 and “to respect the freedoms of speech and assembly, as enshrined” in the handover agreement.

Further fueling the communist government’s angst is video footage of pro-democracy advocates on Hong Kong’s streets and in its airport waving American flags and singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” One protester explained to a reporter that to them, the Stars and Stripes represents freedom, human rights and democracy. He added, “We hope we can be friends with America.”

We hope so too. And, we hope that the image of flag-waving protesters in faraway Hong Kong serves as a reminder of the freedoms Old Glory symbolizes for Americans. We can protest all we want against our government, our laws and our institutions. We can do that because we live under the Stars and Stripes that demonstrators in Hong Kong just risked their lives to wave.

— Robin Beres

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