Hong Kong Protests and growing Political Unrest in the Chinese Region
June 13, 2019
Protesters in Hong Kong have spent the past few days demonstrating against a proposed extradition law. However, the mainstream media in India has not paid much attention to this fight for democratic rights in the Far East. To understand the issue in detail, we need to first understand the special relationship that Hong Kong shares with China, and how China’s attempt to thwart this special status is leading to protests all over Hong Kong. This Blog briefly covers the minutes of this situation.
From a British colony to China’s territory
Hong Kong is a country which became a colony of the British Empire after Qing China ceded Hong Kong Island at the end of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the neighboring Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War, which was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898.
What was originally a sparsely populated area of farming and fishing villages, became one of the world’s most significant financial centers and commercial ports during this time. However, at the end of the 99-year lease of the UK, the territory was transferred back to China in 1997. As a special administrative region, Hong Kong still maintains separate governing and economic systems including their own flag and emblem and its own mini-constitution, the Basic Law, from that of mainland China. Even the people identify themselves more as ‘Hongkongers’ than Chinese.
The Chinese Dragon
The Hong Kong way of living – it’s political, economic and cultural systems has diverged from the Chinese mainland because of a long period of colonial administration. A majority of the residents retain a strong sense of local identity even post-handover of 1997. There has also been a rise in anti-mainland Chinese sentiment in Hong Kong in recent years, due to various reasons.
The mains reason has been the growing interference of mainland China in the internal administration of Hong Kong. China has been accused of arm twisting legislators, disappearing businessmen, increasing pressure to self-censure the artists, writers, and journalists.
The current Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s election in 2017 was protested as being a “selection, rather than an election”, because of China’s meddling in the elections. The greater fear, however, remains that by the year 2047, the Basic Law expires – and what happens to Hong Kong’s prized autonomy after that remains unclear.
The Umbrella protests
In 2014, a political movement emerged out of Hong Kong city against China’s decision to rule out universal suffrage in Hong Kong. They started the Occupy movement, by occupying the city for 79 days for the demand of more transparent elections.
The movement gained further traction and was ultimately met with strict police action, commonplace in the mainland part of China. The protestors had to use umbrellas to save themselves from Hong Kong’s police use of pepper spray to disperse the crowd. But the so-called Umbrella movement eventually fizzled out without any concessions from Beijing.
The 2019 Protests
The new wave of protests in Hong Kong city does not really come as a surprise. It is in the series of dissents shown by the city in the past few years against the increasing influence of China. In 2014, as police successfully dismantled what remained of a pro-democracy protest site in central Hong Kong, demonstrators chanted: “We’ll be Back.”
This time around, the massive protests are centered around a controversial extradition bill. The proposed law allows Hong Kong to extradite fugitives to territories where it doesn’t have formal extradition deals — including mainland China.
Critics of the bill believe that it will leave anyone on Hong Kong soil vulnerable to being grabbed by Chinese authorities on frivolous pretexts. Various civil rights activists have expressed their fears that such a law would greatly undermine the city’s semi-autonomous legal system. Journalists also fear the stifling of freedom of expression in Hong Kong city and a threat to the safety of journalists. The international community including the U.S.A., UK, and Taiwan too have expressed concerns in the matter.
Supporters of the bill, including Hong Kong city Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to withdraw the extradition bill, saying it is needed to plug loopholes to prevent the city from becoming a haven for mainland fugitives. Lam admits that the new bill is controversial, but said safeguards have been added to the bill to protect human rights. These comments have, however, done nothing to quell opposition.
While the bill was supposed to be tabled on the 12th of June, it was postponed, because of the protests turning violent. Rubber bullets, pepper spray, and hand-thrown tear gas were used to push back protesters who had occupied the city’s headquarters. CNN has reported that at least 72 people were injured in the protests. Amnesty International has also stated that the police’s use of forces against protesters in Hong Kong is “a violation of International Law.”
What lies ahead?
The legislators might try to meet again on Friday, i.e.,14th of June. However, keeping in mind the past history, the future does not appear too promising for the protestors. Hong Kong will have to keep struggling to safeguard its right to dissent in the face of the Chinese juggernaut.