Protests in Hong Kong

Protests in Hong Kong: One Country Killing Two Systems in China

The protests in Hong Kong started in June 2019 which was referred to as the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement, a series of protests against the “Fugitive Offenders amendment bill” by the government of Hong Kong. In this post, I’ll discuss the protests in Hong Kong thoroughly along with the objectives of the protests. So, let’s delve into it, shall we?

Protests in Hong Kong Against 2019 Bill
Protests in Hong Kong Against 2019 Bill
Credit: The Jakarta Post

The bill would have allowed extradition to other jurisdictions like Taiwan or mainland China with which Hong Kong has no extradition agreement. This bill resulted in the visitors and citizens of Hong Kong, believing that the autonomy of Hong Kong would be undermined as exposed against the legal system of Mainland China and would decline the liberty rights of the Hong Kongers. 

The progression of the protests in Hong Kong escalated into violence when the protesters gathered outside the Legislative Council Complex to hinder the second reading of the bill on 12th June 2019 and the Hong Kong Police used excessive force. An even bigger protest took place in response to the Police brutality and mistreatment along with the suspension of the bill as the Hong Kongers wanted the full withdrawal of the extradition bill. To understand the reasons behind the protests, we have to understand the history of Hong Kong. 

A Brief History of Hong Kong

We have to understand that Hong Kong is significantly more distinctive than other cities in China. For over one hundred and fifty years Hong Kong was a colony under British Empire and some part of Hong Kong island was surrendered to the United Kingdom after the war in 1842. Later, China also leased the New Territory of Hong Kong to the British for ninety-nine years. 

The place became a busy port for trading and the economy blossomed as the spot became the heart of manufacturing. The region was also famous as protestants and migrants fled mainland China to protect themselves from persecution and poverty. As the deadline of the ninety-nine years of lease approached on the eve of the 1980s, China and Britain started to talk to decide the future of Hong Kong. Communist China wanted to reign all of Hong Kong but a treaty between the two sides was signed in 1984 where Hong Kong would under the principle of “one country, two systems” (Cheung and Hughes, 2021) while returning to China in 1997. 

One Country, Two Systems
One Country, Two Systems
Credit: The Economist

The treaty signified that the country would become a part of China but it would enjoy for fifty years, “a high degree of autonomy, except for foreign and defense affairs” (Cheung and Hughes, 2021). As a consequence, the country has its own border, legal system, and rights that are protected involving freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly. For instance, Hong Kong is one of the few places in the Chinese territory where people can honor the memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 where the military of China opened fire at unarmed dissidents in Beijing.

The Changes in Situations in Hong Kong

Though Hong Kong still enjoys the freedom rights that are unseen in China, the people of Hong Kong think they are reducing day by day. China has been accused of interfering in Hong Kong by the right groups who are indicating the incidents like the disappearance of a tycoon and five booksellers from Hong Kong who eventually re-appeared in the prison of China.

Protests in Hong Kong
Protests in Hong Kong against China
Credit: South China Morning Post
  • Accusations of deteriorating academic and press freedoms have also been made. China has expelled U.S journalists in March and has also prohibited them from working in Hong Kong. 
  • The government of Hong Kong put pressure on the broadcaster RTHK for showing an interview with the World Health Organization about Taiwan and then for satirically targeting police in their show named “Headliner.” 
  • Several academics expressed concern about a question regarding the relations between China and Japan and the examination body was under fire for the question being a political one though the government later said it was a professional question. 
  • Another restrictive example was the reform of the democratic electoral system of Hong Kong. Currently, the chief executive, the leader of Hong Kong has been elected by the election committee of twelve thousand members while only six percent of the eligible voters have chosen this pro-Beijing committee. Hong Kong voters cannot choose all the seventy members of the legislative body of Hong Kong which is the Legislative Council. The seats that are not directly chosen are occupied by pro-Beijing lawmakers. 
  • The Basic Law of Hong Kong, the mini-constitution states that the Legislative Council and the Leader should both be elected in a more democratic process but there are several disagreements on what that should be like. In 2014, the government of China said that the voters can choose their leader from a list of pro-Beijing committees. According to the critics, this process was a “sham democracy” (Cheung and Hughes, 2021) and it was voted down in the legislature of Hong Kong.

History of Protests in Hong Kong

There is a rich history of protests in Hong Kong that can be dated back further than the past few years. After the Star Ferry Company had decided to maximize its fare in 1966, a demonstration had broken out. The dissent became violent and escalated into riots which led to a full curfew and hundreds of troops on the street. The dissents have ensued since 1997, however, the biggest protests in Hong Kong tend to be political ones which bring the protesters in conflict with the position of mainland China.

Although the Hong Kongers have a degree of autonomy, they have very little freedom in terms of polls which means that protests are among the few ways they find their voices can be heard. As a consequence, many people see protests as the only way to compel any kind of change. In the past, many demonstrations have been successful such as the protest against the controversial security bill the government of Hong Kong was trying to pass in 2003 where around 500,000 people had taken to the streets. The government also withdrew following the rallies against the “patriotic education classes.”  (Cheung and Hughes, 2021) 

However, in recent years, the government of China has taken a harder stance against the protests, specifically any movement that the government perceives as a challenge to the authorities. In 2014, the so-called Umbrella Movement died down without any concessions from Beijing, even after the protests continued for several weeks peacefully to demand the rights for the Hong Kongers to choose their own leader.

Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong
Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong
Credit: Time Magazine

While the polite Umbrella Movement provided political re-awakening and inspiration to some, the failure of the Revolution and eventual split in the pro-democratic alliance prompted the protesters to change tactics and strategy. In the following years, the general consensus appeared that the polite and peaceful dissents are ineffective to advance democratic growth and became examples of what not to do in further protests in the future. According to the media, the recent protests in 2019 seemed desperate instead of optimistic like in 2014. The goals of the protests in Hong Kong evolved from withdrawing the extradition bill to achieve the promised level of liberties and freedom. 

The Direct Causes of the Protests in Hong Kong

In response to the killing of Poon Hiu-Wing by her boyfriend in Taiwan, the government of Hong Kong proposed the “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019.” Due to the lack of an extradition treaty in Taiwan, the government of Hong Kong had suggested an amendment to build a mechanism to transfer fugitives case by case to any jurisdiction where there is no formal extradition treaty. The order would be carried out under the supervision of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. 

The meddling of mainland China in the amendment is concerning the society of Hong Kong. The people of academics and legal profession along with other citizens are concerned that the removal of the jurisdiction from the legal system of the region by the CCP or Chinese Communist Party might negate the “one country two systems” principle. Moreover, the people of Hong Kong don’t have the faith in the judiciary system of mainland China and the protection of their human rights because of the country’s history with subduing political protests. Opponents of the amendment have urged the government of Hong Kong to consider other extradition treaties only with Taiwan.  

The Objectives of The Protests in Hong Kong

Though the Hong Kongers demanded the withdrawal of the bill at first, then the escalating severe police tactics against the protesters on 12th June 2019 evolved the aims into achieving five demands under the slogan of “Five demands, not one less.”

  • The first objective is the complete withdrawal of the amendment from the legal jurisdiction. Though the government has announced the indefinite suspension of the extradition bill on 15th June, the status of pending resumption means the second reading of the bill could have been resumed rapidly. The bill was formally withdrawn on 23rd October 2019.
  • The second objective was to retract the characterization of riots. The government of Hong Kong originally characterized the protests in the country as riots but later amended the depiction to state that there were a few rioters, an assertion dissenters still contest. The maximum jail time of rioters is ten years.
  • The third objective is the release and vindication of arrested dissenters. The protesters perceive their lawbreaking as acts of righteousness for a political cause and they also question the legal justification of the police arresting the dissenters from the hospital by breaching their patient privacy and gathering their medical data.
Protests in Hong Kong
Objectives of the Protests in Hong Kong
Credit: Bangkok Post
  • The fourth objective is building an independent inquiry commission into police behavior and their use of force during dissent. The civic groups thought that the degree of violence used by the police against commoners and dissenters was arbitrary and the failure of the officers to detect the Police General Orders indicated a breakdown of accountability. Another issue is the absence of the already existing Independent Police Complaints Council.
  • The last but least one is the resignation of Carrie Lam and the execution of the universal franchise for the elections of the Legislative Council and the election of the chief executive. 

How did the Protests Increase? 

In June 2019 the dissenters took the street again, demonstrating against the plans to allow extraditions to China. This time, the conflict between the activists and the police became rapidly violent. The amendment was hampered and later completely withdrawn but the protests in Hong Kong continued for months with demands for an independent inquiry to police conduct and full democracy. In April 2021, the police force of Hong Kong arrested seventeen prominent activists who are pro-democracy for participating in unauthorized assemblies. 

Violent Protests in Hong Kong
Police officers fire a tear gas during a demonstration against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, on June 12, 2019.
Credit: nbcnews.com

In May, the police watchdog of Hong Kong stated that there was no mistake on the part of the police department of Hong Kong during the 2019 protests. The clearance report was criticized by several external experts and rights groups. Though the street protests have fizzled out due to the COVID pandemic, there are still several protests in Hong Kong are going on. 

For instance, thousands of people gathered outside a court in Hong Kong where forty-seven pro-democracy activists, candidates, and campaigners dealt with charges of conspiracy to undermine the authorities of the National Security Law. For further information about this, please visit here.

Recently, China is suggesting to introduce a new National Security Law in Hong Kong that could be the same as the one from 2003 which was withdrawn. It dictates that the law is “highly necessary” and would “safeguard national security in Hong Kong.” However, the legislation seems controversial because it evades the existing law-making processes in Hong Kong that resulted in the accusation that Beijing is again undermining the authority of the autonomy of Hong Kong.

Here we are at the end! To know more about the protest in Hong Kong, visit this article. I hope I have made you aware enough about the social and political issues of Hong Kong that you will spread awareness and seek more information. Until then, travel well, be well.

Reference

Cheung, H. and Hughes, R., 2021. Why are there protests in Hong Kong? All the context you need. [online] BBC News. Available at: <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-48607723> [Accessed 5 May 2021].

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