For about 10 weeks now, Hong-Kong is witnessing a mass protest. The violent unrest began against a proposed extradition bill and had evolved to be a pro-democracy movement. Why? precisely because people there believe that the special powers enjoyed by them would be taken away by China.
Need more context? Here is what you need to know:
Hong Kong’s special status:
Hong Kong’s story is different from many other Chinese cities. It had for long been a British Colony. For over 150 years British occupied Hong-Kong. Hong Kong as we know it today was born when China’s Qing dynasty government was defeated in the First Opium War in 1842 when it ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain. Within 60 years, Kowloon, the New Territories and 235 Outlying Islands were also leased to Britain for 99 years.
Situated on the southeast coast of China, Hong Kong’s strategic location on the Pearl River Delta and the Soth China sea made it a busy trading port and it went on to become a manufacturing hub in 1950.
The occupation of Britain in Hong-Kong came to an end in the 1980s as the 99-year lease approached. China with its communist government in place demanded that Hong-Kong belongs to them and shall be returned. Finally, in 1984, it was agreed that Hong-Kong would join China in 1997 under the principle of “one country, two systems.”
The two sides reached a deal in 1984 that would see Hong Kong return to China in 1997, under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
One Country, Two Systems
Thus, though Hong Kong became a part of China, it was given some special powers. According to the agreement the city would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs” for 50 years.
It has its own legal systems and borders different from that of China. And unlike China, people of Hong Kong enjoys the freedom of speech and assembly. It is one of the few places in the Chinese territory where people can remember and observe the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
However, in recent years Chinese influence on Hong Kong has increased and human rights group alleges that freedom is on the decline.
A few incidents that had happened in recent times had invited the attention of civil society. Reports suggest that China had meddled with the city and cornered its pro-democracy legislators. In another incident, five booksellers and a tycoon who was reported missing from Hong-Kong re-emerged in Chinese custody.
Apart from this, artists and writers in the city had been complaining about the increase in intolerance and hostility and the mounting pressure to self-censor. It was last month that veteran Hong-Kong actor Simon Yam was stabbed on a stage in China.
The election process in Hong Kong is a bit complex. The leader or Chief executive is elected by an election committee which has nearly 1200 members. The election committee is generally a pro-Beijing body chosen by just 6% of eligible voters.
Hong Kong has a multi-party system, with numerous parties in which no one party often has the chance of gaining power alone. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong is nonpartisan but has to work with several parties to form (de facto) a coalition government.
The legislative council has over 70 members, most of whom are directly chosen by the voters in Hong Kong. However there a few seats in which the candidate is not directly elected. It is generally occupied by pro-Beijing lawmakers.
Not all the 70 members of the territory’s lawmaking body, the Legislative Council, are directly chosen by Hong Kong’s voters. Most seats not directly elected are occupied by pro-Beijing lawmakers.
The influence China has over the city’s legislative council is such that some of the elected members had been disbarred after Beijing put out a controversial legal ruling that effectively disqualified them.
The mini-constitution of Hong Kong suggests that the Chief Executive and the Legislative Council shall be elected in a more democratic way, but fails to propose what exactly would the method be.
In 2014, the Chinese government proposed that it will approve a list from which leaders can be chosen by the people of Hong Kong. However, the proposal couldn’t get enough majority in the Legislative council. Critics called it a “sham democracy.”
Hong Kong’s mini-constitution will expire in 28 years time in 2047. The autonomy of the city would be under stake after the year.
The people of Hong Kong don’t consider them to be Chinese even though their ethnicity is Chinese. They identify themselves as Hong Kongers except for an 11 per cent of the population wich calls themselves Chinese.
“The younger the respondents, the less likely they feel proud of becoming a national citizen of China, and also the more negative they are toward the Central Government’s policies on Hong Kong,” the university’s public opinion programme says.
The city had been in unrest for quite some time now.
In December 2014, as police came to clamp down protests in Hong Kong, the protestors chanted, “We’ll be back.” Hong Kong has a tradition of protests, especially of political nature.
This is because though they enjoy a certain sense of autonomy, the liberty at polls is fairly less, making protests one of the few ways in which they can make their dissent heard. The last major protests in the city happened in 2014, with Hong Kongers demanding more autonomy and right to elect their rulers and lawmakers. But the movement eventually fizzled out.
Extradition Bill and Aftermath
The extradition bill was proposed by the Hong Kong government in February 2019. The government proposed to establish a mechanism for transfers of fugitives not only for Taiwan but also for Mainland China and Macau, which are not covered in the existing laws.
The introduction of the bill caused widespread criticism domestically and abroad from the legal profession, journalist organisations, business groups, and foreign governments fearing the erosion of Hong Kong’s legal system and its built-in safeguards, as well as damaging Hong Kong’s business climate. They were concerned about the heightened risk that Hong Kong citizens and foreign nationals passing through the city could be sent for trial to Mainland China, where courts are under Chinese political control
Protesters feel the extradition bill if passed, would bring the territory closer under China’s control.
“Hong Kong will just become another Chinese city if this bill is passed,” one protester, 18-year-old Mike, told the BBC.
Scores of protestors were arrested after being beaten with batons by police. More than 600 people have reportedly been arrested since the unrest began more than two months ago.