It’s been almost eleven weeks since protest erupted in the streets of Chinese controlled Hong Kong. The protest that started over an extradition bill soon turned into a protest demanding the resignation of Hong Kong’s top executive, Carrie Lam, among other demands. As you read this article, thousands of people are taking the streets in protest against their leader, a debated extradition bill and against ongoing police brutality on peaceful protesters.
To understand what’s happening in Hong Kong, we must go back to its founding roots as a special administrative region.
What’s the deal with China and Hong Kong?
Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842 after China handed over its ownership to Britain after the end of the first opium war. After almost a century and half of the British rule, Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997 and Hong Kong would become China’s special administrative territory under the “One country two systems” framework.
Why is Hong Kong Special?
One of the pros of 150 years of British rule is the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This treaty signed in 1985 allowed Hong Kong to retain its freedom of speech when its ownership was transferred back to China, something which Chinese nationals of the mainland don’t have the luxury of enjoying. The outcome? Thanks to this catch, residents of Hong Kong can exercise their democratic right of protestation and free speech without brutal government intervention.
How did the protest start?
It all started with a murder. In February of 2018, a Hong Kong-based couple went to Taiwan on a weeklong vacation. A week later, the boyfriend, Chang, returned to Hong Kong and confessed to murdering his girlfriend. The Hong Kong government couldn’t prosecute him because the murder happened in Taiwan. And they couldn’t extradite him to Taiwan because Hong Kong does not have an extradition policy with Taiwan, a part of Chinese territory. That’s when Hong Kong lawmakers proposed an extradition bill that would allow the extradition of arrested individuals to Taiwan and other parts of Mainland China.
Hong Kong residents do not trust the Chinese legal system.
This proposal sparked a protest among the civilians against the bill. That is because Hong Kong residents do not trust the Chinese legal system. For the lack of democratic procedure, the Chinese legal system allows the government to prosecute a convict without trial and government fuelled abductions are not uncommon.
Is this the first protest?
It’s not. There have been major demonstrations in Hong Kong since 2003. In 2003, Hong Kongers took the street and protested against a bill that would allow punishment for those who spoke up against China.
In 2014, the people of Hong Kong Protested against China’s increasing influence over Hong Kong’s election. In 2016, the Chinese government even suppressed a small scale pro-independence movement.
But what sets the 2019 protests apart is the sheer size and demographics of the movement. The scale of the movement is unlike any of the past ones and although the forerunners are the youth, Hong Kong’s older generation and professionals like lawyers, doctors and politicians are also taking the street.
Why is it so difficult for Hong Kong to be pro-democratic?
Hong Kong has a peculiar government structure. The top executive, an equivalent to our prime minister, is not elected by the people rather by a small committee and finally approved by China. The parliament, known as LegCo, is essentially divided into two segments, pro-democracy and pro-Chinese. And people get to vote for these seats.
But not all of them. Right of voting for about half of the seats are reserved for big corporations and industries. And the corporations, wanting to keep a good relationship with Beijing, never vote pro-democracy. Meaning, in every election since 1998, the majority people of Hong Kong voted for the pro-democracy legislature and yet the cabinet has stayed pro Chinese.
Where is all these heading to?
Remember when Hong Kong became the special administrative region in 1997? The special status came with an expiration date. Hong Kong will be fully integrated with Mainland China in 2047. That was the deal signed between Britain and China during handover. It would mean every right and freedom Hong Kongers enjoy as a separate region from China would be abolished and Chinese law would be applicable everywhere.
The problem is, China is not waiting for 2047.
Increasing influence and authority over Hong Kong has been the core of the disappointment for the residents for years. And the frustration is culminating in the latest protests.
The protestors are heading to train stations and airports to convey their messages to visitors and citizens from Mainland China. The protestors want increased democratic scopes and at the time of writing this article, updates of Police brutality and protests turning violent have been coming in.