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Hong Kong’s Protests in the Larger Scheme

Updated: Sep 3, 2019

By Angela Gao and Chelsea Macasaet

In the summer of 2019, conflict brewed within China’s semi-autonomous territory, Hong Kong. Massive amounts of violence have emerged from joint cooperation between Hong Kong’s administrative government and Beijing to impose a formal extradition bill. But even as Beijing has put the bill on hold, why are protests and violence still taking the streets by storm?

History of Hong Kong

In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China after 156 years of British rule. After a formal handover ceremony on July 1, the colony became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China. Under negotiations with Britain, Hong Kong was to be admitted back into China under certain circumstances. “One country, two systems,” is shorthand for Beijing’s pledge to maintain the city’s political character for 50 years after the 1997 British turnover. However, as the year 2047 is looming in the distance, people in Hong Kong are beginning to fear that their rights will be entirely eroded.

What makes Hong Kong different?

Despite having its own judicial system, Hong Kong remains a part of mainland China. This may explain why Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, is elected by such a small fraction of her government; a 1,200 member committee (most members are pro-Beijing) chosen by only 6% of eligible voters creates an atmosphere that strays from democratic principles. As a former British colony, Hong Kong has the luxury of being able to operate with a high level of autonomy.

The gap between Lam’s political affiliation and the interests of Hong Kongers remains a remnant of “one country, two systems”. This term implies the eventual reunion between China and its more independent territories; Taiwan is resistant to the policy, while Macau and Hong Kong increasingly question its validity.

Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam and President Xi Jinping

A Revolution in the Rain

In September of 2014, thousands of Hong Kong citizens took to the streets to pressure Beijing leaders into fulfilling a promise. The mainland government had pledged to eradicate the city’s 1,200 member election committee, thus allowing the people to choose their leader through universal suffrage (the idea that anyone can vote regardless of their wealth, income, ethnicity, race, etc.). However, Beijing had planned to manipulate this ideology, instead, allowing only two or three candidates who “loved the country” to run for the executive spot.

Known as the Umbrella Movement (the carrying of yellow umbrellas later became an important symbol representing pro-democracy), these protests were among the first of many to demonstrate the need for an administration that could acclimate to its people’s needs. Therefore, it makes sense to say that Hong Kong is no stranger to protests regarding political freedom.

The Protests

Hong Kong’s administrative government opened the floor to negotiation and change in February 2019, after citing many legal cases they could not resolve due to the lack of a formal extradition treaty. Specifically, a local man, Chan Tong-kai was wanted for the suspected murder of his pregnant girlfriend while the two were on holiday in Taiwan. However, Hong Kong officials ruled that Chan could not go through a trial in Taiwan as the territories lack an agreement for extradition. Consequently, Chan was only charged for money laundering despite the murder he committed. Lam has been quick to note that the SAR cannot be a territory that houses fugitives through a 'legal loophole’; and, instead, needs a way to properly uphold legal dealings.

Despite good intentions at heart, the people of Hong Kong have been quick to criticize the treaty. The main effect of its implementation would, according to western critics, expose the likes of activists, social workers, or journalists to unjust criminal punishment. Similarly, both Hong Kong and foreign nationals can be subject to trials in mainland China.

What once started as peaceful protests over the extradition treaty has now changed course. Although peaceful protests spurred the conve