Hong Kong’s relationship with China is an increasingly peculiar one because the region exists under the “One Country, Two systems” agreement. In the mid 1800s, China lost a series of Opium wars to Great Britain, and as such they had to capitulate several of their territories and a large sum of money. The agreement was that Hong Kong would exist as a British colony for 99 years, an agreement that ended in 1997. When the agreement came to an end, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed that the best course of action was to slowly integrate Hong Kong back into China. They proposed the “One -Country, Two-Systems” model. Where Hong Kong would technically be a part of China but exists with its own culture and its own government. This model will come to an end in 2047 and in the meantime China is meant to respect Hong Kong’s status as an autonomous region. China, however, is growing increasingly impatient.
These are not the first protests Hong Kong has initiated as a response to China’s perceived encroachment on their autonomy. In 2014 the Umbrella Protests occurred in response to China’s meddling in Hong Kong’s elections. The Umbrella Protests were relatively peaceful until police began spewing tear gas at the crowd, forcing them to use umbrellas to try and block the attack. China has also recently built the largest maritime bridge (34 miles) between itself and Hong Kong to bring the two regions closer together. Their have also been recent efforts to bring Hong Kongers into more traditional Chinese culture. Mainland China speaks Mandarin while Hong Kongers speak Cantonese; the Cinese government has dubbed Cantonese as illegitimate and a bastardized version of Chinese, and has established schools in Hong Kong in a re-education effort. Hong Kong rejects these re-education attempts and is willing to fight for the preservation of their culture, at least until the agreement ends in 2047. These are the first protests where nearly a third of the country have taken to the streets to defend their autonomy and it all started with a murder.
More than a year ago, a Hong Kong couple traveled to Taiwan for a vacation. Whilst staying at a hotel in Taipei, the man murdered his then pregnant girlfriend before making his way back to Hong Kong where he confessed to the crime Hong Kong, however does not have an extradition treaty with Taiwan and it appeared as though the man would go free. To avoid this, the Hong Kong legislature drafted a bill that would allow for extradition with Taiwan, but the bill would also allow mainland China to exercise their extradition rights on any Hong Kong citizen whom Beijing believes to have committed a crime.
The prospect of their citizens having to face justice in mainland China worried many Hong Kong citizens; Hong Kong is a democratic region with a quasi-bill of rights laid out in the One-Country, Two-Systems agreement, while China is an authoritarian government. Hong Kong has freedom of speech, press, assembly, and the right to a fair trial. China, however, has none of these and has been condemned by human rights organizations for their inhumane treatment of prisoners. Not only that, but Hong Kong protesters also view this as a way for China to wrongfully imprisoned people who speak out against them. This worry is not unfounded seeing as how bookkeepers who operated a bookstore that sold reading material banned in mainland China, and books that were critical of the Chinese government, mysteriously disappeared. One of the men reappeared a year later on Chinese state television apologizing for selling the books, and claiming that he is deserving of any punishment the Chinese government should decide for him.
In response to these impingements 2 million out of 7 million Hong Kong citizens have taken to the streets in protest. These protests are largely different from previous ones not only because they are comprised of such a large percentage of Hong Kong’s population, but because citizens from the business sector also joined in, as well as an increasing number of young people. So far, the protests seem to have worked with Hong Kong’s current leader Carrie Lamhas putting the extradition bill on hold. Despite this, many pro-democracy leaders are not placated because they don’t believe the act goes far enough and they reject Lamhas’ negative response to the protesters by referring to them as “rioters” and refusing to allow them any legitimacy. The pro-democracy leaders would like to see the bill officially withdrawn from the legislature. They believe that the bill would pass easily in the legislature because of the majority pro-China influences in the law-making body if it is to remain. The citizens of Hong Kong dedicate themselves to keep protesting until the bill is officially withdrawn and they no longer have to worry about China’s growing influence in their government.
By Monericka Semeran, WACNH Intern