For months the world has been watching Hong Kong as its citizens fight back against mainland China. Protests began on March 31, when an extradition bill was introduced that would allow the Chinese government to extradite Hong Kong citizens to the mainland to be trialed under their laws. Chinese law is extremely severe and often used to imprison people without a fair trial. Beijing has threatened protesters, seeing these demonstrations as unlawful—even though they are a democratic right of Hong Kong. The recent events, however, are not just about one bill, but instead highlight a myriad of issues that display China’s ambition to gain more control and absorb Hong Kong. The protests have opened up a deeper conversation about Hong Kong’s position with China.
One Country, Two Systems: The Struggle
When Hong Kong was returned to China by the British in 1997 it was agreed that region would retain its democratic freedoms, such as: freedom of speech, of press, of assembly etc. This allowed for Hong Kong to be a semi-autonomous state, the agreement deemed as ‘one country, two systems’. But for years Hong Kongers have been feeling the encroachment of China. For example, despite the existence of strong pro-democracy parties and winning a majority at every election, these parties only hold a small portion of seats; making their election wins essentially useless. Most of the seats are occupied by Chinese elected officials and representatives from business industries; that are in favour of Chinese influence.
Image source: ABC
These are not the first anti-Chinese government protests. In 2014 a movement called the Umbrella Revolution exploded in Hong Kong as citizens wanted China to honour an agreement that would allow completely free elections—which did not happen. And now, once again, Hong Kong aims to fight back against Beijing’s tentacles. The extradition bill is an indication of a much greater concern: that one day Hong Kong will no longer have the democratic liberties it is so used to. This day comes in 2047, when the period of ‘one country, two systems’ ends, and with it, Hong Kong’s position as an autonomous region. What will happen to the state? Could Hong Kong become independent before then, or is that merely a pipe dream?
Free Press Under Threat
Like any totalitarian government, the first freedom to be attacked is free speech. In Hong Kong, book publishing and journalism is under serious threat as Beijing tries to choke out any literature that is perceived to be anti-China. The government has gone so far as to hunt down and kidnap key individuals who, are deemed to be creating this literature. This is what happened in the Causeway Bay Books arrest.
The extradition law would allow these forceful arrests to be lawful and therefore can be a gateway into even more severe restrictions. Up until now, China has been working in the shadows to take down pro-democracy individuals and publications, such as Joshua Wong, a young activist who has been arrested multiple times since 2014 for “anti-government protests”. This bill is a perfect example of China’s ambition to inflict more control and squeeze out the freedoms of Hong Kong.
What had started out as peaceful and determined protests has evolved into a state-wide revolt. Protesters of all kinds, from students to lawyers, have taken to the streets standing with posters of demands for democratic freedom and putting on incredible light shows that define the movement and deter facial recognition. However, the protests have attracted a strong reaction from both the Hong Kong police and Beijing. Repeatedly, we have seen evidence of police brutality towards protesters and journalists; many have gone to hospital for their injuries. The protests then moved to the airport, causing delays and cancellations. Many countries, including Australia, have put out a warning for travelers and some observers of these events have concerns about Hong Kong’s economy, as the city comes to a standstill.
Image Source: NY Times
Support on Both Sides
On August 17, a rally in Perth’s city centre was held by both pro-Hong Kong and pro-China supporters. A spectator told me that there were more supporters out for pro-China and they sure were passionate. The general consensus was that “Hong Kong is a part of China, forever!” This slogan has been thrown around social media for weeks and plagues comment sections of pro-Hong Kong articles. This indicates an air of indignation from Chinese nationals that believe that Hong Kong belongs to China completely.
However, Hong Kong and China’s history are very different when looking back during the 99-year lease by the British government. During that time the rise of Mao and the Cultural Revolution occurred, and a complete overthrow and revamp of culture, politics and economics happened; but not in Hong Kong. During this time Hong Kong was experiencing a completely different history that was directly affected by the democratic, yet colonialist, British. Since 1997, the world has seen these seemingly similar but very different Chinese cultures clash, as one yearns for democracy and the other wants to absorb. Despite the threats and scolds from Beijing and beatings from police, Hong Kongers remain resilient and fearless; there is always hope for freedom.
On August 4, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, finally withdrew the bill. This is a major win for the Hong Kong protesters, as it shows their demands have not been completely unheard. However, as mentioned previously, the protests morphed into something greater than the extradition bill: a reaction to the increasing encroachment of China and the sly disbanding of freedoms—which will inevitably come to an end in a couple of decades. Hong Kong has until then to maintain their grounds, and fight for their way of life. As the world watches with keen interest for the city’s next steps, there may be hope for Hong Kong to finally gain their independence.
Hong Kong Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, responds to protesters demands.