Hong Kong's Troubles Aren't Over, Yet
If you thought that Hong Kong's troubles were over with the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill, think again. The country has been in an inevitable spiral towards its present situation ever since its 'independence' in 1997. While in one sense Hong Kong did become independent - it no longer had to recognize a white male/female descendant of an anachronistic tradition, sitting in a far off palace, as its sovereign - what actually happened was slightly more nuanced. For Hong Kong, 'independence' came with a condition: Hong Kong would partly govern itself for 50 years – that is until 2047 – after which it will eventually become a part of China. Until then, the two countries would have to operate under the oft-quoted “one country, two systems” notion. Here's the catch, for the longest time, British Rule in Hong Kong had meant, for a really long time, autonomy on virtually all matters, and the protection of democratic governance under the British Constitution. Now, things were on the cusp of change.
While China works under an authoritarian regime, Hong Kong has its ‘Basic Law’ which provides an autonomous framework for its administration. Even though Hong Kong is classified as an ‘autonomous quasi-democracy’, its leader - the Chief Executive - is appointed by a committee of 1,200 people, most of whom have an alliance with Beijing. It stands to reason that it is in fact China appointing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. To no one’s surprise, the current Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, was Beijing’s preferred candidate. Recently, during Lam’s administration, the Hong Kong government pursued various non-democratic decisions including prohibition of a political party, putting pro-democracy leaders in jail, and expelling a senior journalist. They also refused to take any actions against the kidnapping of adversaries in Hong Kong by China. However, the ongoing mass protests in the region are a direct result of Lam’s proposed amendments to the extradition law after a murder case. A Hong Kong national, Chan Tong-kai, allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend and stuffed her body in a suitcase while on a vacation in Taiwan in 2018. He then fled back to Hong Kong, where the authorities could not send him back because of the absence of an extradition agreement between the two countries.
The original laws drafted in 1997 do not include extradition to China and Taiwan, as their justice systems operate differently. This essentially means that their justice systems do not align with the protection of the accused and incarcerated people’s fundamental rights which are provided for in Hong Kong. The proposed amendment sought to bring about a change in these extradition laws. Lam wanted a “legal basis” to deal with the Taiwan case but failed - or perhaps deliberately neglected - address the spillover effects of the amendment for not only future cases but also the past ones.
The Fugitive Offenders Amendment Bill – which has now been suspended – created a risk of people being detained and extradited to mainland China, where laws and procedure are, to put it mildly, harsh. This Bill proposed a threat to the people of Hong Kong as China's record on tolerating dissent, advocacy of due process, and free expression is a well-known across the world. Add to that the fact that China has been routinely accused of kidnapping people from border regions of Hong Kong, to circumvent issues of jurisdiction, and one can see why people would be afraid. This amendment would have removed the already precarious cover of international law, and effectively provided China with a backdoor to supplant Hong Kong's criminal justice system, as well. On 9th June 2019, about a million people in Hong Kong conducted a peaceful protest against the proposal for such an amendment. In spite of the resistance, Lam adamantly went ahead with the Bill. This led to an uprising of (what initially were peaceful) protests in larger numbers which were met with violence and police brutality.
The protesters were being referred to as “rioters” and arrested on rioting charges. This created a rift between the citizens and police which led to police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bags on the protesters. Gradually, the protests against the extradition bill turned into a larger movement against the Chief Executive and her government. The protestors had five major demands:
First, the eradication of the proposed amendments to the Extradition Bill - fortunately, this was met when Carrie Lam pulled the plug on the proposed amendments;
Second, rescinding the classification of protesters as “rioters” thereby ending the severe prison sentence of 10 years associated with rioting, and the power it gives the police to manhandle protesters;
Third, release of all the protesters under detention;
Fourth, an independent inquiry into the police and their actions during the past few months;
Fifth, a procedure for democratically electing leaders through universal suffrage after Lam’s much wanted resignation.
It is evident from the democratic nature of demands of the protesters that the people of Hong Kong want to put an end to mainland China meddling in their internal matters – before the imminent deadline of 2047 or certainly before a situation arises where the Chinese troops march for Hong Kong. Even though the international stance on the protest is highly diplomatic. with suggestions of peaceful dialogue, the people are not ready to accept any solutions proposed by Beijing. The one and only aim of the so-called “rioters” is a complete democratic transformation of the government.
Views expressed are solely those of the author.
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About the Author
Simran holds a Masters in International Studies and Diplomacy from SOAS, University of London and has a Bachelors in Political Science from Kirori Mal College, University of Delhi. During the course of her undergraduate degree she volunteered with multiple NGO’s and also worked for the Government of Delhi as a Policy Intern. In London, she got an opportunity to be a Political Communications Intern at Afghanistan and Central Asian Association. Simran was also part of a week long study tour at the United Nations office in Geneva where she was privy to the complex workings of the organisation and also got an opportunity to chair the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. She has a strong inclination towards International Security and her area of research focuses on Surveillance and Intelligence tactics used by the United States of America both domestically and internationally.