The catalyst for the 2019 Hong Kong protests was the proposed extradition law which was strongly opposed by a majority of Hong Kong residents. The law essentially involves the right for fugitives to be transferred to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong hasn’t established an extradition deal. Mainland China is one of these jurisdictions, and this being the country with which Hong Kong has historically experienced most tension with, the potential legislation quickly became very controversial.
The protests that rose when the extradition law was proposed, have hence after spurred large parts of the public into a mass pro-democracy movement. Though Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has passed the suggested law, the public are still concerned about, and incensed with, the increasing presence of Beijing in the city’s governing and legalities.
Police opposition to these political efforts have only continued to raise the people’s concerns. Within the last few months the violent relationship between the police and civilian protesters has been severely criticised by media for crossing an ‘ethical line’. Large headlines proclaiming the throwing of teargas and the beating of civilians taking part in the protests, are exploding up all over news pages and the internet.
Only this week a video showcasing the police force beating a protester was leaked on a live streaming forum. Though first stated that what was being kicked was merely a “yellow object” by police representative Vasco Williams, a closer examination of the video revealed this “object” on the ground to be a human being. Since this knowledge was released the police force has drawn immense criticism from the public as well as given the civil and political unrest in Hong Kong a reborn global attention.
After four months of steady protests, hundreds of articles have been written covering the current events and crucial state of Hong Kong. To truly comprehend the nature of the disputes, however, it is essential to look back and examine the history of the region and it’s sovereign states.
Important to note is that Hong Kong has been granted a unique status that differentiates from other cities in China. Though the sovereign state today remains mainland China, Hong Kong is given another label officially written as; the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. The stature of a Special Administrative Region means that Hong Kong is given the highest level of autonomy in terms of provincial-level administrative operations, though still fundamentally under the Central People’s Government of Beijing. Besides Hong Kong, Macau is another SAR labelled constitution, and what is interesting is that in both cases the regions were formerly under Western rule; Hong Kong having been a Sino-British, and Macau a Portuguese dependency in the recent past.
China’s lease of these two cities to European empires almost two centuries ago has had significant impact on the populations and cultures of the areas which can be directly linked to the events of the modern day.
Britain’s occupation of the southern Chinese city, Hong Kong, began in 1841 when the island region was taken over for the purposes of a military staging point. The official handover of the city took place the following year when China was defeated and had no other option but to surrender Hong Kong to the Crown Colony of the British Empire. In 1898 the British made a deal with China for a 99 year-long lease of Hong Kong, meaning the districts return to China 22 years since the current day; in 1997.
Though a notion that Hong Kongers wanted to stay British has circulated in the West since the handover, local views on this exchange hasn’t exactly corresponded to this common thought. In fact, right before the handover took place the University of Hong Kong followed through with several polls showing that people on average were positive or neutral about the resignation to the mainland. Saying this, the poll that was created around 30 years ago had been based on the agreement that the city would be allowed to keep its separate system for at least 50 years.
Looking at the events taking place in current day Hong Kong, aspects of this system such as freedom of speech and human rights have begun to waver. New statistics are being brought up and are showing that youth, especially, are decreasingly disposed to being identified as part of the broader China and care strongly about the preservation of a liberal and democratic Hong Kong.
Image: inmediahk.net (CC BY-NC 2.0) via globalvoices.org