Long Story Short: Hong Kong’s Fight for Freedom and Democracy
Can Hong Kong Retain Its Autonomy?
Hong Kong protests started when opposition arose against the now-suspended bill which would have granted Beijing the ability to extradite suspects to mainland China. Activists are fighting against the erosion of constitutional freedoms and democratic processes which have been instated in Hong Kong’s Basic Law. Article 45 of the Basic Law, instated in 1990, states that the chief executive, Hong Kong’s highest-ranking political member, is selected through “universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.” In the Basic Law, Beijing will need to approve all voter decisions made by the people in Hong Kong. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee ruled that in order for a candidate to appear on the Hong Kong voting ballot, they would have to receive more than half of the votes from the nominating committee. This would make it, so that the ballot is identical to the picked chief executives of the election committee and guarantees the candidates would be selected by Beijing. The new amendments to Basic Law legislation have led to increasingly violent street protests by activists who are understandably concerned about retaining their rights.
The Basic Law: The Basic Law, which was created in 1997 when Hong Kong gained its sovereignty from the United Kingdom, governs the 7.2 million residents providing freedom of religion, speech, and press. The citizens of Hong Kong are guaranteed these rights under the Basic Law until 2047. The system known as “one country, two systems” allows territories such as Taiwan and Hong Kong to maintain partially separate governance. Hong Kong citizens have maintained many civil liberties and democratic processes which those under the Communist Party in mainland China do not have.
Freedom and Democracy: Protests which are fueled by police brutality, and eroding civil liberties, and democratic freedoms instated by Hong Kong’s Basic Law have led to wide spread activism. Hong Kong protesters are understandably concerned about protecting Hong Kong’s semi-autonomy from mainland China and their current freedoms of press and speech. Protests began in June, after a bill was initially set which would allow Beijing to extradite any person who it deemed to be a suspect in criminal activity. Protesters have stormed government buildings, public transportation, and airports holding signs stating, “Sorry for the inconvenience, we are fighting for the future of our home.” On June 9th, hundreds of thousands of citizens participated in peaceful marches opposing the bill. On June 16th, another peaceful march took place with 2 million citizens participating and a large majority of demonstrators have been non-violent.
Bill Suspended: On June 15 th, Mrs. Lam suspended the new extradition bill as protests became violent and wide spread but has not yet withdrawn it. Activists will continue protests until the bill is completely and formally withdrawn, and Mrs. Lam resigns from her committee position. Mrs. Lam refuses to concede any further after initial suspension, accusing protesters of wanting “to topple Hong Kong, to thoroughly destroy the livelihoods that seven million people cherish… to the verge of a very dangerous situation. Take a minute to look at our city, our home.” Beijing has continued to support Mrs. Lam and become increasingly threatening with the warnings of military force. Protesters want Hong Kong to retain its semi-autonomy and Mrs. Lam to resign from her chief executive position as she is under mainland Chinese authority.
Erosion of Liberty: The Basic Law and Hong Kong policies has allowed its citizens to maintain many liberties such as freedom of speech, religion, press, and unrestricted access to the internet. Hong Kong remains semi-autonomous until 2047 and has its own government system, laws based off of British legislation, and police. Hong Kong protesters know that their autonomy and constitutional rights are being infringed upon as local government officials are elected by mainland China. The current Hong Kong territory chief executive, Carrie Lam, was elected by the pro-Beijing committee and mainland China has made many intrusions abducting Hong Kong citizens with no due process. The local government which is largely pro-Beijing lawmakers attempted to introduce a bill into Hong Kong legislation which would allow mainland China to extradite any person which they accused of a crime and tried under Communist Party courts. Pro-Beijing chief executive, Mrs. Lam, stated that the introduction of the now-suspended bill would provide justice and prevent those from fleeing prosecution through extradition. The bill would have given mainland China totalitarian jurisdiction allowing them to extradite any person on charges whether they committed a crime or not.
Escalating Tensions: On June 12 th, tensions escalated between activists and police, when the police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to intimidate and disperse non-violent protesters. Protests have become increasingly violent between the protesters and police, with protesters shifting to greater democratic demands. In July, hundreds of protesters wearing black t-shirts and masks broke into government legislative council buildings destroying symbols of Chinese mainland authority and national emblem, as well as halting public transportation systems. Violent street protests have become more frequent with police using tear gas in crowded Hong Kong island, Kowloon, and New Territories districts. Protesters have begun to use more dynamic tactics against police forces organizing in different sections of the city attacking police stations with bricks and starting fires. Activists blocked train stations, main roads, and many citizens stayed home from work, on August 5th. On Tuesday, August 13th, demonstrators disrupted Hong Kong airports shutting down terminal operations and waving banners and chanting in protest. Senior mainland Chinese officials have likened protesters to terrorists and substantiated the threat of militarized force to control activists.
Military Intervention: Under Basic Law legislation, Hong Kong officials are allowed to use military intervention to end the protests but have so far declined. A Beijing official for Hong Kong affairs, Yang Guang, stated “I want to warn all the criminals to not wrongly judge the situation and take restraint for weakness. Blow from the sword of law is waiting for them in the future.” In July, the Chinese military had stated that it will intervene if necessary, to resolve the crisis in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong police force has currently arrested hundreds of protesters, which has not dwindled continuously increasing violent clashes and disruption. Activists demand the release of prisoners held unconstitutionally by the Hong Kong government. President Xi Jinping has yet to publicly comment on the Hong Kong protests and ways to resolve it.
No Middle Ground: Hong Kong protesters wish to retain their freedoms and remain semi-autonomous from mainland China. Hong Kong has been an international finance hub and remained under the “one country, two systems” policy since its separation from Britain in 1997. Weeks of violent protests have ensued after Hong Kong’s chief executive Mrs. Lam attempted to instate a bill which would allow extradition of citizens to mainland China by the Communist Party. Protesters want the bill to be completely withdrawn and Mrs. Lam to step down from her position even though she refuses to do so. Mrs. Lam believes that the conflict can be quelled, and the protesters have been compared to terrorists by mainland Chinese officials. President Xi Jinping has not made public comment on the increasingly violent protests and military intervention may soon be on the way.
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/08/world/asia/hong-kong-protests-explained.html, Daniel Victor and Alan Yuhas, Aug. 8, 2019
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-protests/hong-kong-airport-suspends-check-in-as-leader-bemoans-panic-and-chaos-idUSKCN1V2249, Felix Tam, Brenda Goh, AUGUST 12, 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/10/world/asia/hong-kong-extradition-bill.html?module=inline, Mike Ives, June 10, 2019
https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/30/world/asia/the-hong-kong-protests-what-you-should-know.html?module=inline, Michael Forsythe, Sept. 29, 2014