Hong Kong in the spotlight again

Facts and developments in the Hong Kong crisis and China’s ambitions

The new security law that China implemented in late May has sparked another round of riots in the streets of Hong Kong. Protesters are turning, once more, against the plans of the mainland to undermine its autonomy. On the contrary, Beijing is trying to enforce a “law and order” agenda as chaos is spreading in the special administrative region. 

The “one country, two systems” principle was seemingly coherent since Hong Kong passed into Chinese governance in 1997. But a lot of things have changed in the meantime when citizens advocated for pro-democracy policies and greater autonomy. The importance of Hong Kong is particularly highlighted not only for Beijing but also for the world, as the entity holds a prominent financial hub status. 

Since 2019, protests have been raging wild in Hong Kong. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 halted the fight of the citizens over their demands, but the situation has returned now back to where it was. At the same time, China hardens its stance.

Authoritarianism versus democracy

Before 1997, Hong Kong was under British sovereignty as a colony. This situation did not prevent the territory to develop. In fact, quite the opposite. During the ’80s, Hong Kong gained huge economic development and attracted migrants from Asia and around the world. It started gradually to lay the foundations on the economic miracle that it is considered to be today.

When the UK passed sovereignty rights in China, this development continued to be significant. However, the authoritarian views of China into governance and human rights led to the implementation of integration policies towards Hong Kong. At first, Beijing’s efforts were minor but strategic. The Communist Party of China sought to establish friendly relations with local elites in exchange for influence. 

Eventually, this goal turned into systematic efforts when Xi Jinping took over the leadership of the country in 2013. Xi’s rule focused on enhancing the world image of China and on boosting its power to pursue global influence. Simultaneously, an iron fist was necessary for the internal part to consolidate a stable and mighty rule.

In 2014, the Umbrella Movement filled the streets of Hong Kong with pro-democracy demands. The peaceful protesters were silenced by the Chinese authorities either during the unfolding demonstrations or after. Beijing’s response towards the protests led to a newly establish will within Hong Kong’s citizens to adhere to pro-democracy demands in the future.

The extradition bill

In the years that followed, the civil resistance movement grew in the consciousness of Hongkongers. At the same time, independence advocates rose in local governance. Nevertheless, the notorious extradition bill that was introduced in March 2019 tried to halt hopes for institutional changes. According to the bill, any Hong Kong citizen, if arrested, could automatically be extradited to mainland China and have his fate determined by the central government. 

The bill was perceived as a provocation that completely undermined the judicial autonomy of Hong Kong and protesters stormed the streets. The initial demand for withdrawal of the bill was addressed to Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong. The extradition bill was finally withdrawn under the weight of the protests in September 2019.

However, violence continued to be present in the special administrative region, both by protesters and police alike. The democratic demands of the citizens did not cease to exist and the massive waves of riots engulfed completely revolutionary causes. On the 70th anniversary of the Communist Party of China’s rule on October 1, 2019, the brutality reached its peak. 

The local council elections that followed in November were a massive victory for the democratic movement. Protests continued sporadically since then, whereas the coronavirus outbreak pushed them back. But, overall, the Chinese ambitions cast a shadow over renewed willingness for democracy. Beijing’s anger over the fact that it could not implement its agenda led to reconsider its Hong Kong strategies.

Law and order

When the coronavirus pandemic stopped to monopolize China’s priorities, the time came for a fightback in Hong Kong. The violence that occurred in the streets of Hong Kong for several months was an opportunity for Beijing to contain the democratic movement by labeling it as an insurgency or, far worse, an organized plan by its foreign enemies. 

On May 21, 2020, the Chinese parliament introduced the security law or, as was officially adopted one week later, the “Decision to establish and improve a legal framework and enforcement mechanism for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”. The security law aimed to block external interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, criminalize actions that imperil national security such as “subversion” and “secession”, allow the mainland government to install a national security agency in Hong Kong when needed and require the Chief Executive to send the government recurrent reports on national security.

In other words, mainland China abolishes in practice the “other system” that regulates Hong Kong. This could lead to tremendous repression of freedoms within the region as Beijing enforces “law and order”. But human rights are not the only thing that is at risk by this move. The economic freedom that Hong Kong enjoys and is being perceived as its main asset can be potentially damaged if China is to intervene regularly.

After the introduction of the new law, Hong Kong was again filled with massive protests. The arrests of the protestors have grown in hundreds, while police repression had been intensified. Western countries condemned both the law and the violent developments, as well as the practices of the Chinese leadership in general. 

The future of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has taken a major blow from Beijing. Despite that, the streets will continue to be filled with citizens against the Chinese complete rule of the region. If Beijing though tries to impose its will, the situation could turn even more fierce.