Hong Kong and China: One Country, Two Systems
Updated: Jan 13, 2022
The pro-democracy, anti-government protests in Hong Kong have been exploding since June 2019. Initially peaceful, they slowly began escalating into violent incidents which pushed the city further into chaos.
Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997, when the sovereignty of the territory was returned to China. However, unlike other cities in China, which are tightly governed by the authoritarian central government, Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous city and is free to manage its own affairs based on the “one country, two systems” policy. This is a national unification policy between the UK and China, whereby Hong Kong is guaranteed a separate legal and economic system.
A Proliferation of Protesters
The first protest was triggered by the extradition bill that was introduced in April 2019. This would have allowed for criminal suspects to be detained and transferred to mainland China under certain circumstances, in which judges then must follow the orders of the Communist Party. There was fear that this bill would not target just criminals but political activists as well. Therefore, activists across Hong Kong feared to end up in a mainland legal system where the Communist Party routinely prosecutes people for political reasons and getting exposed to unfair trials and violent treatment. They also argued the bill would give China greater influence over Hong Kong and could be used to target activists and journalists.
The first protest that erupted in April in response to the extradition bill was the city’s biggest in five years, which led to continuous protests erupting until today. Throughout these movements, the protestors have five major demands:
1. Fully withdraw the extradition bill
2. Set up an independent inquiry to probe police brutality
3. Withdraw a characterization of early protests as "riots"
4. Release those arrested at protests
5. Implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong
After hundreds of thousands of people went on the streets in April, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, agreed to the protestor’s first demand and decided to withdraw the extradition bill. However, this was not enough for the protestors; they still had four other demands that needed to be heard.
The protests began peacefully. But now, two protestors have been shot with live rounds, a man was set on fire, and another man died after being hit with a brick during clashes.
On July 21, a mob violently attacked protestors in a subway station, injuring at least 45 people. Protesters accuse the police of neglect during the attack, and many saw this as a sign that the police force couldn't be trusted to protect the people.
Protesters have also become more extreme in their actions, setting fires in subway stations and smashing shop windows—causing destruction and violence to those who oppose the movement and even some supporters.
Months of violence and vandalism have caused Hong Kong’s economy to deteriorate, and Hong Kong officially entered a recession in October.
Tourism numbers are plunging from being 5.9 million in May to becoming 3.1 million in September. In addition, people are losing their jobs, and small businesses have been forced to close. The government has been trying to support the impacted businesses, for example, slashing rents at properties they lease out.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam publicly apologized in the summer for the government’s deficiencies. However, Lam warned that the protests were harming Hong Kong and bringing it to the brink of no return and that the government would not concede to protesters' demands. "If there is any wishful thinking that by escalating violence the government will yield to pressure to satisfy protesters' so-called demands, I'm making this clear that will not happen," she said.
All of the issues that resulted from these protests could eventually recover, but the social divine and mistrust people experienced from the government could take, if possible, a much longer time to heal.