The country of Hong Kong, has in recent years, been known for being a shopper’s paradise and one of the hot favorites of tourists for vacation. It has also gradually emerged as one of the world’s most bustling financial hubs. However, on the political front, it has been going through a major identity crisis this year, with hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers taking to the streets to rebel against the Chinese government.
Let me give a bit of an overview. Till 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony, the effect of the Opium Wars between China and Great Britain, forced the former to give Hong Kong up to the latter, with a 99-year lease, which ended in 1997. Great Britain handed over Hong Kong back to China as a Special Administrative Region and that is how Hong Kong came to be known as ‘Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China’. This gave birth to the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle which essentially meant a special status for Hong Kong, granting full autonomy in affairs of finance, economy, law, governance, currencies, etc. except for defense and diplomatic relations. This principle had a timeline of 50 years and it was expected that this agreement would be honored by the Chinese government to the fullest. However, promises were broken by China and this is the reason for the public outcry in the region of Hong Kong.
Protestors claim that repeatedly, the Community Party of China has tried to undermine the independence bestowed upon the people of Hong Kong. From making the people of Hong Kong elect their leader from the ones chosen by Beijing and not granting the promised “true universal suffrage”, decreasing press freedom, promoting infrastructure connecting mainland China to Hong Kong, to introducing a new extradition bill, China has time and again showed its desire to exert control and gain power. These actions have spurred unrest and retaliation in the streets of Hong Kong since 2014, finally culminating in one huge protest in the month of June this year. In the wake of the extradition bill being introduced early this year, they resorted to widespread demonstrations on the streets, with the police firing rubber bullets, using tear gas and whatnot. You can see words like ‘Chinazi’ on the street walls. The message is clear- let the Hong Kong people rule over Hong Kong.
China has maintained that these attempts are nothing but a ploy to create a ruckus. It has tried to discredit these protests, even going so far as to unleash fake twitter accounts, spreading false propaganda against the protestors.
Twitter hit back by banning some 1000 Chinese accounts. Something similar happened with Facebook. China has failed to accept even the root cause of this widespread outrage, blaming the whole of it on unaffordable housing and unemployment. While these factors do add to the dismay of Hong Kongers yet the root cause is crystal clear- the increasing loss of democracy felt by the citizens since 1997.
Most citizens of Hong Kong have stopped seeing themselves as Chinese. According to a survey, only 11% of people call themselves Chinese, the rest do not. Even the differences between Hong Kong and China are huge- whether political, social, cultural. Hong Kong has integrated western values with traditional Chinese values and is a multi-ethnic society and this has also caused a rift between the two regions. Why China wishes to reunite with Hong Kong has a simple answer- gaining power.
If we consider the implications it will have on Hong Kong losing its Special Administrative Region status in the year 2047- they will be huge and long-lasting. This special status granted them independent executive, legislative and judicial powers and ripping these away from them will affect the economy and socio-cultural environment of Hong Kong. Hong Kong used to be the freest economy in the world; however, the economy has gradually stagnated owing to the growing tensions with China. One can imagine the magnitude of the hit the economy will suffer when the special status is completely dissolved because investors like the US view Hong Kong separate from China and the integration might discourage them. Other changes may be geographical, societal and political changes. However, only time can tell how this will really play out. Some Chinese officials have been seen to be hinting at the extension of the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems” beyond 2047.
The solution to this problem isn’t easy. It will involve reflecting on actions by China, understanding the plight of the Hong Kong citizens and mostly finding a middle ground. The government needs to understand the need of respecting the autonomy and independence of Hong Kong; it cannot be subjecting the people to the same political values it practices in the mainland. Hong Kong people do not hate China, they love their freedom more. They just simply don’t want the ‘mainland station’ of their country. It’s imperative that the Hong Kong government is provided with enough authority and power to decide the future course of things before it’s too late. It needs to realize the importance of respecting the democracy on which the country was built on. Listen to what the common people want and peace shall prevail.