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Hong Kong Protests

  Mar 17, 2020

Hong Kong Protests

How did they begin?

The protests began over plans - later set aside - that would have allowed extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China. But they've now spread to reflect wider demands for democratic reform.

How is Hong Kong different from other Chinese cities?

Hong Kong is significantly different from other Chinese cities.

It was a British colony for more than 150 years - part of it, Hong Kong island, was ceded to the UK after a war in 1842. Later, China also leased the rest of Hong Kong - the New Territories - to the British for 99 years.

It became a busy trading port, and its economy galloped since   the 1950s as it became a manufacturing hub. The territory was also popular with migrants and dissidents fleeing instability, poverty or persecution in mainland China.

When did it change hands from UK to China?

In the early 1980s, as the deadline for the 99-year-lease approached, Britain and China began talks on the future of Hong Kong - with the communist government in China arguing that all of Hong Kong should be returned to Chinese rule.

The two sides reached a deal in 1984 that would see Hong Kong return to China in 1997, under the principle of "one country, two systems".

What is "one country, two systems"?

This meant that while becoming part of one country with China, Hong Kong would enjoy "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for 50 years.

As a result, Hong Kong has its own legal system and borders, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech are protected.

For example, it is one of the few places in Chinese territory where people can commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, where the military opened fire on unarmed protesters in Beijing.

Hong Kong still enjoys freedoms not seen on mainland China - but critics say they are on the decline.

Rights groups have accused China of meddling in Hong Kong, citing examples such as legal rulings that have disqualified pro-democracy legislators. Artists and writers say they are under increased pressure to self-censor.

A contentious point has been democratic reform. Explain

Hong Kong's leader, the chief executive, is currently elected by a 1,200-member election committee - a mostly pro-Beijing body chosen by just 6% of eligible voters. Not all the 70 members of the territory's law making body, the Legislative Council, are directly chosen by Hong Kong's voters. Most seats not directly elected are occupied by pro-Beijing lawmakers.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, says that ultimately both the leader, and the Legislative Council, should be elected in a more democratic way - but there's been disagreement over what this should look like.

The Chinese government said in 2014 it would allow voters to choose their leaders from a list approved by a pro-Beijing committee, but critics called this a "false democracy" and it was voted down in Hong Kong's legislature.

In 28 years' time in 2047, the Basic Law expires - and what happens to Hong Kong's autonomy after that is unclear.

Give a brief history of protests in HK.

Protests have continued since 1997, but now the biggest ones tend to be of a political nature - and bring demonstrators into conflict with mainland China's position.

While Hong Kongers have a degree of autonomy, they have little liberty in the polls, meaning protests are one of the few ways they can make their opinions heard.

There were large protests in 2003 (up to 500,000 people took to the streets and led to a controversial security bill being scrapped) and annual marches for universal suffrage - as well as memorials to the Tiananmen Square crackdown - are milestones of the territory's calendar.

The 2014 demonstrations took place over several weeks and saw Hong Kongers demand the right to elect their own leader. But the so-called Umbrella movement eventually fizzled out with no concessions from Beijing.

What is the umbrella movement?

The Umbrella Movement was a political movement that emerged during the Hong Kong democracy protests of 2014.Its name arose from the use of umbrellas as a tool for passive resistance to the Hong Kong Police's use of pepper spray to disperse the crowd during a 79-day occupation of the city demanding more transparent elections.

What are the deeper causes of the protests?

Protests featuring diverse groups, with widening demands underscoring the steady rise in social and political divisions in recent years, emanated mainly from the deep-seated apprehension of the erosion of autonomy under “one country, two systems”, as well as economic inequality and high living costs

What do the protesters want?

The protests were triggered by opposition to a planned law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a wider movement for democratic reform and the protection of freedoms.

Protesters are now demanding

1. The resignation of city leader Carrie Lam,

2. An independent inquiry into police tactics,

3. An amnesty for those arrested,

4. A permanent withdrawal of the reviled extradition bill, and

5. The right to elect their leaders.

How is the impact on HK seen?

Hong Kong’s current political unrest and rising public distrust in the government run the risk of damaging business confidence and eroding the quality and effectiveness of governance.

Hong Kong’s AA+ rating, which is three notches above mainland China’s A+ rating, rested on the assumption that the territory’s governance standards, rule of law, policy framework, as well as business and regulatory environments remain distinct from those of the mainland.

Further, heavy handed police responses, public backlashes and the government’s seeming inability to address the public’s concerns were fuelling discontent which could cause lasting damage to business confidence.

How did China respond?

Chinese government strongly supports the Carrie Lam-led Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong police are suppressing the protesters. China blames the protests on the US support.

The protests are being watched keenly in the mainland and Taiwan as people there have demands that are similar- democracy in China and anti-Chinese domination in Taiwan.

If “our Pearl of the Orient” — as Chinese state media called Hong Kong— were to still be seized by protests and strikes on China’s National Day, Oct. 1, it would directly undermine Xi’s narrative that a strong Communist Party under his supreme leadership is leading the Chinese people toward greatness and unity.

How does the younger generation of Hong Kong people feel?

The younger people in Hong Kong are less proud of becoming a national citizen of China, and also more negative toward the Central Government's policies on Hong Kong.

Hong Kong residents have described legal, social and cultural differences - and the fact Hong Kong was a separate colony for 150 years - as reasons for why they don't identify with their compatriots in mainland China.

There has also been a rise in anti-mainland Chinese sentiment in Hong Kong in recent years. Some young activists have even called for Hong Kong's independence from China, something that alarms the Beijing government. Protesters feel the extradition bill, if passed, would bring the territory closer under China's control.