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A Familiar Scene: Protests and Police Brutality in Hong Kong

Each attempt by the Chinese government to increase its control over Hong Kong has triggered grassroots anti-China, pro-democracy movements that draw the attention of foreign powers
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In June 2019, protestors took to the streets of Hong Kong. The crowds, largely composed of young Hong Kong residents, were demonstrating against Beijing’s proposed extradition law, which would allow suspected criminals to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China. 

The rallies drew an estimated 1 million people and lasted for several months without interruption. While people protested the enactment of the extradition law and overall Chinese involvement in Hong Kong affairs, police forces fired tear gas and water cannons at the crowds of protesters. Although brutal and exhausting, the movement seems to have been worth the effort as the bill was formally withdrawn in October 2019. 

Protesters Taking to the Streets Once Again 

Nearly a year later, in May 2020, Beijing pushed forward another proposal, a national security law which would allow China’s national security agencies to operate in Hong Kong for the first time. The proposed legislation reignited protests, despite the social distancing regulations implemented to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

According to Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, the Hong Kong government has been required to enact a national security law prohibiting “acts of treason, secession, sedition, or subversion [against the Chinese state]” ever since Hong Kong was returned to mainland China in 1997 after more than 150 years under the colonial rule of the United Kingdom. However, such action could not be achieved due to lack of public support,  and thus after 23 years, Beijing unilaterally introduced the law, bypassing the Hong Kong government. 

Although the draft law has not yet been made public, some details have been revealed

– Hong Kong shall establish a national security commission which will be supervised by and held accountable to the Chinese Central Government

– The Chinese Central Government shall also set up a national security office in Hong Kong to analyze the national security situation in the city, collect intelligence, and deal with criminal cases related to national security 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that the law would have “no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents or the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.” He also added that the law would “improve Hong Kong’s legal system, bring more stability, stronger rule of law and a better business environment.” 

Dennis Kwok, a pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong, however, has argued that China’s new national security law would effectively end the “one country, two systems” principle that has afforded Hong Kong a certain degree of autonomy since it became a Special Administrative Region of China in 1997. 

“One Country, Two Systems” 

Negotiations to transfer British control over Hong Kong to China took years, with the parties issuing the Sino-British Joint-Declaration in 1984. According to this treaty, in 1997 the “one country, two systems” framework would begin to govern bilateral relations between China and Hong Kong, thereby allowing Hong Kong to continue to function under its preexisting capitalist system while mainland China would maintain its socialist system. The same framework also applies to relations between China and Macau, which was transferred to China by Portugal in 1999. 

Agreeing to the “one country, two systems” mechanism, China assured all relevant parties that Hong Kong’s legal system, way of life, and status as a major center of finance and international trade would remain unchanged for 50 years. 

However, China’s current attempts to intervene in Hong Kong affairs raise concerns with regard to its commitment to the “one country, two systems” principle, and in turn, the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong in general.

In a joint statement issued by former Hong Kong Governor Christopher Patten and former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, 186 legal and policy leaders expressed that the proposed law was a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms” and a “flagrant breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. 

On June 17, 2020, spearheaded by the UK, the G7 also issued a joint statement expressing its grave concern over China’s plans to impose the national security law and urging the Chinese Government to reconsider.  The US also went as far as to state that the proposed legislation could even lead to US sanctions. 

During a recent press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying lashed out at the UK for issuing its regular six-month report on developments in Hong Kong, stating “Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs. No foreign organization or individual has the right to intervene. The British side has no sovereignty, governance, supervision or so-called responsibility over Hong Kong.”   

The statement of Chunying clearly reveals China’s intolerance of any involvement, criticism, or comments with respect to recent developments in Hong Kong, while simultaneously justifying the calls for oversight and foreign assistance from the people of Hong Kong themselves.