Hong Kong History and the 2019 Protest

Updated on August 21, 2019
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Jagatheesh is a Political science student with special love for History and polity around the world.

Protests beginning in March of 2019 focused on people's fear that China's growing power will undermine the autonomy of Hong Kong.
Protests beginning in March of 2019 focused on people's fear that China's growing power will undermine the autonomy of Hong Kong. | Source

Hong Kong is a special administrative territory under sovereign control of China. Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire after the First Opium War in 1842. In 1997, control of the state was transferred to China by the United Kingdom. Though still under China's control, this tiny state has more freedom than Communist China. But in 2019, a proposed bill on extradition has caused an uproar among the people of Hong Kong, which led to huge protests around the territory.

A Brief History of Hong Kong

In 1842, the Treaty of Nanking brought Hong Kong under the control of the British Empire for 156 years after the First Opium War. It was originally a sparsely populated area with fishing and agriculture as its main occupation. After the Taiping Rebellion, many wealthy Chinese people settled in Hong Kong and improved the conditions on the island.

One Country, Two Systems

During the Second World War, Hong Kong went under Japanese control for four years. The coastal state also played as a haven for people fleeing mainland China during the Chinese Revolution. Over half a million people left the territory between 1987 and 1996, fearing the erosion of freedom. In 1997, the treaty signed between China and the United Kingdom made Hong Kong a semi-autonomous region for 50 years under the condition that they would be one country with two systems. More than 90% of the Hong Kong citizens are of Chinese origin.

Hong Kong people say Hong Kong needs to preserve its uniqueness. I say Hong Kong's uniqueness is in its diversity, its tolerance of difference cultures... China does not want to see Hong Kong in decline. I have full confidence in its future.

— Jack Ma

Administrative Control of Hong Kong

According to Hong Kong's Basic Law, the state retains its judicial, economic and political system, and it participates in international forums as a dependent territory. An economic intelligence unit rated Hong Kong as a flawed democracy. As per the provisions of its handover from Britain to China, Hong Kong has more political freedom and internet freedom than mainland China. Mainland authorities are not allowed to operate directly in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's government is formally headed by the Chief Executive of the special administrative region, who nominates principal executives to be appointed by China. The governmental secretariat is headed by the Chief Secretary, and the Chief Secretary and other secretaries jointly oversee the administration of Hong Kong. The territory is financially independent, and China is responsible for defense and foreign policy.

Hong Kong has created one of the most successful societies on Earth.

— Prince Charles

Hong Kong's Role in the World Economy

Hong Kong is considered a gateway to the mainland Chinese economy, as 60% of China's outbound investment is channeled through Hong Kong, and this coastal and island territory is a global powerhouse for trade, finance and insurance sectors. It contributes to 5.2% of world trade and ranked as the third most powerful financial center after London and New York.

According to the Index of Economic Freedom, Hong Kong has the highest degree of economic freedom in the world. This special administrative region is considered the hub for startups around the world due to its economic freedom and non-interference from government, its sound banking system and its strong legal mechanisms.

This coastal and island territory is a global powerhouse for trade, finance and insurance sectors.
This coastal and island territory is a global powerhouse for trade, finance and insurance sectors. | Source

The Extradition Bill and Protests of 2019

A bill allowing the extradition of people from Hong Kong was enacted in response to a homicide involving a Hong Kong couple in Taiwan in 2018. Since there was no extradition treaty with Taiwan, negotiation for the case was a setback since Taiwan doesn't have sovereignty. To overcome this shortcoming, an extradition bill was proposed by the Hong Kong government, under which the local authorities can have the power to detain and extradite people to other countries where Hong Kong has no formal extradition treaty. It also includes China, which created heat among pro-democratic people.

The main fear of the people is that this bill gives more power to China, thereby undermining the autonomy of Hong Kong. People started protesting in March, but protests were intensified in June. Many are demanding an extradition treaty with Taiwan alone.

The Beijing government and state-run media have accused foreign forces of interfering with domestic affairs and supporting the protesters, but the global community has denied this accusation and termed it a tactic used by China to weaken the protest.

Many protesters demand an extradition treaty with Taiwan alone.
Many protesters demand an extradition treaty with Taiwan alone. | Source

Demands of Protesters

The Hong Kong protesters' demands include:

  • The complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process.
  • The release and exoneration of arrested protesters.
  • Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct and use of force during the protests.

So far, 5 people committed suicide in support of the protests.
So far, 5 people committed suicide in support of the protests.

Support Around the World

Hong Kong immigrants around the world have supported the protests in peaceful ways including rallies, demonstrations and peaceful gatherings. On June 9, 2019, the Hong Kong diaspora community organised rallies in major cities around the world like New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto, Berlin, Tokyo, Perth, Taipei and Brisbane.

Some people gather their support from the online community through social media campaigns and by signing petitions. On June 17, 1,500 people protested outside the Chinese Consulate in Vancouver. On July 14, a "Sing for Hong Kong" event was held in London. In Australia, clashes between the Hong Kong supporters and pro-China supporters made the Australian foreign minister intervene. The protesters used the mobile app Telegram, an encrypted messaging service, to communicate their plan with the community. On Twitter, the President of the United States urged his Chinese counterpart to talk to protesters and end the issue.

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    © 2019 Jagatheesh Aruchami

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