In 2019, a horde of people barricaded themselves in a building, set fires and bombs, and crawled through sewers to escape police arrest.
They were not the criminals as you would expect — they were young students at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The students were protesting the extradition law that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be tried in mainland China.
Now, China has announced a more restrictive law, allowing itself more control over activities in Hong Kong. Large-scale protests have erupted in Hong Kong again, despite the coronavirus and social distancing guidelines.
Countries such as the U.S and U.K have threatened China with consequences if it cracks down on Hong Kong. But if Hong Kong is a part of China, then why is it fighting for self-government?
One Country, Two Systems
Hong Kong was under British occupation for 156 years, a trophy from the Opium Wars between China and Britain.
The region began to adopt British customs, like drinking tea with milk and pastries, as well as British rights, like freedom of speech and protest. It continued as a capitalist port when China became communist, developing its individual economy. Although most of the population of Hong Kong were from Chinese immigrant families, they identified as Hongkongers, not Chinese.
In 1997, Britain’s claim to Hong Kong expired. Britain agreed to move Hong Kong back under China’s control, provided that Hong Kong’s independent government and culture be preserved for 50 years. China agreed, and generally respected the terms. Hong Kong made up a great portion of the Chinese economy — the Chinese needed to keep the region happy.
China Exerts Control
But, in 2012, the Chinese attitude towards Hong Kong dramatically changed. Mainland China’s economy had skyrocketed, and Hong Kong’s economy was less important.
Xi Jinping, the current leader of China, had just come to power, and wanted to tighten China’s grasp on the area. Hong Kong’s independently democratic principles -- people’s election, free press, and independent judges -- started to disintegrate.
Now, China has proposed a national security law that would allow its government to set up agencies in Hong Kong that will take care of treasonous and seditious (rebellious language against a government) matters.
Why is China stepping up its control? The Hong Kong government had been reluctant to pass national security measures after the violent protests, so the Chinese government wants to take control. Also, some pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong had started to develop again after being suppressed by the coronavirus pandemic. This could have prompted China to take a stand against protests as quickly as possible.
The act has made critics fearful that China will exert too much influence and stifle Hongkongers’ freedom of speech and protest. The law will be confirmed in a meeting of China's Communist Party this week. With more protests planned, the whole world will be watching how China reacts.
Sources: NYTimes, BBC, hongkongfp.com, un.org