• Romain Ginet

Hong Kong: How Could Such a Thriving City Collapse into Chaos? (Part 2)

Updated: Nov 14, 2021



Author: Romain Ginet


This series of articles includes two parts and intends to unravel the causes of Hong Kong’s demise under the influence of the Chinese Communist Party. The first article will address Hong Kong’s history under British rule from 1842 to 1997. To understand the city’s collapse, it is essential to study its rise, although it did not always benefit the population. The second article will address the existing Chinese influence in Hong Kong since 1997.

The article does not intend to antagonize the Chinese people, limiting the analysis to the Chinese Communist Party’s actions outside of mainland China.


Part 2: Hong Kong’s demise under Chinese influence


Hong Kong had been a British colony for 156 years. Under British rule, Hong Kong became a thriving city whose cultural background made it both unique and fascinating. However, in 1997, the colony gained an autonomous status and was handed over to China. The Basic Law, the city’s constitution, was created to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy at least until 2047. However, the influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) over Hong Kong has undermined the autonomy and stability of the city. The handover could have marked Hong Kong’s apex, though it has contributed to its demise.


The short-term success of the handover


Everyone welcomed the handover with both curiosity and nervousness as the outcome of such an event was as uncertain as it gets. However, the stock market was not affected, and the former colony kept on thriving.


The first several years of Hong Kong as a special administrative region were quite peaceful, although tensions remained between Beijing supporters and the rest of the population. Yet, the Basic Law, along with the economic expansion, contributed to Hong Kong’s prosperity. In short, the city had been thriving, both economically and freedom-wise. It remained a land where the Rule of Law and fundamental human rights were respected. Meanwhile, in Mainland China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ruled over the country authoritatively.


Hong Kong used to be a safe haven for Chinese dissidents


In 2013, Xi Jinping became the head of the People’s Republic, which worsened the situation in Hong Kong. Under Xi, China has become even more imperialistic toward Southeast Asia and sought to expand its sphere of influence worldwide. Domestically, Xi’s rule over China has led to the restriction of already jeopardized human rights and freedoms. The gap between mainland China and Hong Kong explains why the latter is deeply devoted to its autonomy.


This devotion serves Mainland Chinese dissidents’ interests: they can voice their criticism toward the regime from Hong Kong. Besides, in Mainland China, authorities forbid any commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre, as they label it as a mere “incident”.


This devotion serves Mainland Chinese dissidents’ interests: they can voice their criticism toward the regime from Hong Kong. Besides, in Mainland China, authorities forbid any commemoration of the Tiananmen Square massacre, as they label it as a mere “incident”. The Tiananmen massacre occurred in 1989 when up to a million Chinese citizens (mainly students) gathered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing to demand more freedom (freedom of the press, freedom of speech, among others). The regime tried to choke off the movement on June 4, after nearly two months of protests. It ended in bloodshed as thousands of citizens died, with countless others wounded. Western journalists covered the massacre despite Chinese authorities trying everything to censor what had happened. The commemoration of this tragic event was impossible in Mainland China. Therefore, each year on June 4, vast crowds gather in Hong Kong to prevent it from remaining unremembered. In 2018, around 180,000 people attended the rally.


Hong Kong commemorating China’s Tiananmen massacre in 2018


The Umbrella Movement


The Chinese Communist Party has never ceased trying to assert its primacy over Hong Kong. The CCP worked alongside the Hong Kong Chief Executive to fulfill this ambition.That led to the 2019 extradition bill and protests. Such protests had a premise: the umbrella movement, which emerged in 2014. Hongkongers gathered by the tens of thousands in the streets to claim more transparent and direct elections. As mentioned earlier, Hong Kong political system is deeply flawed as it indirectly allows Chinese influence. Besides, in July 2014, the government issued a proposal for a reform of Hong Kong elections. The population considered the latter deeply anti-democratic since it increased CCP’s interference in Hong Kong. Protests have been met with an extreme use of violence from Hong Kong police. Some analysts even described the response as being “disproportionate”. Pro-democracy protesters have been beaten, jailed, and ostracized.


(Image: JIR Journal)



The movement’s name refers to the umbrellas used by protestors as a protective shield against pepper spray and rubber bullets. Hong Kong’s youth played a tremendous role in the movement, as almost all universities supported the democratic protests. Students organized boycotts and occupied campuses as means of expressing their stance. Furthermore, it must be noted that there also was criticism towards the movement. Indeed, an attack from Anti-Occupy groups took place on October 3, 2014, which resulted in several journalists and protesters being injured. Hong Kong police have been criticized, as they allegedly reacted overly passively to such attacks. Despite this, Hongkongers, as well as the western world, overwhelmingly embraced the movement. The LegCo eventually rejected the proposal, which was a victory for protestors. Nevertheless, these incidents did not temper the government’s ambition. Five years later, Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong Chief Executive, proposed, via the Secretary for Security John Lee, the extradition bill.



The 2019 extradition bill


Hong Kong’s justice system is independent from that of China, meaning that criminals who face charges before the Chinese justice system cannot be extradited to mainland China. As a matter of fact, Hong Kong does not even have an extradition treaty with Taiwan. This absence of extradition treaty with mainland China warrants Hong Kong’s judicial independence. Since the People’s Republic of China is well known for his rigged judicial system, Chinese citizens who criticize the regime and whistleblowers can be jailed for dissidence. Since the handover, the CCP has tried to implement an extradition treaty between Hong Kong and Mainland China, 2 million people gathered in the streets on June 16, 2019 which has, in some cases, worked despite the fact that the law has never changed. However, the extradition Bill proposed by Carrie Lam is a step further towards full-size Chinese judicial interference in Hong Kong. The proposal is known as The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill and was formulated in February 2019. The bill immediately sparked almost unanimous criticism: from the Business sector (for obvious reasons), journalists, Hongkongers, the world etc.


2 million people gathered in the streets on June 16, 2019



The reaction from the population was quick: days after the announcement, a movement unfolded as people gathered into vast crowds to protest the bill. In fact, it appears that Hongkongers immediately understood what the extradition bill was all about: the future of Hong Kong. They knew this bill was a slight element of a much bigger picture, that the ramifications of such a conflict would shape Hong Kong and China’s common fate. Soon enough, the number of people in the streets reached the symbolic number of 2 million. More than one Hongkonger out of four protested. It did not happen once, but several times. On June, 9 and 16, October 1st (National Day), and on other occurrences. At first, protests were peaceful, though it was hard to imagine things could go any other way than they did. Tensions between the police and the population arose amidst protests.


However, what sparked off violence was a much more dramatic event. On July 21, 2019, a pro-Beijing mob beat up MTR station commuters in front of the police. Unsurprisingly, nothing has been done to prevent the beating from happening. Protestors used the station to go to pro-democracy rallies, but there were also families with kids at that moment. The mob was ruthless, as anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path got lynched. This event traumatized the protestors. In the meantime, violence between the protestors and the police kept intensifying. Hereafter, a part of demonstrators felt like they had to defend themselves since the police did not, and worse, were most of the time the offenders. Not only did the police fail to protect the citizens, but they, above all, turned a blind eye to a mob lynching people.


However, what sparked off violence was a much more dramatic event. On July 21, 2019, a pro-Beijing mob beat up MTR station commuters in front of the police. Unsurprisingly, nothing has been done to prevent the beating from happening. Protestors used the station to go to pro-democracy rallies, but there were also families with kids at that moment. The mob was ruthless, as anyone unfortunate enough to cross its path got lynched. This event traumatized the protestors. In the meantime, violence between the protestors and the police kept intensifying. Hereafter, a part of demonstrators felt like they had to defend themselves since the police did not, and worse, were most of the time the offenders. Not only did the police fail to protect the citizens, but they, above all, turned a blind eye to a mob lynching people.


Chinese mob beating a man on July 21, 2019 (Image: mothership.sg)



Polarization of the city


As the repression from the police intensified, the city progressively polarized itself between the pro-democracy and the pro-Beijing activists, worsening the situation.

A reporter wearing a T-shirt saying « I support HK police » was tied up by protesters For instance, in November 2019, after an argument, a pro-democracy activist set afire a pro-Beijing man. These incidents only gave more legitimacy to Carrie Lam, the current Hong Kong Chief Executive, to violently repress every protest. The use of lethal force, the beating of peaceful protestors, the use of bean bags, and tear-gas gradually became the norm in Hong Kong. The beautiful picture of a united Hong Kong, voicing its profound attachment to freedom and justice during several 2 million people’s marches, tragically turned into an image of an agonizing city whose soul was slowly fading away.


As Hongkong’s protestors radicalized, police retaliation got stronger and stronger. The city’s predicament never ceased to get worse. Hong Kong tycoons and alleged pro-Beijing businesses have been targeted and vandalized. The heated situation reached its peak when the police started to shoot protestors with live rounds. This doesn’t necessarily account for the police brutality (though very much in place) in Hong Kong since some protestors were threatening the life of officers.


Pro-democracy advocates considered this violent repression in their pondering on the future of the city. Some of them eventually got to the conclusion that Hong Kong could only be safe when purely independent. Since the city reached this situation despite being autonomous, the only solution may seem to become independent. This only concerns a small number of protestors, as most of them only had 5 (slightly less unrealistic) demands:

- The full withdrawal of the extradition bill

- A commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality

- Retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters”

- Amnesty for arrested protesters

- Dual universal suffrage, meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive



The West’s reaction to political unrest and violent repression


Hong Kong protests have had a tremendous impact, even overseas. The United States was in the middle of a trade war in China and used the unrest to legitimize it. However, this strategic use of Hong Kong protests has allowed the US Congress to pass, in November 2019, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. This bill states that if China and Hong Kong officials perpetrated any human rights abuse in the city, the special administrative region will lose its favorable status and be treated as is China.


As for the United Kingdom, the government lingered over the issue for months. Eventually, the former colonizer offered, under certain conditions, asylum and citizenship for Hongkongers fleeing their homeland.


The CCP tried its best to prevent any criticism towards China, or support Hong Kong protests from spreading. China even pressured Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, an NBA team, to remove a tweet supporting Hong Kong protests. China weighs US$4 billion in revenue to the NBA, which pushed the latter to apologize. LeBron James, who has huge interests in China also contributed to the censorship: “I don’t want to get into a [verbal] feud with Daryl Morey, but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand, and he spoke, […] and so many people could have been harmed not only financially, but also physically, emotionally, and spiritually”


Daryl Morey’s deleted tweet



Withdrawal of the bill: a mere façade hiding the national security law


On October 23, 2019, the extradition bill was officially withdrawn. Protests continued since the Hong Kong government dismissed the 4 other demands. On November 24, 2019, district council elections have been held, and the pro-democracy party has taken the majority of the seats, a tremendous shift in HK politics. These elections permitted the world to know whether the citizens supported the Hong Kong protests, and the answer was crystal clear: 70% of voter turnout (only 40% in 2014) and 86% of the seats for the pan-democratic coalition. Within a month, protestors won the elections and obtained the withdrawal. This was, nevertheless, the last victory for the pro-democracy movement. The withdrawal was a smokescreen, whose purpose was only to ease the protests before trying to reimplementing the bill.



If 2019 usually stands out as the year Hong Kong collapsed, 2020 marked the city’s last breath. Covid-19 tremendously affected the pro-democracy movement, which lost most of its intensity. Besides, in June 2020, the National Security law was signed. Not only did the law rehabilitate the extradition bill, but it also added layers of new measures even worse than the original bill. First, any crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces became punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. By subversion and terrorism, it is said that authorities could label damaging public transport facilities as terrorism. If a citizen is convicted, they will become ineligible for office. In some cases, trials can be transferred over Chinese jurisdiction. Besides, Beijing established a new security office in Hong Kong, with law enforcement personnel that does not come under the local authority’s jurisdiction. Hong Kong also established its own national security commission to enforce the laws, with a Beijing-appointed adviser.


Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was first banned from funning in the elections, then arrested over “violation of the national security law”.

These are just the primary measures of the 66 article-long law. They apply to literally everyone, regardless of their citizenship or their country of residence. To sum up, the National Security Law allows Beijing to interfere in the Hong Kong’s judicial system, to label anyone protesting as a terrorist and convict them for subversion, thus preventing them from running for office (let alone the fact that they face a maximum sentence of life in prison). In fact, this happened: after the legislative council elections debacle for the Pro-Establishment movement, the government postponed the legislative council elections for “covid reasons”. They were supposed to take place in September 2020 but will take place on December 19, 2021. By the time they take place, the government banned 12 pro-democracy candidates from running in the elections, leading to a total vacancy of 27 pro-democracy candidates. In addition, in January 2021, 53 pro-democracy activists, former opposition legislators, social workers, and academics were arrested for “subverting the state power” and “conspiring to obtain 35 more seats at the Legislative Council”. All these measures taken by the Hong Kong government, in close collaboration with Beijing, put an end to what protestors have fought for, over the last months: to preserve their fundamental freedoms. The protests have ceased and Hong Kong has fallen.


Conclusion


China needs Hong Kong to be stable and keep on thriving. With the National Security law, future protests seem unlikely to emerge. Because of covid, the whole world has forgotten about Hong Kong. The US and the UK try to counter China in the South China Sea (with the newly formed AUKUS alliance). China’s next step might be to regain Taiwan. The West understood it and is preparing for a potential conflict.


Hong Kong has fallen, but Hong Kong is not yet dead, for this city is so much more than just a few angry protestors. Hong Kong has a soul that will keep on living through Hongkongers, whether they are far from home. That is why one might think the city can never die: even those who leave bring a piece of Hong Kong with them, which they will both share and defend for life.


Hong Kong used to be a land of freedom, but it still has much more to offer. It is a land of culture, history, and marvels. It is no coincidence that, despite the protests, it still is the most visited city in the world. Perhaps because it is one of the most wondrous cities the world has ever known.


Sources


The anthem of the Hong Kong protests helps understand that protestors were only fighting for freedom, not independence.



Glory to Hong Kong: Anthem of the Hong Kong protests


We pledge No more tears on our land

In wrath, doubts dispell’d we make our stand

Arise! Ye who would not be slaves again:

For Hong Kong, may Freedom reign!


Though deep is the dread that lies ahead

Yet still, with our faith, on we tread

Let blood rage afield! Our voice grows evermore:

For Hong Kong, may Glory reign!

Stars may fade, as darkness fills the air



Through the mist a solitary trumpet flares:

Now, to arms! For Freedom, we fight, with all might we strike!

With valour, wisdom both, we stride!'


Break now the dawn, liberate our Hong Kong

In common breath: Revolution of our times!

May people reign, proud and free, now and evermore

Glory be to thee, Hong Kong!


Wikipedia:


· https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Tiananmen_Square_protests_and_massacre

· https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Hong_Kong_extradition_bill

· https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019%E2%80%932020_Hong_Kong_protests


BBC:


· https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-47810723

· https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-52765838

· https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-53563090

· https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-42465516


Other:

· https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Publications_Archive/CIB/CIB9697/97cib33

· https://www.worldscientific.com/doi/10.1142/S0217590807002543

· https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/04/world/asia/hong-kong-tiananmen-vigil.html

140 views0 comments