Words || Shivani Srivastava
You may have noticed, while scrolling through SkyScanner at your 8am lecture, that flights to Hong Kong are super cheap right now. But before you go quit your day job and move country, have a quick read on what’s trending in the area.
Mid-June, the Chinese government introduced an extradition bill that in its effect, would require some defendants of specific crimes to be extradited to China from Hong Kong. After the introduction of the bill, protest ensued. Many Hong Kong citizens took the streets to protest the intervention of China in what they perceived as a start to Chinese control and intervention in Hong Kong.
China rebuked the protests as unsafe and have indicated they will not compromise to appease the protestors. In August, approximately 1.7 million Hong Kong nationals (about a quarter of the population) marched in protest down the streets of Hong Kong. There have been reports indicating that some protests have experienced bouts of violence. Airports have been occupied by these protests, delaying several flights to and from Hong Kong, additionally affecting Australian nationals in the area. On the 4th of September, Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, announced that extradition bill will be revoked. While this significantly reduced the amount of protest, there still remains some resistance from Hong Kong citizens claiming it is ‘too little, too late’. There is still residual tension existing between Hong Kong and China that was not solely created by the bill, and neither was it quashed when the bill was revoked. Amidst the 2019 protests, is a historical tension of sovereignty and political dispute that has resurfaced once again in the form of protest. Hong Kong is no stranger to protest, and its presence this year is symptomatic of a greater issue, that is the relationship between China and Hong Kong.
Up until 1842, in recent history, Hong Kong was never disputed as part of the larger Chinese kingdom. In 1842 however, China relinquished Hong Kong to the Brits after its defeat in the first Opium War. The first Opium War broke out when China cracked down on what had started as Britain’s supply and smuggling of opium into the country. As a highly addictive drug, millions of Chinese were dying due to its over-supply in the country, however, as Britain and China went to war, China was defeated and ceded Hong Kong to the Brits under the Treaty of Nanjing. This first treaty would grant Hong Kong to Britain for an indefinite period of time. In 1898, The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory, would allow the British to ‘lease’ the surrounding areas of Hong Kong, the New Territories, for a period of 99 years, ending on the 1st of July 1997. In this 150-lease period, China and Hong Kong experiences ran parallel and separate courses. In 1949, China was established a Communist nation whilst Hong Kong reflected the democratic political systems of the British. In this time, it is recorded approximately 100,000 Chinese refugees had fled to Hong Kong. As a subject of the British empire, Hong Kong became a trading port whose population began to reflect the international nature of the trade and political relations of the island.
In 1984, everybody’s favourite hype girl, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and China’s Premier Zhao Ziyang signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, forming the “one party, two systems” policy that we know today. This policy would allow China to reclaim the territories in 1997 but would grant some autonomy to the region for the next 50 years. Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China, it would retain some elements of the democratic system (hence the ‘two systems’) and some democratic rights (enshrined in its constitution) but would ultimately be overseen by China (the “one party”). In this instance, Hong Kong nationals would not elect their own leader, rather, the Chief Executive would be elected by an election committee chosen by China (the current Chief Executive being Carrie Lam). Many Hong Kong residents (labelled ‘pro-democracy’ protestors) feel that 150 years of British rule has largely changed the landscape of the region, believing that fully relinquishing control to the Chinese mainland would create irreconcilable differences. That is not to say that all of Hong Kong is at a complete consensus with this idea, there are Hong Kong residents that seek to re-join the mainland, often labelled as ‘pro-Beijing’ protestors.
The effects of these protests have extended beyond Hong Kong. Instances of pro-Beijing and pro-democracy protestors clashing outside the two regions have been reported. In Australia, instances of protest in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide while largely peaceful, have had some instances of clashes. In the University of Queensland, pro-Beijing and pro-democracy protestors have clashed, leading to police being called to the scene with no arrests being made.
While the Extradition Bill, which was the crux of the protests has been withdrawn, residual protests still continue. However, predicting the end of these 2019 is a moot point. The tension that has arisen due to the Bill is something that has existed long before. Notable protests include when tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets in 2012 to protest the changes in school curricula, and once again in 2014, the Umbrella Revolution protests occurred, where residents took to the streets to fight for voting reform. Hong Kong is no stranger to protest and as 2049 approaches – the year that China would abolish the “one party, two systems” policy and resumes complete control over the region – how these two regions will react is yet to be seen. Professor Victoria Hui, who teaches political science at the University of Notre Dame has been reported stating, “How this is going to play out is really hard to say… [b]ut Hong Kong will definitely never be the same.”