An adaptation of the painting 'Liberty Leading the People' by @harcourtromanticist

Is it the beginning of the end of Hong Kong?

China is closing its grip on Hong Kong, there are bigger forces at play that we do not fully understand!

The threat of coronavirus is still at large but something more sinister is waiting for Hong Kong. Massive protests have taken place in the city whenever the people feel that somehow China is trying to interfere in the Hong Kong way of living. There were three main movements in the year 2014, 2017 and 2019-20. Thousands of people from Hong Kong have organized a demonstration opposing Beijing’s decision to implement the newly proposed national security legislation. Beijing announced plans to enact Hong Kong laws that would prohibit subversion, secession, international intervention, and other actions that endanger national security. Protestors are concerned that the laws are not compatible with the policy of “one nation, two systems” and that limits their traditional freedoms. To understand why Hong Kong keeps protesting and why China is so adamant? We need to go back in time when Hong Kong was under British Control.

When China sponsored Britain’s Tea

 Around the late 1600s, early 1700s Britain started trading with China for commodities like Chinese porcelain and silk, but there was one thing that Britain loved more than anything else the herb called tea. It was the only place on Earth that was producing tea on a massive scale and the people back in Britain went bananas over it. 

But there was one hitch for the British government when it came to the tea trade, the Chinese emperor would only take pure silver bullion coins and like bars of silver in exchange for the coveted tea. That was the arrangement and the British were okay with that. To the British, it was a deal that they could not resist. 

Ultimately Britain’s assets ran low on Silver and it became a national crunch. So, Britain came up with an unethical solution to their Tea- silver trade problem. 

They started smuggling in opium, the highly addictive and infamous narcotic that was illegal in China. Britain traded the opium in exchange for Chinese silver, which then they used to purchase tea, which became the solution to the problem of illicit trade of drugs, isn’t it mind-boggling?


The Opium War between Britain and China

So, eventually, the Chinese government caught on to this illegal drug trade and they cracked it down. They seized all the Opium and threw 20,000 chests of opium into the sea. Britain was fuming after hearing about China seizing all of its opium. So it showed up with its gunboats and started a war called the Opium Wars. Both parties eventually negotiated a series of peace deals. As China lost the war I had to give Hong Kong to the British for a period of 99 years. Until 1997 Hong Kong remained a British colony but gave it back to China under a special agreement. This system was called one country two systems. 

The Handover in 1997

It made Hong Kong a part of China, but it also said that Hong Kong would preserve a high degree of independence as well as Democratic freedoms like the right to vote, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and that made Hong Kong very different from mainland China, which is authoritarian and oppressive to citizens according to the people of Hong Kong. People in China do not have the same freedoms that citizens of Hong Kong enjoy. 

Hong Kong somehow welcomed this move. It became one of the most important Asian cities in the world one that was British in many aspects. It soon became a haven for companies to invest and slowly and gradually people of Hong Kong grew richer by the day. But after 1997 when the 99-year agreement ended, China had other plans in their mind regarding the rocky island. 

That’s the year of what people in Hong Kong called a Handover when it went from the last vestiges of the British Empire to become a part of China. As part of the Handover, China promised Britain and the people of Hong Kong that they would be able to keep this unusual level of liberty and it would get to have these first fully Democratic elections in 2017. It’s called the one country two systems policy. But that was something that was denied to the Hongkongers. 

The Umbrella Movement

Slowly and steadily China was gaining its hold on Hong Kong and people were taking notice. One major event that took place in 2014 is termed at the Umbrella Movement. The 2014 demonstrations were about getting the universal suffrage provided in the Basic Law to Hong Kong, the constitution that lays out how to rule the city since its return from Britain to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

People using an Umbrella to shield them off from pepper spray used by the police.

 The procedure for appointing the Chief Executive shall be defined in the light of the current situation in the Special Administrative Area of Hong Kong and according to the principle of steady and orderly change. The end goal is the universal suffrage appointment of the chief executive after nomination by a nationally elected nominating committee in compliance with parliamentary procedures.

The Democratic elections of 2017

 So, when China reneged a little bit in the 2017 elections it was clear to many people that there was something wrong that is going on. And it looked to a lot of people in Hong Kong like it was the beginning of the end of one country two systems. And the thing that you have to understand is that it’s about more than just democracy. Although that’s important. The people are Hong Kong have a distinct way of life that is different from China. Moreover, Hong Kong is predominantly a more affluent society than in Mainland China. Why would they want China to control them? 

They really see themselves very different from the Chinese people and any move like this that feels like it’s pulling them into the dictatorial rule of the Communist Party in China is very scary to them and part of what makes that so, is the painful memory of Tiananmen Square massacre that happened in 1989 in Beijing. That memory is much stronger in Hong Kong is why the people of Hong Kong an annual vigil every year keeping the flame alive for the fellow Chinese. 

 Protests started in Hong Kong and late September. The Chinese government although agreed to have an election done but reserved the right to choose who can contest in the elections. People started protesting and then a few days later when the things started escalated it was when Hong Kong police came out in an unprecedented level of force to crack down on the protesters, which only further outraged a lot of people in Hong Kong drove more people onto the streets. 

The Umbrella Movement Part 2 in 2019

Hundreds and thousands came out once again to demonstrate against a deeply unpopular Bill. But this time it was more than a bill, it was about the status of Hong Kong and the power China has over it. It was a fight to preserve the freedoms people have in Hong Kong and it all started with a murder. 

On February 8th, 2018 a young couple went from their home in Hong Kong to Taiwan for a vacation. They stated at the purple Garden Hotel in Taipei for nine days, but on February 17th only one of them returned to Hong Kong. One month later the boyfriend confessed to murdering his girlfriend who was pregnant at that time. 

But there was a problem Hong Kong authorities couldn’t charge him for murder because he committed the crime in Taiwan and they couldn’t send him back to Taiwan to be charged because Hong Kong and Taiwan don’t have an extradition agreement signed between them. 

Hongkongers then started fighting the extradition bill because the bill was widely seen as the next step in China’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy. 

Once Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 Hong Kong and China agreed that eventually all members of the council would be elected by the people. But that never happened. 

They want to make sure that the executive branch can have easy control over it and that would serve Beijing very well. The within this unique structure, the extradition bill has created new tensions and fuelled anger among pro-democracy politicians and it’s driven hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers into the streets. 

Ultimately the extradition bill that would have seen protesters as fugitives in Hong Kong and have them sent to Mainland China to face trial there was repealed. 

The current uprising

Hong Kong security Chief claims that terrorism is on the rise in the city is police arrest some 180 protesters during renewed unrest thousands took to the streets to protest Beijing’s plans to impose a security law on that former British colony. 

It would bypass the local legislature and is expected to ban what China calls treason and Sedition pro-democracy campaigners say it is a threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms and semi-autonomy. 

The protests which have been going on since last year have become increasingly more violent. On the other hand, it is clear that Beijing is no longer is willing to tolerate and it sees the Hong Kong protests as a direct threat to National Security.

How will this unfold? 

There are many aspects to why China is doing what it’s doing. First of all, it should be understood once Hong Kong was contributing to China’s GDP massively. The size of Hong Kong ‘s economy could only be 2.9 percent of China’s mainland now, but back in 1993, it contributed a huge 27% percent. Moreover, China uses the currency, equity and debt markets of Hong Kong to attract foreign funds, while international firms use Hong Kong as a Launchpad for expansion into mainland China. The bulk of China’s foreign direct investment (FDI) remains channeled through the city.

Hong Kong’s economy relative to China’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen 

Chinese banks hold more assets in Hong Kong. China cannot afford to lose Hong Kong as it is a huge financial channel that can easily destabilize China’s already slowing economy and hurt the confidence that after a long and strong record of decades, the Communist Party could continue to bring about prosperity. Hong Kong ‘s port continues to handle a heavy share of China’s exports and imports, among other deep connections.

The long-term ambition of China to turn the Yuan into a commonly used international currency and competing with the United States Dollar has also been pivotal in Hong Kong. Although this target is still a long way to go, it will boost the global engagement and impact of China as well as Beijing.

Financially speaking, if the unrests continue and things are not resolved quickly, Hong Kong may lose its place in the minds of the investors and it would deter them to invest further. These frequent clashes are also seen as a threat by China as a way of countries like the U.S to influence trade wars. But one thing is sure the current standings is making places like Singapore a better option to invest.

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