Hong Kong: Teetering towards totalitarianism?
“One country, two systems”- The modus operandi formulated by Deng Xiaoping in the early 1980s has ever since served as the blueprint for China’s reunification. The one country, two systems entails that there would be one China, whilst the distinct separate Chinese regions such as Hong Kong, formerly a British colony, and Macau, a Portuguese one, could maintain a certain amount of autonomy. This autonomy extended to areas such as political, economic, administrate and legal systems. The one country, two systems was used as a major bargaining tool in the early negotiations of Hong Kong’s independence and reunification with mainland China. It has also served as a contemporary tool to help maintain Hong Kong’s sovereignty in light of perceived encroachment by Beijing. However, the student protests of 2014, coined the umbrella revolution, and the most recent protests against the proposed extradition bill has led many to question how long Hong Kong can maintain its autonomy and sovereignty in light of pressure from Chinese Communist Party.
Hong Kong is a unique and contemporary city, with its colonial and Chinese influences making it a melting pot of Eastern and Western ideas and culture, a sort of hybrid society. From 1898 to 1997, under the British 99-year lease, Hong Kong adopted various governance systems akin to that of the British. These included the importance of rule of law, freedom of speech, the separation of powers and other practices associated with western liberal democracies. Additionally, Hong Kong developed itself as a major economic power, becoming a major player in the international banking sector and an intermediary for trade into South-East Asia. Hong Kong’s GDP has been constantly growing from the 1980s with an average of 4.5% per year and its GDP ranks 32nd in the world above economies such as Ireland, Vietnam and the Philippines. Hong Kong is on par with most developed nations in various socio-economic indicators and was never a major concern of the Chinese government, for it has more pressing issues on the mainland. However, China’s substantial growth in economic and political power has surpassed Hong Kong’s economic power. China now seeks more influence on the city.
The first sign of major interference by Beijing was in 2014 with its attempt to reform the Hong Kong electoral system and pre-screen candidates before the election. The aim was to elect members of its own Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or members in Hong Kong aligned to the CCP, which led to the major pro-democracy protests of 2014 and the immortalizing of student leader Joshua Wong through the Netflix documentary Teenager vs Superpower, which highlighted Hong Kong in a battle to maintain its autonomy. However, most recently the proposed extradition bill has caused over 3 million people in Hong Kong to protest and challenge the bill. The extradition bill is led by Carrie Lam the Chief Executive and leader of Hong Kong. According to Lam and Beijing, the proposed amendments to the Hong Kong legal system aims to close a legal loophole in the judiciary and make it one with mainland China. The bill would mean that anyone from Hong Kong, as well as a foreign national, could be extradited to the mainland to stand trial for a suspected/alleged criminal offence. To a certain extent, this makes some sense by essentially integrating Hong Kong into China’s legal system. Yet there are some major concerns. The major issue is that China’s legal system is opaque and not fair to those being trailed. There have been numerous cases of people being detained without charges, no representation in court and even being sentenced to jail without trial. Such concerns are in line with international trends whereby states refuse to agree to extradition agreements with China due to its poor human rights record and the possibility of a biased judicial system. The major concern of Hong Kong residents is that this bill would be used to extradite any citizen who is vocal and challenges Beijing’s authority, thus weakening the freedom of speech, an essential right in Hong Kong.
This bill aims to weaken Hong Kong’s sovereignty and be a tool of control for anyone who challenges the CCP authority. Unfortunately this is but the first of many challenges that the people of Hong Kong will face as the 50-year agreement (1997-2047) to integrate Hong Kong fully ramps up. Hong Kong’s sovereignty will come under greater scrutiny in the next few years as 2047 approaches but, given Hong Kong’s place in the world this will also be a delicate and major challenge for the CCP. How to deal with Hong Kong is therefore the greatest challenge and threat to the power and authority of the CCP since the tragic incidents of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.