Protests in Hong Kong have entered their 12th week as people have taken to the streets to demand their legislators quash an extradition law proposed by China.
While the law remains in limbo, demonstrations have taken on a wider push for more democratic reform in the city statelet but China appears set to push back and has begun massing troops at the Hong Kong’s mainland border with Shenzhen province. But what exactly is going on?
Hong Kong was partly ceded to the British after the First Opium War in 1842. The remainder of the territory was then leased for 99-years to the British in 1897.
Following the Second World War, the island witnessed a boom in trade, became the world’s most important shipping port and remains a banking stronghold for trade and commerce.
In the early 1980s, as Britain’s hold over the colony was about to expire, UK and China reached a deal in 1984 that would see Hong Kong return to China in 1997, under the principle of “one country, two systems”.
Under the deal, Hong Kong would become a “Sino-administered region”, with autonomy in local affairs, except in the matters of defence and foreign policy.
Hong Kong retains border control authority, has its own legislative authority – or legislative council – and has an active free press. However, these rights, particularly freedom of expression, are under increasing pressure.
According to the BBC, artists and writers say they feel the need to self-censor and recently, a Financial Times journalist was barred from entering Hong Kong after he hosted an event that featured an independence activist.
Rights groups also claim China is using its powers to disqualify pro-independence legislators in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
The Legislative Council is a 70-member decision-making body. It consists of 35 directly-elected members, and 35 indirectly-elected members of trade-based organizations.
In 2014, Beijing said it would allow voters to choose their leaders from a list approved by them, but critics called this a “sham democracy.” It was struck down in Hong Kong’s legislature.
The Extradition Bill
In June, China announced an extradition bill that, according to the BBC, will “plug the loopholes” so that the city would not be a safe haven for criminals.
The bill allows extradition requests from the mainland for suspects accused of criminal activities, such as murder and rape. But critics say this could open the door for overreach and would allow Beijing to extradite political dissenters.
“The proposed changes to the extradition laws will put anyone in Hong Kong doing work related to the mainland at risk,” said Sophie Richardson of Human Rights Watch in a statement. “No one will be safe, including activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, and social workers.”
This sparked widespread street protests that at one point Washington Post estimated had swelled to one million people.
The video from the South China Morning Post shows around a million protesters on the streets of Hong Kong.
According to the Washington Post, the protest movement now has five key demands for Hong Kong’s government:
1) To withdraw the extradition bill;
2) To officially retract descriptions of the protests as a “riot;”
3) To drop charges against protesters;
4) To launch an investigation into police brutality during the protests; and
5) “Universal suffrage” to allow Hong Kong voters to directly pick their leaders rather than the current process that includes Beijing’s involvement.
The protest spiralled into an invasion of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, as shown in this video from Channel NewsAsia
On August 5th, a mass general strike ensued that shut down the city and its transportation systems. Disneyland Hong Kong, too, was shuttered during the protests.
On Monday and Tuesday, protesters essentially closed Hong Kong’s airport with sit-ins that forced officials to cancel flights. As of Wednesday, August 14th, the airport is operational.
China is resorting to more desperate measures of enforcing control by bringing in their People’s Liberation Army close to the Hong Kong border. This video from the Guardian shows the border buildup.
The situation is tense, and pro-democracy protesters are calling for international intervention. Requests were made to Democrats and Republicans in the US. Canada also received one.
Canada’s response so far
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, according to the CBC, is trying to work on a solution for Canadians stuck in the region. She is in contact with embassies and airlines to prepare a contingency plan.
Global Affairs Canada now advises citizens to practice a “high degree of caution” if they wish to travel to Hong Kong.
Conservative Shadow Foreign Minister Erin O’Toole, however, suggests Canada should take a tougher stance on Hong Kong and for its residents.
“Canada has deep personal connections with Hong Kong through the 300,000 Canadian citizens who live there and because of the sacrifice of Canadians who died defending Hong Kong in World War II. It is time for the Liberals to unequivocally stand up for human rights, rule of law and respect for the one country, two systems promise made to Hong Kongers decades ago,” he said.
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