Let’s talk about what’s going on in Hong Kong because things are still very tense. Thousands of people have been protesting and occupying the streets for months and parts of the city look like a war zone. What started out as an outcry over an extradition bill reignited a pro-democracy movement that’s not backing down. So what exactly is Hong Kong’s ongoing stand-off about? And where could it lead? There’s a lot of history and background to the current unrest in Hong Kong. But the trigger was a high-profile murder case that exposed a legal loophole. In 2018, a couple from Hong Kong went on holiday to Taiwan. But 20-year-old Poon Hiu-wing never came home. A month later, her 19-year-old boyfriend Chan Tong-kai confessed that he killed her. That’s Chan leaving his hotel in Taiwan with his girlfriend’s body allegedly inside that suitcase. Chan was arrested back in Hong Kong. But the problem was that Hong Kong’s courts couldn’t prosecute him for a murder he said he committed in Taiwan. And officials in Taiwan said they couldn’t either because there’s no extradition agreement between the two territories. So instead, Hong Kong’s authorities charged Chan with money laundering because he used his girlfriend’s credit card after she died. because he used his girlfriend’s credit card after she died. but the question was, what to do about the murder case back in Taiwan? So what Hong Kong lawmakers did, was propose a new extradition bill to allow suspects accused of serious crimes to face trial in Hong Kong or Taiwan but also in China. And that rung alarm bells for many people. The Chinese government is often accused of going after its political opponents. Human Rights Watch says China’s dissidents have been subjected to show trials, forced confessions and even torture. There have also been reports of people disappearing from Hong Kong and ending up on the mainland. There’s a lot of arguments that centre around the Bookseller Case a few years ago, where a bookseller in Hong Kong was being abducted to mainland China, and some other cases. So these fears, justified or not
So these tells about the concerns that some of the people in Hong Kong that they do not believe in the mainland’s legal systems. So that’s why protesters have been so against the extradition bill. But there’s a deeper conflict at play here. And to explain that, we have to rewind a few years. Hong Kong was part of China for centuries. But after winning the first Opium War in the mid 1800s Britain ended up ruling Hong Kong for 150 years. It never became fully democratic, but Hong Kong did become a major business centre, while the Communist Party came into force on mainland China. “Hong Kong awaits the answer to the Communist army’s challenge.” Then in 1997, Britain gave Hong Kong back. China will tonight take responsibility for a place and a people which matter greatly to us all. But the two sides agreed that Hong Kong could keep some autonomy for 50 years until it fully reunites with the mainland in 2047. So to soften the transition, they came up with a principle called “One Country, Two systems”. It means Hong Kong belongs to communist China but gets to run its own economy, police force, justice system and it’s allowed some democratic reforms. We grew up learning that in Hong Kong we have freedom of speech freedom of press, freedom of assembly. That we can check on the government whenever they do something that are not for the people. But China controls the bigger stuff like the military, foreign affairs and to some extent, Hong Kong’s political system. For example, Hong Kong’s top political leader, the chief executive is selected by a closed committee and approved by China. Hong Kong’s law-making body, called the legislative council, is also pretty unique. 35 of its 70 seats are for elected politicians from both the pro-democracy and pro-China camps. But the other half is reserved for different sectors in Hong Kong like education, health, tourism or finance. The issue with that system though is that many of those sectors have business ties with the mainland. So critics say that makes the pro-China bloc bigger, and leads to more pro-China laws being pushed through the legislative council. So there’s been this constant back and forth between those who feel part of China and those who want to pull away. Those who want more democracy, and those who don’t. And from time to time, the tension boils over. Over the years, Hong Kongers have taken to the streets to protest against all sorts of laws they’ve seen as stepping on their freedoms. In 2014, the student-led “Umbrella Movement” shut down the city for 3 months. But this year’s demonstrations are different. These are the largest protests Hong Kong has ever seen They’ve gone on for more than 6 months. And this time, the city’s pro-democracy movement has the support of many more groups, including teachers and financial sector workers. There’s far more violence, too. Tear gas, rocks, molotov cocktails and even live bullets have been used. So far one person has died, dozens have been injured and hundreds have been charged with protest-related offences. Police and protesters blame each other for the increasingly intense confrontations. Parts of the city have been paralysed and badly damaged like transport systems and even the legislative council building. And there’s no sign of either side backing down. Protesters are also standing firm. They’ve got five main demands. One of them, was to withdraw the extradition bill. That happened in September. But they also want Hong Kong’s authorities to start a formal investigation into police violence, to release hundreds of arrested protesters, for the police to stop labeling the protests as “riots” and they want universal suffrage, as in, the freedom to elect all of Hong Kong’s lawmakers plus their chief executive. Others are calling for something more radical: full independence from China and that’s a red line for Beijing. In fact China’s President Xi Jinping has openly said “Those who engage in separatist activities in any part of China will be smashed into pieces.” China’s state media even released videos of Chinese troops on the other side side of the border, in case of a request from Hong Kong’s leaders, to intervene. But Hong Kongers weren’t swayed. And not only did they remain in the streets they sent Beijing a message from the polls. Recent local elections saw a record number of people vote and the pro-democracy camp made big gains. They now control 17 out of 18 councils. Before the election, the pro-Beijing camp had all 18. District council election is already the de facto referendum to prove how Hong Kong people deserve free elections. As things stand, it’s really just a countdown to the year 2047. Some in Hong Kong see reunification with China as something inevitable. But others are clearly not going to give up Hong Kong’s autonomy without putting up a real fight.