On July 21, 2019, Hong Kong became a war zone. The day started peacefully, with citizens marching the streets of Hong Kong, opposing the recently stated extradition bill. But, the peacefulness would end soon after, when raid police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters. The controversial bill which sparked these protests could send Hong Kong citizens to be tried in court in mainland China. The bill was intended to prevent Hong Kong from being a safe area for criminals who committed crimes in other nations, according to chief executive Carrie Lam. However, citizens feared that the bill would expose Hong Kong to China’s ruthless regime and remove parts of Hong Kong’s autonomy from China. Once night fell, more chaos erupted. A mob armed with batons attacked citizens and protesters in a subway station, hospitalizing forty-five people. The mob and their motive are still under investigation. This violent turn of events drove Lam to temporarily suspend the bill. The 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill (the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill) would expose Hong Kong to China’s flawed judicial system and remove the autonomy Hong Kong has over China, hurting the young generation of citizens.
How It All Started
On February 8, 2018, a couple went on a vacation from their home in Hong Kong to Taiwan. However, only the husband, Chan Tong Kai, returned and one month later, confessed to murdering his girlfriend. But, Hong Kong officials couldn’t charge him for murder, since it was committed in Taiwan. Neither could they send back him to Taiwan to be charged, since Hong Kong and Taiwan didn’t have an extradition agreement.
That changed in 2019 after Hong Kong proposed an extradition bill to Taiwan. But, this agreement also meant that the bill would allow extradition to mainland China.
This bill was extremely controversial, as China has a very flawed judicial system, with no fair trial, no humane punishments, and no separation of powers. Since Hong Kong operates as a semi-autonomous region within China, residents are worried that they will lose their autonomy from China, sparking the largest protest in Hong Kong’s history.
A Long History of Pushing the Limits
After the United Kingdom handed over Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China in 1997, they agreed to keep Hong Kong semi-autonomous until 2047, but the Chinese government has been constantly pushing the limits to autonomy, freedom, and human rights in Hong Kong.
At first, China respected Hong Kong’s autonomy for the first decade after the handover between China and the United Kingdom. This decision was made because Hong Kong was easily the most economically productive city at the time and provided a 27% share in China’s economy. But later, Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen became the new economic powerhouses of the nation. This growth brought down Hong Kong’s share of China’s economy from 27% to 3%, which influenced China to push the limits of Hong Kong’s autonomy since they were no longer economically relevant.
They started by doing small yet harmful changes, such as broadcasting Mandarin-only evening news in a Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong and persuading teachers to teach a government-made textbook to children about the basics of China. The textbook was written propaganda, criticizing both the United States’ and Hong Kong’s government while making themselves seem like a perfect nation.
Later on, China pushed the limits even more. Throughout 2015, many people who contradicted high-ranking Chinese officials mysteriously disappeared, which many Hongkongers believe were accomplished by the Chinese government.
After the extradition bill was introduced, Hongkongers believed that they pulled the last straw. The bill would allow China to capture Hong Kong dissidents and send them back to the mainland to be tried in Chinese courts. This act would make it easy for China to take over Hong Kong.
A Powerful Enemy
China will continue to fight under one of the most ruthless leaders in decades, President Xi Jinping. He has taken full control of the Communist Party of China under the single-party rule and could stay in power for the rest of his life after managing to remove Chinese term rights. If Hong Kong falls under the rule of China, President Jinping will have complete control of their civil rights.
Since China has so much power on a global scale and is on the road to being the largest economy by 2021, they will have so much power over other nations. This amount of power will be a large threat to the trade industry and national security, as well as them having leverage over many nations with debt-diplomacy.
These alarming threats give Hong Kong citizens all the more reason to protest for the withdrawal of the extradition bill for their freedom.
Even with the vast majority of Hongkongers supporting democracy, there have also been a large number of pro-China supporters across rallies in Hong Kong. These pro-China supporters believe that the Hong Kong protests have been hurting the nation’s economy, promoting acts of violence, and encouraging hostility towards the police. They believe that they are “calling for unity in a city that has become deeply divided”, according to the news channel, Al Jazeera.
But, it is important to understand that many of the pro-China supporters are biased since many came in through an organized group from mainland China.
At the end of the day, the ultimate goal for Hong Kong is to keep its autonomy without making the country a safe haven for criminals.
But knowing that Hong Kong’s crime rates have been falling for the 12th consecutive year, I believe that Hong Kong’s autonomy is more important than a chance at increasing crime rates. Many argue that Hong Kong was remaining perfectly stable even without the extradition bill, and should continue to do so. Additionally, many believe that the violence from the protests would be much more than any violence that would occur in the absence of the extradition bill.
For the Hong Kong government to achieve withdrawing the extradition bill, they should enforce stricter crime-related laws within the country. Doing so would remove any stress which the government has about future crime rates while keeping their nation’s autonomy.[Image Attribute: Studio Incendo]