The Crisis in Hong Kong: What to Know

  • Category
    India & world
  • Published
    26th Sep, 2019

Issue

Context

Protests continue in Hong Kong which started against a controversial extradition bill that Hong Kongers fear will erode freedom in the semi-autonomous territory.

Background

  • Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 when China ceded the island to the British after the First Opium War - which had erupted over British traders smuggling opium into China.
  • Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 as a ‘special administrative region’. The territory has been ruled under the ‘one country, two systems’ formula agreed by then U.K. and Chinese leaders. Hong Kong citizens have more autonomy and freedom than mainland Chinese, but the elective process is still partly controlled by China.
  • At present, Hong Kong residents can only vote for pre-approved political candidates under Chinese law, making it impossible for a critic of Beijing to get on the ballot.

Immediate Cause Behind protests - The Extradition Bill proposed by Chief Executive 

  • The extradition bill introduced by chief executive Carrie Lam if enacted would allow local authorities to detain and extradite criminal fugitives who are wanted in territories with which Hong Kong does not have extradition agreements, including Taiwan and mainland China.
  • Critics fear bill will compromise Hong Kong's judicial system and prove the 'death knell' of 'one country, two systems'.
  • Other major belief among the Hong Kongers behind the protest is that since 1997 (since Hong Kong got the special autonomous status), China is consistently trying to erode the principle of one country, two systems.

Analysis

Need for Extradition Law

  • The Hong Kong administration first proposed the changes in February citing the case of local man who was wanted for the suspected murder of his pregnant girlfriend while the two were on holiday in Taiwan.
  • Officials said he could not be sent back to Taiwan for trial because there was no formal extradition agreement between the two territories.
  • Hong Kong's extradition arrangements are laid out in the Foreign Offenders Ordinance, which was negotiated in 1997 when the UK returned the territory to China.
  • Taiwan, Macau and the mainland Chinawere not included in that agreement in what the Hong Kong Bar Association says was a "deliberate decision" on the part of the legislature given the "fundamentally different criminal justice system operating in the mainland”.

What are the Proposed Amendments?

  • Hong Kong currently has bilateral extradition treaties with 20 countries including the UK, the US and Singapore but the amendments put forward by the administration are being framed as a way to enable the sending of suspected offenders to places with which the territory has no formal extradition agreement on a case-by-case or one-off basis.
  • Under the proposals, the chief executive, who is not elected but chosen by an election committee accountable to China, would have the authority to decide any request.
  • It is to be noted that Chief Executive of Hong Kong could be considered as an agent of Mainland China.
  • The 70-member assembly (elected) or Legco would have no role in the process.

What are people’s concerns?

  • Rights and Freedoms of Citizens: Article 4 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution which governs post-colonial Hong Kong, promises to "safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and of other persons in the Region in accordance with law". The extradition bill is against Article 4 of the Basic law.
  • Judicial independence: People in Hong Kong have been particularly sensitive to issues involving judicial independence, which is seen as guaranteeing a measure of protection from the government. This bill not only 'erodes' those protections. It places protection of those rights within the hands of unelected bureaucrats who have so far manifested a rather poor record of being able or willing to resist pressure from Beijing. The deepening trade war between the US and China has also put the mainland's judicial system which is said to have a near 100 percent conviction rate, under the spotlight.
  • Protection of ‘one country, two systems’: Hong Kong was returned to China under the concept of "one country, two systems".

Demands of Protesters

Chief Executive Carrie Lam first suspended the bill but finally scrapped it in the wake of mass protests. Even after declaring the extradition bill dead the repeated street protests and mass demonstrations have confronted Hong Kong with a major political crisis. The protesters have presented five demands before the chief executive:

  • Withdraw the extradition bill
  • Leader Carrie Lam to step down
  • Inquiry into police excesses
  • Release the arrested protestors
  • Greater democratic freedoms

Consequences

Economic Consequences

  • Hong Kong as the financial centre, a travel hub and a world city, foreign governments have a legitimate interest in seeing the city safe and its business environment robust.
  • While mainland China is Hong Kong's most important trading partner and the economy is already showing signs of hurting as a result of the protests.
  • Companies have already reported serious consequences from the disruption including loss of revenue, disrupted supply chains and shelved investments.
  • Shutting down of Hong Kong’s International Airport led to the cancellation of more than 1000 flights creating a huge loss to the economy.

Colour Revolution

  • Colour revolutions are externally fuelled acts with a clear goal to influence the internal affairs that destabilise economy, conflict with the law and represent a new form of warfare.
  • Participants in the colour revolutions often use nonviolent resistance. Such methods as demonstrations, strikes and interventions have been intended protest against governments seen as corrupt and/or authoritarian and to advocate democracy and they have also created strong pressure for change.
  • These movements generally adopted a specific colour or flower as their symbol.
  • The colour revolutions are notable for the important role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and particularly student activists in organising creative non-violent resistance.

Political Crisis

 It is said that the protests have clear features of a colour revolution and their goal is to paralyse the territory's government, seize the power for governing the Special Administrative Region and make "one country, two systems" an empty concept.

International Reactions

Foreign nations and visiting heads of state have expressed concerns that they do not just see IT as an internal affair of Hong Kong and the mainland China but an international issue. US lawmakers reintroduced a bill in Congress to assess the autonomy of Hong Kong year to year. The crisis in Hong Kong has given ammunition to escalate US-China trade war.

China’s Stand

  • China has said it played no part in Hong Kong's decision to amend its extradition law but it supports the initiative.
  • Initially, China overlooked the protests but when the protests intensified it said that the protests are showing signs of ‘colour revolution’.

India’s Concerns

  • India is also a stakeholder in the issues because Hong Kong is home to India’s wealthy business community.
  • The Indian startups backed by global investment giants of the likes of  Alibaba, SoftBank, Tencent and Sequoia Capital, such as Paytm, OYO and Ola, have started to expand their businesses in Hong Kong.

Conclusion

It is not the first time that the Hong Kongers are on streets to protest against the attempts made by Mainland China to erode the special status. But this time, mass protests and demonstrations are unprecedented and continue even after the scrapping of the extradition bill against which the protests started. There is also a possibility of western vested interest behind the colour revolutions in Hong Kong.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Hong Kong crisis is new ammunition to the US-China trade war which will further escalate the war. In the light of this statement analyse how Hong Kong protests are affecting the US-China trade war and also analyse its impacts on India?

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