Protests in Hong Kong have entered their 14th week. The region which went back to the Chinese rule in 1997 from the British, saw its worst upsurge in recent times. China has also never faced a “domestic” hurdle of such unprecedented manner since the Tiananmen Square democratic protests in 1989, which led to bloody suppression and many killed.
China has a “One Nation Two States” system by which certain areas of China enjoy and are conferred certain privileges that are otherwise not enjoyed by those in mainland China. The privileges include their own government, a multi-party legislature, own policing and security agencies, a separate custom and immigration rule as well as their own external affairs policies. This is enjoyed by the once British protectorate of Hong Kong, and Portuguese protectorate of Macau. Hong Kong was integrated into the Chinese rule in 1997, meanwhile Macau in 1999.
Hong Kong is a small island located in the Eastern side of Southern China; it is a special administrative region and one of the most densely populated regions in the world. Special administrative regions like Hong Kong and Macau enjoy the highest degree of autonomy compared to people in mainland China. So despite Hong Kong’s return to China under a “one nation two systems” formula, it was guaranteed special privileges as discussed, along with an independent judiciary dating back to the British rule.
Trouble brewed when Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam introduced a bill that would allow the extradition of people to mainland China to stand trial in the communist courts. This led to a lot of backlash with protesters clashing with security and police agencies and occupying the streets and public areas like airports and railways. Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan city, with a vibrant young population—which probably explains the protesters need for greater democracy in the Chinese-ruled city.
Such is the tension that despite Lam’s scrapping the draconian law, it has done nothing to contain the anguish. China, meanwhile blames the West, in particular, England and the U.S., with thousands of young protesters singing the “Star Spangled Banner” and calling on the governments and other head of states to take notice. The protesters have also been camping at the U.S. consulate calling for the liberation of Hong Kong and resisting Beijing.
Another sore spot for China is that this episode can fizz not just in Macau. It will also be used to the optimal by Taiwan. It is interesting to note China’s influence in South East Asia, and how countries in particularly Taiwan, can use it for their own agenda. Taiwan is also referred to as the Republic of China and has become a separate entity from the People’s Republic of China in 1949, after the civil war when general Chiang kai-Shek fled from the Maoist army and set base here.
As the protests gather more steam it will be interesting to note how China will be able to curtail its spread, whether it will retort the same way as in Tiananmen Square or will it follow a policy of tact and diplomacy which is expected, only time will tell.