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Hong Kong and its current movement

The pro-democracy uprising that has rocked Hong Kong for the past several months began as a protest against proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition law.

by Anwar A. Khan

Political analysts reckon that there are daggers in men's smiles of the U.S. administration on the current protest movement in Hong Kong. The way Hongkongers are inviting the scalawag American administration to support their cause in Hong Kong, being a very long standing observer of American clandestine politics, I am afraid that the lot of Hong Kong’s people will finally be ravaged by the U.S. government like a shot. Time will then be run out for the demonstrators to block them off.

Political observers remind the Hong Kong protestors in the words of William Shakespeare, “It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

It is the fact that Hong Kong is a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China. It is located on the southern coast and borders the Chinese province of Guangdong.The British took over Hong Kong in the 1840s during the Opium Wars, and ruled the territory with the exception of a brief occupation by the Japanese during Second World War for the next century and a half.

The British government, in 1898, signed what was basically a 99-year lease for the territory, set to expire in 1997. As that date started to move closer, both governments tried to work out a deal.

Under this arrangement, Hong Kong could maintain its economic and trade policies, designed to protect Hong Kong’s status as an international financial capital. It gave Hong Kong its own judicial, executive, and legislative powers. And, as Thatcher put it at the time, it “preserves Hong Kong’s familiar legal system and the rights and freedoms enjoyed there.” That included freedom of the press, assembly, and religious beliefs, among other rights.

Despite the Joint Declaration’s guarantee of autonomy, which is also codified in Hong Kong’s Basic Law (the closest thing it has to a constitution), in practice, the line between the two systems has become blurrier, with the Chinese government in Beijing attempting to exert more control.

In 1984, after lengthy negotiations, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping signed a Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong. Britain agreed to return the territory to China on July 1, 1997, on the promise that China would give Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years, until 2047.

Formally, Hong Kong became a “special administration region” of the People’s Republic of China. The deal: China wouldn’t impose its government on Hong Kong, and Hong Kong’s “previous capitalist system and life-styles” would remain unchanged for that 50-year period. The setup became known as the “one country, two systems” rule.

The aspects of Hong Kong’s government hideously complicated, but to understand some of the protesters’ demands, it is worth going over the basics.The Joint Declaration and Hong Kong’s Basic Law say that Hong Kong is supposed to administer itself. But the arrangement also gives China the power to appoint Hong Kong’s chief executive, on the basis of the results of elections or consultations to be held locally.

Here’s how that works in practice: An election committee, currently of about 1,200 people, votes and selects the chief executive, who serves a five-year term. The committee is stocked with Beijing loyalists, which means whoever wins is more or less the candidate Beijing wants to win.

Carrie Lam at a chief executive election campaign event in Hong Kong on March 23, 2017 was Beijing’s preferred candidate in the race.But Hong Kong’s Basic Law goes a bit further, and says that the ultimate aim is to elect the chief executive through universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee.

For pro-democracy activists, this means one person, one vote. Beijing said in 2007 that it would grant universal suffrage in 2017. But in 2014, Beijing said, sure, you can have universal suffrage, but the candidates have to be chosen by a nominating committee. Oh, and China gets to pick who’s on that committee.

“Now you can sort of see where the problem is at this point,” Alvin Y. H. Cheung, an affiliated scholar at NYU’s US-Asia Law Institute, told the news reporters. “If Beijing can control who gets nominated that isn’t going to result in any meaningful choice.”Pro-democracy advocates were furious and took to the streets in what would become the 2014 Umbrella Revolution.

The Hong Kong legislature ultimately rejected Beijing’s version of voting reform. So in 2017, for its chief executive elections, Hong Kong stuck with the electoral committee of about 1,200 members, most of whom are loyal to Beijing.Carrie Lam, the current chief executive, won. She was Beijing’s preferred candidate.

The pro-democracy uprising that has rocked Hong Kong for the past several months began as a protest against proposed amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition law.

The amendments were prompted by the gruesome case of a Hong Kong man who was accused of strangling his pregnant girlfriend and stuffing her body in a suitcase while they were in Taiwan in 2018. The suspect, Chan Tong-kai, fled back to Hong Kong. And because Hong Kong doesn’t have a formal extradition treaty with Taiwan, he couldn’t be sent back to face trial.

The Hong Kong government seized on this case and used it as the rationale to propose amendments that would allow case-by-case extraditions to countries that lack formal extradition treaties with Hong Kong.Notably, that would include mainland China, a country that arbitrarily imprisons its citizens if they displease the government.

Critics worried that China would take advantage of this law to arbitrarily detain Hongkongers, such as, those who openly dissent against the Chinese government or advocate for human rights. One pro-democracy lawmaker called it a “dragnet over all of Hong Kong.”The amendments would apply retroactively, meaning thousands of people who may have angered mainland China with a supposed past crime could be at risk of facing trial there.

The extradition rule changes were particularly fraught because China is accused of kidnapping people from outside its borders including from Hong Kong, where it isn’t supposed to have jurisdiction and essentially disappearing them to China. That would normally violate international law. But this bill would give China legal cover to do so.

Experts say that’s what this extradition bill was really about: an attempt by Beijing to exert more control over Hong Kong. Jerome A. Cohen, an Asia expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the Taiwan murder case that prompted these amendments a “phony excuse.”

“Everybody knew who paid attention to it that this was a long-overdue effort to extradite people from Hong Kong to China,” Cohen, a political analyst said reporters on August 14, 2019.The proposed extradition law changes first prompted protests in last March and April, and in May, pro-democracy and pro-Beijing lawmakers literally came to blows over the bill on the floor of Hong Kong’s legislature. In response, the government added some concessions to the bill, such as, limiting the extraditable offenses. Critics weren’t satisfied.

“This is the last stand in the sense that once the extradition bill is passed, there is no more protection of Hong Kong against mainland China’s criminal system,” Hui, the Notre Dame professor, said. “It is the last step and this is really the last step in a whole series of erosions of Hong Kong’s autonomy since 1997.”

The protest movement really took off in early June. On June 9, as many as a million people in Hong Kong peacefully protested against the bill as Lam prepared to push it through Hong Kong’s legislature.

Protesters in Hong Kong march during a rally against the extradition law proposal, on June 9, 2019. That huge show of opposition as much as one-seventh of Hong Kong’s entire population demonstrated did not persuade Lam to back down. She insisted on moving ahead.On June 12, protesters swarmed the area near Hong Kong’s legislature, delaying the debate that would have effectively allowed for the speedy passage of the proposed extradition law amendments. These protests were met with violence, with police firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and beanbags at the crowds.

The police’s use of force and their decision to call the protesters “rioters” and arrest some on rioting charges, which carries severe penalties created a rift between the people and the police.That fracture helped transform the protests against the extradition bill into a larger movement against the Hong Kong government and police abuses, leading to calls for an independent police investigation and Lam’s resignation.

After the huge protests on June 12, Lam “indefinitely suspended” the bill that would have amended the extradition law.But her decision to put the bill on pause didn’t satisfy many in Hong Kong who saw it as nothing more than a standard delay tactic. “She is trying to delay and hope Hong Kong people forget,” Tim, a 26-year-old finance professional in Hong Kong at the time. The move prompted another round of protests that drew an estimated 2 million people, the largest show of opposition yet.

But the completely unclothed fact is that the U.S. is nakedly using Hong Kong protestors for hunting down purely for its own interest. It is also true that blaming China cures no American illness. Because it is vitreous silica that the U.S. is the well-known rogue state that has been threatening to the world's peace for nine decennia across the world at full strength or intensity. It has now to be terminated in a peaceable means raising voice aloud in unison by the international community.

The Chinese government has the bigger responsibility to hear the grievances of the protestors andresolve the present unstable situation of extreme danger or difficultyamicably in a peaceful manner. At the same time, it is time for Hong Kong’s protestors to end their distressing self-harm. They should not forget American sympathy is like a dagger. Theywill have to give the devil their due.

-The End –

The writer is a political observer based in Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs.

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