Hong Kong Security Crisis


Overview

Hong Kong operated independently from China for many years, until it was handed back to Chinese rule in 1997 from what was then the British Empire. Once handed back to China, Hong Kong remained somewhat autonomous in its judiciary and legal system. However, these boundaries have been encroached upon from China ever since.

The Hong Kong protests, also known as the Anti-Extradition Movement, took place between March 2019 to May 2020. They symbolized the condemnation that many of Hong Kong’s citizens had towards China’s decision to pass the Extradition bill in April 2019. This bill ensured that criminal suspects could be extradited to mainland China, which caused havoc amongst civilians who viewed themselves as living in a Separate Autonomous Region. This resulted in hundreds of thousands of people turning towards public demonstrations, even long after the bill was withdrawn in September 2019. The situation worsened in October 2019, when a pro-Beijing lawmaker was stabbed in the street; a protestor was shot by police and another man was set on fire by anti-government protestors. The height of the protests saw up to 2 million people in attendance, making up a significant portion of Hong Kong’s population. A substantial portion of attendees were made up of citizens under the age of 25 years old, in fact many of them were high school students.

In May 2020, China passed a broad-reaching security law for Hong Kong, essentially criminalizing any act of rebellion, which made it easier to punish protesters whilst simultaneously reducing Hong Kong’s autonomy. The breadth of the law allowed Beijing to select judges to hear national security cases in Hong Kong. Beijing’s power to establish a security force in Hong Kong erodes the pro-democracy movement and has caused international backlash. This has also instilled fear in tourists due to the significant violence on streets and surrounding airports. In response to police brutality, an independent inquiry began in 2019, though this failed to produce any results. This inquiry was also heavily turned down by Carrie Lam who acts as the Hong Kong Chief Executive. There was a significant call by protestors for the inquiry to take place and Lam’s opposition was perceived as Hong Kong turning a blind eye. Globally, external actors have shared their condemnation towards Hong Kong’s oppression. The United Kingdom suspended their extradition treaty with China, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson writing that, if security laws were pursued, “Britain would uphold our ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong”. New Zealand has also suspended their extradition treaty with China. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for protestors to be heard and the United States has condemned the violence of the protests.

Facts

Key Actors

Population: Hong Kong: 7,496,981 people

Protestors: Between 1.7 to 2 million people

Hong Kong Police Force: 4,611 officers (since July 28, 2020)

Arrests: 8,981 arrests between June 9, 2019, and May 29, 2020

  • 1,707 were under 18 years of age
  • 1,602 secondary students and eight primary school pupils
  • 5,640 arrestees were aged between 18 and 30 years old

Casualties: 3 people with thousands injured during the demonstrations

Goal of protests: Some protesters have adopted the motto: “Five demands, not one less!” citing:

  1. For the protests not to be characterized as a “riot”
  2. Amnesty for arrested protesters
  3. An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality
  4. Implementation of complete universal suffrage
  5. The fifth demand, the withdrawal of the bill, has already been met

Key Policies and Laws

The Extradition Bill proposed in 2019, allows Hong Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and regions with which it has no formal extradition agreements, including Taiwan and the Chinese mainland. Commentators argue that the law would allow anyone in the city to be picked up and detained in mainland China. The main fear is that these judges must follow the regulations of the Communist Party. They also fear the new law would target both criminals and political protesters as well. The extradition plan applies to 37 crimes. That excludes political ones, but critics fear the legislation would essentially legalize the sort of abductions to mainland China that have taken place in Hong Kong in recent years.

Beijing imposed the national security law on the eve of July 1st, when it traditionally marks the 1997 handover from Britain. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam says mainland national security laws are long behind schedule for the territory. However, these laws impact all tourists to Hong Kong as all people who break the law can be prosecuted if they go to Hong Kong. This has caused difficulties for foreign universities, which are struggling to work out how to protect their students from stating and writing matters that may be used against them. Free speech is becoming a serious issue when coming up against

Chinese censorship. In fact, anyone who criticizes China and travels to Hong Kong is potentially at risk of arrest under the new law.

 

Much of the autonomy that came from the “one country, two systems” policy has now been disregarded. For instance, Hong Kong’s chief executive can appoint judges for national security cases and allows mainland courts to be involved in complex and serious cases. Media organizations that circulate essays or photographs may be viewed as terror offenses which may result in prosecution under a specific section that bans publicizing terrorist pursuits. Citizens lack clarity of what constitutes as an offence that would lead to them to being deported, which has instilled widespread fear. As stated by Amnesty International (2020), Hong Kong’s national security law is another example of a government using the concept of “national security” to repress political opposition, with significant risks for human rights defenders, critical media reporting and civil society at large.

Previously called Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the organization is promoted as a peaceful civil disobedience campaign in which the leaders would arrange for protesters to stage mass blockades within the Central district. This was done to force Beijing to allow Hong Kong genuine universal suffrage. Occupy Central is led by University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Chinese University sociologist Dr Chan Kin-man, and Baptist minister Reverend Chu Yiu-ming. The Federation of Students and Scholarism are also playing a major role in the campaign. They demand Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying resign and for Beijing to retract its decision for the city’s 2017 chief executive poll, which would restrict the number of candidates to two or three approved by a 1,200-strong nominating committee. They have also called on workers and teachers to protest, students to boycott classes and shops to close for business. Pro-Beijing politicians have called the organization’s behavior illegal. Business groups advise it will hurt the economy. Mass protests have resulted in residents struggling with the disruption to their daily life due to road blockades and street violence.

Students have played a significant role since the Hong Kong Federation of Students organized a week-long boycott of classes from 22 September. Students acknowledge that they are in a fortuitous position to protest. They are largely unencumbered by other obligations such as jobs or family responsibilities. Behavior from students during the protests have included conflicts with police, barricading themselves inside university campuses and preparing weapons to defend themselves. Many students are part of ‘Occupy Central’ and are continuing to fight for their human rights. However, this has come at a cost. The significant rate of student arrests, injuries and even death has risen. In fact, an 18-year-old was shot in the chest in October 2019 and a student died from a fall close to an area where authorities were dispersing protesters in November 2019.

The Silent Majority for Hong Kong is an anti-Occupy Central, pro-Beijing political group in Hong Kong. It was founded on 8 August 2013 by members of the pro-Beijing alliance including former RTHK radio host Robert Chow and Professor of Economics at Lingnan University Ho Lok-sang. Many members are made up of citizens who are too afraid to speak up or fear police brutality if they were to joinin on the protests. However,, statistics have shown these people will choose simpler forms of protest, such as emerging to cast their vote without drawing too much attention upon themselves.

The Hong Kong Police Force is the primary law enforcement, investigation bureau, and leading disciplined service under the Security Bureau of Hong Kong. They were formed by the British Hong Kong government on 1 May 1844. They have approximately 4,611 officers who are run by Commissioner of Police, Chris Tang. They played a significant part in controlling the protests which has led to police brutality as well as an independent inquiry into their conduct, which was later dissolved. They are known for their violence when controlling crowds which has led to mass arrests, injuries, and deaths.

Hong Kong was leased by China to Great Britain in 1898 for 99 years. On December 19, 1984, after years of discussions, British and Chinese leaders endorsed a official pact approving the 1997 trade of the colony in exchange for the construction of a “one country, two systems” policy by China’s communist government. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described the arrangement “a landmark in the life of the territory, in the course of Anglo-Chinese relations, and in the history of international diplomacy.” The “one country, two systems” policy was created to ensure Hong Kong maintained its own autonomy throughout its judiciary system, press, civil service as well as providing open internet coverage to its citizens. 

The response globally to the Hong Kong protests and treatment of its people has shown significant criticism, especially from democratic countries. Australia has joined more than 20 other countries in voicing deep apprehension about the new national security law for Hong Kong. The USA’s response involved US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stating that “The United States will not stand idly by while China swallows Hong Kong into its authoritarian maw,” Many international spectators were quick to point out that the new national security law directly contracted the “one country, two systems” policy that was put into place in 1997. This includes Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne as well as UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. In regard to treaties, the United Kingdom and New Zealand suspended their extradition treaty with China.

Timeline

Hong Kong returns to Chinese control after 150 years of remaining under British control on July 1st at midnight. The ceremony was attended by British PM Tony Blair, Prince Charles, the Chinese President, and the U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Thousands of Hong Kong citizens protested this decision This began the start of Beijing encroaching upon Hong Kong, even as Hong Kong was supposed to maintain much of its independence.

China rules that its approval is required for any changes to Hong Kong’s election laws, giving China control to veto any pro-democracy movement.

Approximately 200,000 people take part in a demonstration protesting Beijing’s rule over Hong Kong’s election of the next chief executive.

Tens of thousands of people rally in support of full democracy against the wishes of Beijing.

Tens of thousands of protesters take part in Hong Kong’s largest pro-democracy rally in a decade.

Pro-democracy demonstrators occupy the city centre for weeks in protest at the Chinese government’s decision to limit voters’ choices in the 2017 Hong Kong leadership election.

A new generation of pro-independence activists win seats in Legislative Council elections.

Demonstrations against moving base officials from mainland China to Hong Kong.

Secretary for Security John Lee declares measures to limit the scale of extraditable crimes, including increasing the threshold for extradition to felonies punishable by seven or more years of imprisonment.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens protest in opposition to the intended changes to Hong Kong laws that would permit accused offenders to be extradited to China to face trial. Many feel the rule would undercut the “one country, two systems” rule. This would mean exposing citizens to a murky legal system with less safeguards. An even greater demonstration against the proposal occurred the subsequent week.

Demonstrators took over the streets around Hong Kong’s Legco to stop policymakers from entering to debate the extradition bill. Rocks and metal barricades were thrown at police. Police Officers utilized tear gas to dissipate the masses which developed into a frequent procedure in the upcoming months.

Demonstrators broke into the legislature building and damaged it. This took place on a public holiday; where the walls were spray painted and portraits of politicians were defaced.

The legislature building remained closed for repairs for months afterwards.

Hong Kong sees anti-government and pro-democracy protests, involving violent clashes with police, against a proposal to allow extradition to mainland China.

A larger group of Chinese militarized police with armored vehicles gathering to hold drills in Shenzhen, the central city neighboring Hong Kong. The audience of the People’s Armed Police, whose role include riot control, triggers conjecture that they would intervene in Hong Kong’s demonstrations.

Hong Kong police implement a water cannon for the first time as collisions with protesters intensify. The water is often fortified with pepper spray to cause a stinging sensation and dyed with coloring to mark the clothing of those who joined demonstrations.

As the demonstrations continue, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam says the government will formally withdraw the extradition legislation. By then, the group’s demands have expanded to include an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality in opposition to protesters.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam implemented an anti-mask law, but confrontations escalated. This resulted in police brutality and misconduct allegations increasing dramatically.

A landslide win for a pro-democracy camp in the District Council election.

Demonstrators dominate and blockade numerous university sites for several days and contest police authorities outside. This included some of the most violent skirmishes in the months of rallies.

The pro-democracy opposition triumphs a sweeping victory in district council elections across the city of 7.5 million citizens. The results retain the protesters, but pro-Beijing parties remain in control of the legislature, where only half the members are appointed by popular vote.

Hong Kong riot police arrest approximately 400 people across Hong Kong, after a peaceful pro-democracy New Year’s Day march. The march was made up of tens of thousands, however it spiraled into turmoil. When brawls broke out near the HSBC branch in Wan Chai, police called off the march early, firing tear gas and water cannons to dissolve crowds. The total arrests since June are now approximately 7,000.

China passes a broad-reaching security law for Hong Kong, criminalizing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign or external forces, and makes it easier to punish protesters while reducing Hong Kong’s autonomy.

China’s National People’s Congress approves a decision to build national security laws for Hong Kong. Chinese and Hong Kong chiefs say the demonstrations established an urgent need for such laws. Pro-democracy activists and many legal professionals fear a further destruction of “one-country, two systems.” The regulations are expected to be enacted by the end of the summer.