Hong Kong Security Crisis


Hong Kong, Asia

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 This resulted in hundreds of thousands of people turning towards public demonstrations, even long after the bill was withdrawn in September 2019.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.

Key Facts

1.7 to 2 million

Protestors

8,981

Arrests

Three killed and

thousands injured

Population: Hong Kong: 7,496,981 people

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

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/legislation:

2019 Extraditions Bill

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.

2020 Security Law

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.

The Key Actors

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.

The United States President orders his administration to eliminate the special treatment provided to Hong Kong, alongside threatening to impose sanctions. These sanctions are intent on “eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy, directly or indirectly”.

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.

A Hong Kong media tycoon (Jimmy Lai Chee-ying), to be prosecuted for partaking in gathering thousands of people in Victoria Park to mark the anniversary of the 1989 Democracy Movement.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison working on a plan to provide diplomatic haven to Hong Kong residents after China’s “incredibly concerning” decision to push ahead with new national security law.

UK FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) to introduce new visa tier for Hong Kong residents. This allows Hong Kong residents to apply for British citizenship through close family members, with no number cap on applications. Estimates show that more than 1,000,000 Hong Kong residents could move to Britain within the next 5 years.

An undisclosed number of public-school teachers are under investigation for the alleged use of “inappropriate and biased teaching materials”, after 2 teachers were disqualified in 2020.

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