The World Must Keep An Even Closer Eye On Hong Kong

Events in Hong Kong are at a tipping point. As recently as 12 August, Chinese People’s Armed Police Force vessels were spotted in the border city of Shenzhen. International attention on the protests in Hong Kong has been widespread over the past ten weeks; however, this new development suggests that Beijing may be looking to take a more assertive role towards events in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

The protests in Hong Kong began in March/April of this year after the announcement of an extradition bill allowing Hong Kong authorities to arrest people who are wanted in mainland China. Unlike an extradition treaty designed to act in the mutual interests of both states, the bill proposed  earlier this year would have seen individuals arrested and repatriated at the request of Chinese authorities. Since the suspension of the bill by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the protests themselves have grown both in terms of turnout and the rate of violence. Now in their tenth week, the next several weeks will be crucial for the viability of Hong Kong’s future with China and indeed the rest of the world.

Presently, international attention has been widespread with a good deal of focus on the original bill proposed earlier this year. However, the general cause for Hong Kong independence has suddenly become a topic of focus in the backdrop. As the protests have gone on, more elements within Hong Kong’s society have openly called for the demands of the protesters to be respected. The United Kingdom, United States, European Union and many other nations have openly supported the right to protest in Hong Kong, while some countries have questioned the efficacy of the move. China has maintained that the protests in Hong Kong are an acts of terrorism and as such has condemned them.

The extent to which China can or cannot involve itself in the affairs of Hong Kong really depends on how it interprets the “One Country, Two Systems” approach since Hong Kong was diplomatically returned to China in 1997. It seems as if the recent developments in Hong Kong now derive from a disagreement over how this “One Country, Two Systems” approach is best maintained. The actions of the SAR’s government suggest that economic independence can be maintained, but that a political and legal system independent of Chinese control is not an option. Whether this respects the original idea behind the philosophy of the system in question is anyone’s guess.

As the months have passed, the Chinese government has been slow to respond. At present the protests are more violent than they have been and, in some instances, infiltration by undercover Chinese police has occurred. As the events continue to unfold in Hong Kong, the state of international human rights is once again under scrutiny. As China seeks to influence the affairs of Hong Kong and undermine its own promise of “One Country, Two Systems,” the original promise of co-existence can never be realized. This does, however, remain to be seen, but as time goes by it seems unlikely. The next few months – indeed weeks – will be crucial for the cause of the global human rights dialogue and the future of Hong Kong SAR.

Mitchell Thomas