Hong Kong has been enjoying The Western-style rule of law but not a fully democratic political regime.
In 1997, the former British colony of Hong Kong again became a sovereign territory of China. A negotiated agreement between the United Kingdom and China formed the basis of the Hong Kong Basic Law.
This has granted Hong Kong people the Western-style civil and political rights, as well as an independent legal system based on common law. Thus separate Hong Kong from mainland China’s legal system. Hong Kong residents have been exercising their civic rights, especially their freedom of assembly, by organizing demonstrations on an almost daily basis.
Yet the reversion agreement did not provide for popular democratic elections. Hong Kong’s people can only elect half of their Legislative Council, while mostly pro-Beijing constituencies fill the remainder of the seats.
This political arrangement led to the formation of a small political elite that has come to control a large portion of Hong Kong’s wealth. Thus making Hong Kong one of the most economically unequal societies in the world.
“Not surprisingly, the public had a high level of alienation against the establishment because of the unequal distribution of wealth and power.”
Hong Kong chaos started when protesters have become impatient
Hong Kong chaos started when protesters have become impatient with China’s continuing reluctance to allow for free and competitive elections. Upon regaining sovereignty over Hong Kong, China made a vague pledge that it would allow the free and competitive election of the executive and legislative branches sometime in the future.
By the mid-2000s, young, pro-democracy activists became increasingly restless and began staging protests in violation of public assembly laws. They were further enraged by Beijing’s decision not to allow Hong Kong’s electorate to choose their chief executive freely. Instead, Hong Kong’s people had to choose from a pool of candidates preselected by a pro-Beijing nominating committee.
“China’s initial pledge to allow Hong Kong people to exercise civil and political rights and respect the rule of law was positive and important; starting in late 2015, however, it began to renege on that pledge.”
Young democracy activists formed the Umbrella Movement, whose protests have at times turned violent. After China proposed a compromise solution to resolve the election law stalemate, radicals within Hong Kong’s opposition movement convinced others to reject the proposal.
Resulting in China dropping the electoral reform project altogether. The Umbrella Movement became increasingly radicalized with some calling for full independence and self-determination. China responded by banning pro-independence candidates from legislative elections and began trying opposition candidates in Chinese courts. Whereby the civil and political rights bestowed on Hong Kong residents, don’t apply.
A settlement that reaffirms China’s sovereignty but respects the Hong Kong aspiration for political autonomy.
The crisis in Hong Kong must end with a negotiated settlement that reaffirms China’s territorial sovereignty but respects the Hong Kong people’s aspiration for greater political autonomy. In 2019, protests against a proposed – and later dropped – extradition law, which would have allowed for the trial of Hong Kong residents in China, at the latter’s request, turned violent.
The best-case scenario for resolving the continuing crisis is for Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government leaders and the key stakeholders from Hong Kong civil society to sit together and address issues. Issues such as the stalled electoral reforms and growing inequality. So far, however, Hong Kong’s protesters have been unwilling to talk without preconditions.
“The need for a ‘cooling-off period’ in the protests and demonstrations — and for self-restraint — is urgent.”
If the protest movement does not fizzle out on its own, China may well decide to curtail Hong Kong people’s political and civil rights further and even send in its own forces to quell the protests. The protesters’ hope that China would grant Hong Kong full independence, however, is unrealistic. Hong Kong people will be better off focusing their energies on reaching a settlement that will give them as much autonomy as China is willing to grant them.
Further Reading Recommendation
- Refuge: Rethinking refugee policy in a changing world
- The art of Politics: The Prince by Machiavelli
- Decision Making Thinking Traps