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China’s Urge to Rule: The Hong Kong Protests

A series of steps by the Chinese and Hong Kong governments in recent years have prompted a growing uneasiness among Hong Kongers about their future, a concern that burst out in a protest by hundreds of thousands of people earlier this year.

The special status of Hong Kong

It was a British colony for more than 150 years – part of it, Hong Kong island, was ceded to the UK after a war in 1842. Later, China also leased the rest of Hong Kong to the British for 99 years.

It became a busy trading port, and its economy took off in the 1950s as it became a manufacturing hub. The territory was also popular with migrants and dissidents fleeing instability, poverty or persecution in mainland China.

Then, in the early 1980s, as the deadline for the 99-year-lease approached, Britain and China began talks on the future of Hong Kong with the communist government in China arguing that all of Hong Kong should be returned to Chinese rule.

The two sides reached a deal in 1984 and the former British colony was returned to China in 1997 under the framework, which guarantees it the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years.

As a result, Hong Kong follows the rule of “one country, two systems” which allows it to have own legal system and borders, and rights including freedom of assembly and free speech.

The Issue

On 3 April, Hong Kong’s government introduced plans for changes to legislation that would allow for criminal suspects to potentially be extradited to China.

Critics warned the bill could undermine Hong Kong’s legal freedoms and might be used to intimidate or silence dissidents.

When Lam’s government introduced amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition laws that would allow criminal suspects to be extradited to China, there were large scale protests to this proposal. Critics feared that the changes would damage the territory’s legal independence and suspects would not be guaranteed fair trials. Hong Kong’s protests started in June against proposals to allow extradition to mainland China.

What started as demonstrations against an extradition bill took on a much wider scope with protesters demanding full democratic rights for Hong Kongers.

After more than a million people took to the streets on June 9 for a “last stand” for Hong Kong, the government accidentally sent protesters the message that radical actions work better than peaceful displays by suspending the extradition bill—but only after police and protesters clashed on June 12. By then, anger was already boiling at police, and the mass peaceful marches of June gave way to more intense confrontations with police all over the city. Following is a timeline of the key dates around the extradition bill and the protests it triggered.

  • February 2019 – Hong Kong’s Security Bureau submits a paper to the city’s legislature proposing amendments to extradition laws that would provide for case-by-case extraditions to countries, including mainland China, beyond the 20 states with which Hong Kong already has treaties.
  • March 31 – Thousands take to the streets of Hong Kong to protest against the proposed extradition bill.
  • April 3 – Lam’s government introduces amendments to Hong Kong’s extradition laws that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.
  • April 28 – Tens of thousands of people march on Hong Kong’s city assembly building, the Legislative Council, to demand the scrapping of the proposed amendments to the extradition laws.
  • May 11 – Scuffles break out in Hong Kong’s legislature between pro-democracy lawmakers and those loyal to Beijing over the extradition bill.
  • May 30 – Hong Kong introduces concessions to the extradition bill, including limiting the scope of extraditable offences. Critics say they are not enough.
  • June 6 – More than 3,000 Hong Kong lawyers take to the streets dressed in black in a rare protest march against the extradition law.

The first big protests

  • June 9 – An estimated one million people marched to the government headquarters to show they were against the proposed bill.

It was largely a peaceful rally, though some small skirmishes broke out.

  • June 12- A fresh demonstration took place at which police fired tear gas and rubber bullets. The stand-off developed into the worst violence Hong Kong had seen in decades.
  • June 15 – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam issued a dramatic reversal, saying she would indefinitely delay the extradition bill. Lam expressed ‘deep sorrow’ over extradition law controversy.
  • June 16 – Despite this, an estimated two million people took to the streets the following day, demanding the bill be withdrawn completely and calling for Ms Lam’s resignation.
  • July 1 – on The anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the UK to China, the Legislative Council (LegCo) building was stormed by protesters who sprayed graffiti on the walls, displayed the colonial-era flag and defaced Hong Kong’s regional emblem.
  • July 9 – Lam says the extradition bill is “dead” and that government work on the legislation had been a “total failure”.
  • July 21 – Men, clad in white T-shirts and some armed with poles, flood into rural Yuen Long station and storm a train, attacking passengers and passers-by, including members of the media, after several thousand activists surrounded China’s representative office in the city earlier in the day, and clashed with police.
  • July 30 – Forty-four activists are charged with rioting, the first time this charge has been used during these protests.

Violent clashes become the norm

  • August 3- protests took place for the ninth consecutive weekend. Police again fired tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds at protesters, something many had now come to expect. By this time protesters were wearing masks and protective gear at every demonstration.
  • August 6 China warned the protesters not to “play with fire,” not to “underestimate the firm resolve [of] the central government” and not to “mistake restraint for weakness”.It was one of the strongest warnings Beijing had issued over the protests.

Protests moved into a 10th week without showing signs of dying down.

  • August 11 police stormed enclosed railway stations, firing tear gas at protesters, leading yet again to dramatic scenes of confrontation.
  • August 12 protesters gathered at the airport, leading to hundreds of flights being cancelled.
  • August 14 – Police and protesters clash at Hong Kong’s international airport after flights were disrupted for a second day. The airport resumed operations later that day, rescheduling hundreds of flights.
  • Violence resumed the following weekend, with police using tear gas and water cannon against protesters, who returned fire with projectiles, including bricks and petrol bombs
  • Sept 2 – Lam says she has caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the political crisis engulfing the city and would quit if she had a choice, according to an audio recording obtained by Reuters of remarks she made to a group of businesspeople.
  • Sept 3 – Lam says she had never asked the Chinese government to let her resign to end the Chinese-ruled city’s political crisis, responding to the Reuters report.

Finally, the bill was withdrawn

How the protests escalated?

What started as peaceful protests with a of a few people, went on to take the shape of mass protests as millions of people took to the streets. Initial promise of delaying the bill could not hold back the people as they feared the bill could be revived, so demonstrations continued, calling for it to be withdrawn completely.

By then clashes between police and protesters had become more frequent and more violent, with injuries on both sides and scores of people arrested. There was also a lot of anger towards how the police had handled the situation, and their use of force.  A record amount of tear gas was fired, often in dense residential areas. On multiple occasions, armed thugs attacked civilians on train platforms and on the streets. Riot police had to beat people indiscriminately in train stations and in shopping malls. The Chinese flag had been stomped on, thrown into the sea, and set on fire. Meanwhile, as the number of Hong Kongers identifying as Chinese reached a record low, protesters composed an unofficial “national” anthem shortly ahead of China’s national day

What the protesters wanted?

The movement was largely leaderless and not everyone had the same end goals. Over the weeks, new demands had been added.

By a later point, here is what the protesters wanted:

  • The withdrawal of the “riot” description used about the 12 June protests.
  • An amnesty for all arrested protesters.
  • An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.
  • Universal suffrage in elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive (the territory’s leader), and Legislative Council.

Viewpoint

After more than four months of protests, the 2019 movement completely reconfigured the daily life in Hong Kong and ushered in a new norm. Many in the city worried that the freedoms they enjoyed under a “one-country, two-systems” framework were being chipped away, as both governments used carrots and sticks to draw Hong Kong closer to China’s orbit.

Hong Kongers had always been proud, but there is something new: a feeling of hatred towards mainland China’s authoritarian leaders. Hong Kong’s eruption into months long protests was a result of Beijing’s overreach and its urge for total control.

Hong Kong police, under control of Beijing, have drawn severe flak for their handling of protesters, several of whom were shot in the head by rubber bullets , but the Chinese government continued to carry on with the violence. Accusations of police brutality surfaced as pictures and videos of bloodied protesters circulated on social media. The entire world saw these human rights violations happening everyday while China chose to remain tight lipped.

It is imperative to note here that China, who sides with its dear friend Pakistan,  in expressing concerns for the Human rights violation in Kashmir, feels no remorse when it comes to its own people. What the Chinese Government have triggered in Hong Kong may lead to a far deeper impact on the future generations of Hong Kong and yet it conveniently covers up the issue, pretending to be a supporter of human rights. With all this happening under its wings, with what face China stands to support Pakistan with Kashmir when it cannot resolve basic issues within in its own territory. It’s high time that China should be looking within its own glass walls first before throwing stones at others.

01 Oct 19/Tuesday                                                  Written by: Saima Ebrahim

 

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