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Hong Kong protests and the island’s unclear future

Protesters in Central Hong Kong. (YJI photo)

HONG KONG – Imagine a third of your country publicly protesting for a cause. Well, that’s precisely what happened in Hong Kong. The reason? To abolish the proposed extradition law.

Recently in Hong Kong, there have been major protests surrounding the proposed extradition law that would allow criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial.

Some may be confused as to Hong Kong’s current political situation and China’s involvement with its government so here is some context.

Britain colonized Hong Kong for more than 150 years following the Treaty of Nanking that ended the First Opium War about a trade dispute.

Hong Kong island was first given to Britain in 1842. Later, China leased the remainder of Hong Kong to the British for 99 years. Within this period, Hong Kong adopted democratic practices, although they were somewhat dictated by the People’s Republic of China.

In the early 1980s, as the lease was approaching its end, Britain and China began discussing plans for the future of Hong Kong, with China arguing that all of Hong Kong should return to Chinese rule.

In 1984, they reached a consensus that in 1997, Hong Kong would return to China, under the principle of “one country, two systems.” This meant that geographically Hong Kong would belong to China, but Hong Kong had major autonomy for another 50 years.

So today, Hong Kong has its own legal system, borders and rights – including protected freedom of assembly and free speech. This has resulted in a large contrast between China and Hong Kong in terms of censorship and expression of opinions.

The people of Hong Kong have been protesting on the streets surrounding the Legislative Council (parliament) building since March. Some protests have included up to two million people, shutting down stops on the metro system and prohibiting people from traveling to work, home and school.

The protesters’ goal is to get the extradition law permanently suspended.

The Hong Kong security bureau proposed the law amendments to the Legislative Council in February. Since then, there have been about 12 massive protests, concerned formal letters from the United States and European Union and an opposing petition with 120,000 signatures from 185 Hong Kong secondary schools.

Opponents say that the changes from the law would put them at the mercy of Chinese courts controlled by the Communist Party with a record of arbitrary detentions, torture and other violations of human rights. Another circulating fear is that as China makes political changes in Hong Kong, they are starting to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy in an attempt to speed up the process of putting Hong Kong under China’s communist rule.

In a BBC video regarding why protesters stormed the parliament building on July 2, pro-Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong, when interviewed, said protesters stormed the Legislative council building because “the council has never represented the people,” implying they were never a true democracy.

Not only have the protesters started to riot and storm buildings, but police have used rubber bullets and tear gas on the crowds, sometimes unnecessarily or without provocation.

On June 18, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam temporarily suspended the law, but the rallies continued. At a July 9 press conference, Lam said the bill was “dead,” but did not say it was completely withdrawn.

The protests have continued.

The Civil Human Rights Front has said the rallies won’t stop until their five key demands are met, according to Bloomberg’s TicToc. The demands are: a complete withdrawal of the bill, retract the designation of the June 12 protests as a riot, the release of arrested protesters, an independent probe into police actions and Lam’s resignation, TicToc reported.

The future is unclear. It remains to be seen whether the government will satisfy all the demands. If the unrest continues, will international interference result in conflict? If threats to Hong Kong’s  autonomy continue, it’s impossible to say how its trade relationships and economy will be affected. And no one can say whether the military will intervene if protesters or police get more violent.

Lili Connell is a Junior Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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