HONG KONG AND ITS PROLONGED IDENTITY CRISIS

Rikesh Maharjan Dawit Gurung Sudiksha Tuladhar

June 26, 2020

 

Historical Background

China and Britain have signed three treaties, all of which China considers as unequal ones. The first one - Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing) was signed after the First Opium War fought between 1839 and 1842, which allowed Britain government to take full control of three main regions of Hong Kong for the next 66 years. The second treaty (Convention of Peking) was signed between China, Britain and French Empire after the Second Opium War between 1856 and 1860 which cedes Kowloon peninsula and stonecutters Island to Britain. Under second convention of Peking, Britain got an additional right of 99 years of rule in 1898. The Hong Kong colony flourished as an East-West trading center and as the commercial getaway and distribution center for Southern China.

During World War 2, Japan invaded Hong Kong for a brief time (1941-1944). Civil war during Mao’s time drove thousands of people to Hong Kong, creating civil and societal unrest in Hong Kong. But it also gave an opportunity to the government on how to enable social cohesion in a multicultural society through some ambitious social reform. During this period, Hong Kong emerged as a manufacturing hub and an international financial center which allowed it to take name of ‘Asian Tiger’. In the year 1984, British PM Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang signed an agreement named as the Sino-British agreement which required Britain to return Hong Kong to China by 1st July 1997; seeking terms guaranteeing a 50-year extension of its capitalist system. The defense and foreign policy were in the hands of Peoples Republic of China. The system was known popularly as “One Country Two Systems”.

 

Geopolitical Context of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a Nation (political community based on either common ethnicity or common civic values pursuing right to self-government as defined by nationalism scholar Michael Keating in his book- ‘Nation against the States’); whereas China is a state (system of political action built upon sovereignty). The basic law was signed on 1997 July 1. It served as a de facto constitution of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a part of PRC, as a special administrative region. It is divided into three territories namely Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and The New Territories. It is a coastal city in Southern China bordering Guangdong province through the city of Shenzhen in North and South China Sea in East, West and South.

Hong Kong has separate trade relations with other countries. It has an open market driven economy unlike mainland China which is state controlled. Economic contribution of Hong Kong in the GDP of China was 2.7% in 2018 compared to 27% in 1993.

Hong Kong, due to its strong independent legal system enables many foreign companies to have an easy access to Chinese market which makes it an international gateway. According to 1992 Hong Kong policy act, Chinese companies benefit enormously from Hong Kong special status in terms of tariffs, free exchangeability between US dollar and Hong Kong dollar, intellectual property and acquisition of technologies. Under the ‘Great Bay’ project PRC is trying to join Hong Kong with mainland China. The nation is pivotal to China’s longer-term ambition to turn Yuan into widely used international currency and competing with US.

 

Basic law, Constitution and Elections:

The Seventh National People’s Congress adopted the Basic Law of Hong Kong on 4th April, 1990 which came into effect from 1st July, 1997. The Basic Law of Hong Kong is the mini constitution of Hong Kong which encompasses the Sino-British declaration of Hong Kong being a semi-autonomous region of China. The Basic Law consists of 9 chapters, 160 articles and 3 annexes which was drafted by the Basic Law Drafting Committee which was composed of 59 members - 23 from Hong Kong and rest from the mainland China.

Article 2 of the Basic Law states Hong Kong as a special autonomous region- has an authority to have high degree of autonomy; enjoying the executive, legislative and an independent judicial power including that of final adjudication. Article 3 states about the need of permanent residency to become a member of legislative and executive authorities. Article 5 of the Basic Law clearly differentiates Hong Kong from main land China stating that the socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the capitalist system and way of life shall be remained unchanged for 50 years- that is till 2047. Chapter 2 of the Basic Law has mentioned about how the relationship between the HKSAR and Central Authority shall be maintained. Article 13-14 has made the Central Authority responsible for the defense and foreign affairs related to Hong Kong; but also has authorized Hong Kong for relevant external affairs conduct. Article 14 makes HKSAR responsible for the maintenance of the public order of HKSAR. Regarding the protection of rights and freedom, it has guaranteed for equity before law and freedom of people, prohibiting arbitrary and unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment, unlawful search of the body, torture or unlawful deprivation life. Basic Law’s Article 25-26 has stated right to vote and right to stand for the election. Article 27-38 has guarantee for freedom of speech, publication, association, assembly, demonstration, communication, movement, religious belief, formation and amalgamation of trade unions and right to revolt. Article 39 has mentioned about the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and International Labor Conventions and that they shall remain in force and implement through laws of HKSAR.

HKSAR has two tier semi representative system of government; the law-making legislative council and district councils including the independent judiciary. Chief Executive shall be the head of the HKSAR. Chief Executive is elected for a five year tenure by a 1200 member election committee composed of 300 from the industrial, commercial and financial sectors, 300 from various professions, 300 from Labor, social services, religious and other sectors and 300 from members of legislative council, representative members of district councils, representatives of the Heung Yee Kuk, Hong Kong deputies of National People Congress and representatives from Hong Kong members of National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Candidates for the office of Chief Executive may be nominated jointly by not less than 150 members of Election Committee.  Legislative Council, which is also known as LegCo is composed of 70 members where 35 are elected through five geographical constituencies and 35 indirectly through the functional constituencies. The next tier is the district council of 18 districts of Hong Kong divided administratively and geographically.

 

Hong Kong Protests:

Ever since their handover to China by the British, there has been a series of protests and unrest between China and Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong also faced some unrest while being a part of the British colony, the tensions seem to only have escalated after being handed over to China. Presented below is a timeline of few among many protests in Hong Kong which ceases to protect its identity.

 

  • 2003: The protests occurred against reforms in the national security reform. The law was proposed for maximum prison sentences for crime, theft and treason. The basic law of Hong Kong’s post-colonial constitution, under which Article 23 was proposed to undergo the changes. The organizers of the protests were expecting 100,000 in support, but there was a turnover of about 500,000 people. They all were wearing black symbolizing that they were against the bill. The chairman of the Liberal Party resigned post the protests. The bill was also shelved sighting disagreements and a smaller number of votes for being passed.

 

  • 2012: In this year, there was protests against changes in the school curriculum. There was an amendment that planned to include Chinese culture and identity in the curriculum of schools of Hong Kong. This was seen as a brainwashing tactic amongst the youths and they immediately started protests against it.

 

  • 2014: The ‘Umbrella Movement’ started as a well prepared and planned protest. The protestors demanded for reforms in the electoral system as the candidates for the chief executive were selected by Beijing. The protestors used umbrellas as a shield to protect from pepper spray being used by the police. The protestors had makeshift shelters who could read and study in those shelters. The protestors were seen to be providing free food and water to each other. This protest garnered a great sense of international attention for the approach adapted by the youths. The protests came to a halt after almost three months.

 

  • 2019: The protests started in June 2019, which was against the extradition bill- which allowed extradition of an escapee to mainland China. This was not favorable to the people of Hong Kong. The protests which started as a peaceful one went on to become one of the many violent protests that has happened in the history of Hong Kong. The chief executive of Hong Kong- Carrie Lam agreed on withdrawal of the bill, but by then the violence already had caused many irreparable losses.

 

  • 2020: Hong Kong started its new year through protests against the security bill proposed by Beijing. The protests continued until May 2020, amid coronavirus pandemic. The police used tear gas and arrested dozens of protestors. It garnered international attention; US and Japan seemed particularly worried on how the protests were escalating. The people of Hong Kong saw the bill as a move to interfere in their ‘one country two systems’ policy. Recently, on 12th June, 2020, the people of Hong Kong commemorated one year of the extradition protests, where many young people were seen peacefully still holding on to their demands.

 

Identity Crisis: Us Vs Them

The identity crisis has had detrimental effect on the social harmony among the Hong Kong population. The immigration from mainland China has further added to the insecurities. One out of seven in Hong Kong comes from the mainland who migrated after 1997. The yearly visitors from mainland China to Hong Kong has increased from two million to forty million and some more. Increasing influence of Mandarin used by the immigrants has only aggravated the fear of assimilating and rendering the Hong Kong’s language and culture out of use. The divide between the immigrants and Hong Kong population is deepening.

With the inflow of immigrants from mainland China, Hong Kong became a hub for China’s financial services and trade. China’s ballooning economy influx capital to Hong Kong. The sharing of job opportunities with the immigrants hasn’t gone down well within the Honk Kong population. The Hong Kong population sees the immigrants as the people who take profits back to the mainland.

The Economic and the living standard gap between Hong Kong and the mainland has immensely reduced, transforming China into shaping the world order. It seems Hong Kong population are hesitant to accept the reality as Hong Kong in 1980 was more advance and many folds prosperous than the mainland. There was a huge gap in the lifestyle and culture that created a separate identity for Hong Kong. The sense of loss of superiority has also played some part in radicalizing them and  led them to chant the slogans for autonomy declaring themselves as democratic fighters, human rights guards who wishes for the return of old hierarchy between mainland and Hong Kong. 

Central Government is aware of ‘us versus them’ feeling in Hong Kong. They conclude it as an education deficiency in Hong Kong regarding mainland China. In 2012, they planned to implement mandatory courses in “moral and national education” that would have taught people of Hong Kong that rule by the Chinese Communist party was “progressive and selfless” and “superior” to western democracy. Hong Kong perceived it as brainwashing, the proposal sparked a movement called ‘Scholarism’.

Movement’s voice with “liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times”, banner displayed with “Hong Kong is not China” at the oath ceremony of a member of legislative council has definitely alarmed China about the secessionist movement within Hong Kong as a possible threat to national unity and security. China intends to contain the separatist movements by introducing bills (security law, extradition bills) from Beijing in the subject of treason, secession, sedition, subversion. Beijing also selects 200 voters for the election committee which is seen as another form of intervention by China. This has been regarded by the Hong Kong as the breach of the moto of the Sino British declaration, attack over Hong Kong’s identity founded on the one country two systems and mini-constitution of Hong Kong for freedom of speech, expression, association, political freedom. The mainland called their action to Hong Kong for Together, Progress and Opportunity whereas people inclined to Hong Kong nationalism calls China’s actions as division, stagnation, and crisis.

 

Observation and Conclusion:

Hong Kong sees itself as an independent and self-governing system. China by bringing changes in the security bills might threaten their independent identity. The majority of Hong Kong’s young population has opposed this move from China and have taken to the streets. China has responded by deploying its own  “People’s Armed Police” in Hong Kong apart from the Honk Kong Police, although they haven’t interfered in their internal matters, it seems China wants Hong Kong integrated into its country and systems as soon as possible.

Any use of forceful tactics by China could push away Hong Kong from being a major international gateway. It could cause major outflux of people causing lamentable capital flight as well. The economy could also face disastrous results as it may cause city’s property and stock markets to crash. China cannot afford to spoil its international image by using force upon Hong Kong; major projects including BRI will be affected. China also may face charges according to international law if it tries to interfere in its internal affairs besides defense and foreign policy.

Hence, Hong Kong is a crucial part of China and can enjoy its own rights until the aforementioned year. China has to take each step carefully since the movement has already garnered a lot of attention from the International community as well. But, the future identity of Hong Kong still remains ambiguous.

 

References

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