The last few weeks have seen mass protests in Hong Kong. Estimates of the numbers have ranged from thousands of demonstrators, to 1.7 million.
Hong Kong is a unique city. As a tiny island off the south-east coast of China, life in Hong Kong is a mix of Asian and European culture. This territory was taken over by the British Empire in 1842, and European influence mixed with the traditional Chinese way of life. In 1997, Britain returned Hong Kong to China. Because the city had gotten used to a Western-style of government and economics, compared to communist society on the Chinese mainland, China and Britain agreed that Hong Kong should be granted a degree of autonomy for the next 50 years. This gave rise to the “one country, two systems” solution, which means that Hong Kong is officially part of China, but it is allowed some independence. It is currently part of a special administrative region in China, along with neighboring city Macau, which was once a colony of Portugal.
What are the Protests About?
The protests were sparked by an extradition law introduced by the city’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam. Extradition is when one country hands over an accused criminal to another country, where they will face trial. Hong Kong has its own laws and courts, and people have various rights, including free speech. People in mainland China do not have that right and can be arrested if they criticize the government. The extradition law would make it possible to send Hong Kongese citizens to mainland China if they are accused of a crime by the Chinese government. According to the protesters, China wants to use the law to control Hong Kong, especially when it comes to free speech. The concern is that China could bring Hong Kongese who criticize the Chinese government to Beijing (the capital of China), where they can be tortured, or face an unfair trial. The new law has been suspended, but now protesters are calling for Lam to step down from her role as leader of Hong Kong.
The protesters are mainly young people, who have marched on the streets. They also gathered in the airport, stopping travel to and from the city. “The people’s voices are not being heard,” 18-year-old student Ivan Wong said to AFP news agency. “This bill will not just affect Hong Kong’s reputation as an international finance centre, but also our judicial [law and court] system. That has an impact on my future.”
Rocky Chang, a 59-year-old professor, told Reuters news agency that, “This is the end game for Hong Kong, it is a matter of life or death. That’s why I come. This is an evil law.”
Police have used tear gas, rubber bullets, and riot equipment to try to stop the protests, and there have been violent clashes. According to some reports, police have disguised themselves as protesters. In one incident, protesters held a sign over the man that claimed, “I am China’s police. I pretend to be [a] protester.” Many observers have said the police reaction has been too harsh, and that most of the demonstrations have been peaceful.
On the other hand, the protests have been criticized by the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, due to some violence and rioting. Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council in Beijing, said “radical demonstrators have repeatedly used extremely dangerous tools to attack police officers.” He accused the protesters of committing “serious violent crime,” which “shows the first signs of terrorism emerging.”
Chinese politician Yang Jiechi has also accused the USA of interfering. He said, “The U.S. and some other Western governments … are constantly fanning the flames of the situation in Hong Kong.”
Nobody knows what will happen next in Hong Kong. What do you think the solution to this conflict could be?