Flights out of Hong Kong recently resumed following a protester takeover of Hong Kong International Airport that’s transpired over the past couple of weeks. With the rise of the protests and the sense of chaos surrounding them, the pace of the protests seemingly erupted out of nowhere. However, this political turmoil actually has old blood, dating back nearly 200 years.
The end of the First Opium War in 1839 started turmoil in Asia. Following the war, China and Great Britain entered into land agreements, beginning with the Treaty of Nanking that ended the war. As a result, China ceded the island of Hong Kong to Great Britain.
Over the next 56 years, China would also cede Kowloon and lease the “New Territories,” a swath of 235 islands in the South China Sea, to Britain. With the start of World War II, Hong Kong—which housed around 200,000 U.S. ground and naval troops on holidays during the Vietnam War—was attacked by the Japanese military the night before the bombing of Pearl Harbor (alongside many other strategic areas in the Pacific). The territory was occupied by the Japanese until the end of the war.
Hong Kong was an exceptionally important strategic colony for the British until its lease over the land expired on July 1st, 1997. The Chinese government refused to allow the British to renew their lease, so they returned Hong Kong to China at midnight the same day their lease expired, which became known as the “Handover of Hong Kong.”
During the conferences that resulted in the Handover of Hong Kong, the groundwork was laid for what would eventually become the “one country, two systems” policy that Hong Kong, and later Macau, would implement and continue to follow in the present day. Through this policy, as well as the Basic Law, Hong Kong would not be forced to get rid of its unique cultural identity, and its capitalist economy wouldn’t be touched for 50 years after the negotiations.
That said, Beijing has made increasingly drastic moves to rid Hong Kong of its relative autonomy, granted by the Handover itself, in the past decade.
The earliest example of Hong Kong’s autonomy being chipped away at was in 1995, when China replaced Hong Kong’s democratically-elected Legislative Council with a non-elected Provisional Legislative Council.
In 2014, Beijing announced it would selectively screen individuals running in the election for Hong Kong’s chief executive. In response to this was the Umbrella Movement, which consisted of a 79-day occupation of Hong Kong itself.
Further still, in February of 2019, Beijing announced the blueprint of a scheme they called the “Greater Bay Area,” a planned region of innovation and development meant to rival Silicon Valley in California. The Greater Bay Area would link Macau, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and several other cities in southern China. While it seems to makes sense at first, Beijing would need to integrate each separate economy and subsequently integrate that economy into its own, effectively removing Hong Kong’s economic autonomy for the plan to succeed.
The latest incident is the proposal of the extradition bill, which would allow Hong Kong to arrest and transfer fugitives to countries Hong Kong has no extradition agreements with. The bill would allow fugitives to be arrested and sent to China, for example, and tried by judges who must abide by the orders of the Chinese Communist Party. The anti-extradition bill protests arose from this, which began at the end of March.
With the protests in Hong Kong having ramped up and have even reached Australia and the United Kingdom, there’s no telling what could come out of this in the future. Some have referred to Hong Kong in the same light as Berlin at the start of the Cold War. Others see it as just another demonstration in Asia.
All that is certain is this: the fight for freedom in Hong Kong is just starting, and it shows no sign of stopping.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.