One Country, Two Systems: The Story of Hong Kong

Timeline

For the past few months, the headlines have been covered with images of citizens of Hong Kong being beaten by police while donning masks and waving American flags. For many in the west, this situation came seemingly out of nowhere, but as for all conflicts in the world, it is not as simple as that. The riots/protests now are a result of years of geological and ideological differences. To understand the conflict, one must understand history.

What is Hong Kong? 

The region of Hong Kong is located south of Guangdong province of China bordering the South China sea. The region consists of the larger body, Hong Kong Island, along with the southern islands in the Kowloon peninsula. During the 1600s the region was a battleground between the warring Ming and Qing dynasties. Other than that and the occasional raid from pirates, the region historically consisted of small fishing communities that had little to no contact with the rest of China and the world.

China and the West

In 1821, the British made contact with the Qing dynasty of China, who despite wanting to keep to themselves, opened up limited trade relations. The island of Hong Kong became the primary hub for arriving European merchants. The British began to see massive profits in selling opium from India to China, the massive influx of opium in China created an enormous opium epidemic that greatly damaged the country. In an attempt to stop the crisis, the Qing ordered for all opium imports to stop. The British promptly refused and continued to sell the drug despite the wishes of the Qing. In 1839, when nothing else worked, the Qing military attacked the British merchants starting the Opium Wars. The British were victorious and gained Hong Kong island and later the Kowloon peninsula as colonies. The British made a deal stating that the Kowloon peninsula would be returned to China in 1997. The region was filled with European companies looking to capitalize on the new market. The culture and way of life of the people in Hong Kong changed to mirror the West with an introduction of foreign goods and practices, and their anthem being a Chinese version of “God Save the Queen!”. The European presence would increase hostilities between the Chinese and the foreign Europeans which would culminate into the Boxer Rebellion of 1899. The rebellion was put down harshly by the Qing, British, Germans, Japanese, French, Russians, and Americans giving the Chinese disdain for each of the respective nations. This initial rejection of the West would be the driving force that would lead to the communist revolutions that would further divide the regions of China and Hong Kong.

The Split

 

The Nationalist Kuomintang faction fought against the Chinese Communists as well as many bandits and regional warlords. Many Chinese citizens fled to Hong Kong to escape the violence. After World War II, the civil war resumed, with the Kuomintang supported by the United States and Britain, and the Communists supported by the Soviet Union. In 1949, the Chinese Communists defeated the Kuomintang and established the People’s Republic of China, while the remnants of the Kuomintang government fled to the island of Taiwan creating a military government there and eventually becoming a separate nation. Remnants also fled to Hong Kong along with many Chinese citizens who feared the communist government. Hong Kong for them was like being in a separate nation as it was British territory.

Hong Kong and mainland China began to split drastically in culture and way of life. China became an authoritarian one-party communist state, subject to famine and repression, while Hong Kong became an ultra-capitalist society with widespread economic inequality, poverty, and corruption. Communist leader Mao Zedong’s 1966 Cultural Revolution divided the regions even more as traditional Chinese thought and culture in the mainland were destroyed and replaced by a cult of personality to Mao Zedong. Hong Kong developed with Western culture.

Free Hong Kong

During the 1970s, Hong Kong saw major reforms in its society such as vastly improved labor conditions, the introduction of social benefits to help those in poverty, better education, and the improvement of democracy and draining of corruption. The economy improved as well, becoming much more based on manufacturing and technology. 

One Country, Two Systems

As the 1997 deadline for the British holding of Hong Kong came near. In 1984, British Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher met with Chinese leaders in Beijing and worked out the policy of “One Country, Two Systems”, where when Hong Kong was to be given back to the Chinese, the Chinese had to respect the autonomy and government of Hong Kong. This gave Hong Kong full control in its parliament with partial control with the Chinese mainland. This was to insure the people of Hong Kong kept their independence while also appeasing the Chinese.

Free Hong Kong?

Ever since the 1997 reunification, the Chinese mainland government has been trying to slowly integrate Hong Kong into the Chinese mainland doctrine. For the most part, the government has appeased Hong Kongers by pouring resources into the region as a bargaining tool. The culture of Hong Kong has been a thorn in China’s side for their pro-democracy and anti-Chinese authoritarianism. Unlike other parts of China, the government cannot use military force to suppress the people as that would violate the 1984 agreement. 

The Extradition treaty

The protests started when the government of Hong Kong announced the plan to instate the Extradition plan that would see the deportation and arrest of those wanted in China from Hong Kong. The treaty includes 37 crimes, many of which apply to political rivals, activists, protesters, or anyone accused of dissent. The treaty would also introduce a large mainland Chinese police presence in an otherwise Hong Kong controlled area. Many citizens of Hong Kong see this as a ploy by the Chinese Communist Party to enforce its will on the people of Hong Kong and oppress those living there. The Chinese Communist Party often spreads propaganda claiming that Hong Kong is a remnant of old British colonialism that needs to be pacified and integrated into the Chinese way of life.

The Protests

Studio Incendo
Demonstration against extradition bill, 1 October 2019

Protesters took to the streets blocking roads, disrupting businesses, and fighting against the police who were sent to quell the protests. The protests quickly got violent with brutally beating protesters and arresting anyone there. The protesters began wearing face masks as to not be detected by police or facial recognition cameras that litter the city. As of recently, the police have begun to use lethal weapons against the protesters as well as tear gas. The protesters have gone to rioting and beating police and using Molotov cocktails. The protests have gained international recognition for the resilience of the Hong Kongers to keep their way of life, and their resistance to the communist party. 

Now

During the end of September of 2019, the Extradition treaty was pushed back to a later date to appease the people. This was ineffective as the protests have transformed into a movement against the aggression and authoritarian nature of the Chinese Communist Party. The protesters will claim that the riots will go on unless their demands are met, those demands are:

  • Withdrawal from the Extradition treaty
  • Resignation of Hong Kong official Carie Lam
  • Investigations of police brutality
  • Releasement of those arrested for protesting
  • Expanded democratic freedoms

Although the Communist Party delayed the passing of the treaty, none of the following demands have been met, and recently the government has banned face masks and will arrest anyone with one. The conflict in Hong Kong is a result of years of political and cultural separation along with the anti-western sentiment in China. Neither the protesters nor communist party officials plan to concede anytime soon.

Sources

Britannica, T. E. of E. (n.d.). Chinese Civil War. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/event/Chinese-Civil-War.

Contemporary Hong Kong. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Hong-Kong/Contemporary-Hong-Kong.

History.com Editors. (2009, November 9). Cultural Revolution. Retrieved from https://www.history.com/topics/china/cultural-revolution.

Ives, M. (2019, June 10). What Is Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/10/world/asia/hong-kong-extradition-bill.html.

John, T. (2019, August 30). Why Hong Kong is protesting. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/13/asia/hong-kong-airport-protest-explained-hnk-intl/index.html.

Mayberry, K. (2019, June 11). Hong Kong’s controversial extradition bill explained. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/06/explainer-hong-kong-controversial-extradition-bill-190610101120416.html.

Pletcher, K. (2019, September 5). Opium Wars. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Opium-Wars.