Recently, the Hong Kong protests have been making headlines in U.S. news publications, but because of their longevity, there is some confusion as to what has been happening. Therefore, before this article goes any further, some background should be given.
Hong Kong was a British colony up until 1997, when the rule was handed back over to the Chinese. However, Hong Kong was not admitted back into China. Instead, it became an administrative region of China with a separate government and economic system. Because of this partial autonomy from the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong is a haven for free press and judicial independence. These rights are protected under something called the Basic Law. The Basic Law not only allows Hong Kong’s partial autonomy, but it also prevents the Chinese mainland from stifling any dissent in Hong Kong with authoritative measures. However, the Basic Law legislation is set to expire in 2047 when Hong Kong loses its democratic government and capitalist economic system.
The initial spark that started the protests was a piece of legislation called the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance Bill. The bill proposes the extradition of individuals (regardless of extradition agreements with other nations) to China to stand trial in Communist-controlled courts. This caused a deep rift between the pro-government and pro-democracy Hong Kongers, both within the government and within the general population.
The pro-democracy side argues that even though the bill may seem harmless, it is dangerous to anyone who lives in or visits Hong Kong. According to the legislation, extradition is not limited to Chinese citizens or residents of Hong Kong, meaning that the legislation can be invoked for all people, regardless of their citizenship. This is why the pro-democracy side is concerned about the legislation: while Hong Kong has the Basic Law in place to protect their free press and speech, this does not prohibit China from trying to weaken it before 2047. The Communist Party in mainland China often prosecutes those who disagree with the government, leading pro-democracy advocates to fear what could happen if extradition to China becomes legal.
On the other hand, the pro-government side argues that the extradition bill is necessary. Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and a pro-government supporter stated that the legislation is needed to resolve serious situations, such as the case of a Hong Kong man who murdered his girlfriend and needs to be extradited from Taiwan and prosecuted. Lam has also stated that the protesters are a “small minority of people” that want to “destroy Hong Kong.” The extradition bill is suspended, but not withdrawn from the legislature as of August 18.
If the bill were to become active from its current suspended status, Lam, as the Chief Executive, would have to approve every extradition request and arrest warrant. A Hong Kong court would also have to ensure that there is a viable case with every extradition request. However, because Hong Kong is not a separate entity from China, pro-democracy advocates contend that Lam cannot easily refuse extradition requests from the mainland. This leaves speculation as to if there will be a creation of a “slippery slope” where China extradites dissenters in Hong Kong based on other crimes.
Top image <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49289460>
Second image <https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/3023209/hong-kong-protests-student-leaders-say-they-were>
Third image <https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/01/world/asia/china-hong-kong-protest.html>