Hong Kong vs. China

Hong Kong vs. China

By Laetitia Arias Law clerk BridgehouseLaw LLP

Mrs. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive since 2017, started pushing a motion in February, that would allow extradition to mainland China to stand trial. The government considered the bill as being necessary because of a murder case that could only be tried in Taiwan.

However, Hong Kongese saw that bill as a way for Beijing to target activists, journalists, and others in Hong Kong without a serious motive.

The Qing Dinasty ceded Hong Kong to Great Britain in 1842 after China’s defeat in the first Opium War. In 1997, the British government returned Hong Kong to China under specific terms – Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 (the “Declaration”). The management of Hong Kong is based on the “one country, two systems” policy developed to help reintegrate Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau in the 1980s. This policy allows freedoms not granted to the mainland, freedoms of the press, expression, assembly, and religion, as well as external relations in trade, communications, tourism or culture. According to the Declaration and the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s constitutional document), the city was supposed to keep a significant autonomy until 2047.

Hong Kongese fear the consequences the extradition bill could have, including exposing them to China’s murky legal system. More generally, they are concerned about their rights and liberties.

For these reasons, Hong Kongese started protesting. Reports differ on the attendance numbers, but on June 9, a march was attended by more than a million people (240,000 according to the police) and was peaceful until violence broke out around midnight. On June 12, legislators were supposed to discuss the bill, another protest took place. Roads near the Legislative Council building were blocked. When protesters tried to storm a government building, the police response was harsh: police officers hit marchers with batons, rubber bullets, pepper spray and more than 150 canisters of tear gas, shocking the Hong Kongese. The government declared the protest to be an “illegal riot”.

On June 15, Mrs. Carrie Lam announced the suspension of the bill and issued public apology on June 16 stating:
“The Chief Executive apologizes to Hong Kong citizens for this, and promises that she will take on criticisms in the most sincere and humble way, striving to improve and serve the general public.”

But Mrs. Lam’s actions did not convince Hong Kongese. On June 16, thousands of Hong Kong citizens demonstrated (338,000 according to the police; two million according to various organizations): parents with children, groups of students, retirees. This time, the marchers’ demand list increased: they want not only the suspension of the bill but its complete withdrawal. Marchers want the qualification of an “illegal riot” (regarding the protest on June 12) to be rescinded and arrested students to be released. And, above all, they want Mrs. Lam to resign.

It remains to be seen whether Hong Kong citizens’ protests will send a clear message to Beijing and show that the Hong Kong people will not accept the Chinese government’s actions without reacting.

Posted June 19, 2019