Hong Kong, the Pearl of the Orient, ‘Asia’s World City’, whatever name it goes by, this former British colony is flourishing as an economic gold standard in China. Despite its success, civil political turmoil within this lively city garners a deeper look.
In July 1997, the British handed over Hong Kong back to China, but not without conditions. Hong Kong was to maintain a high level of autonomy, enjoying many freedoms other parts of China could not; such as freedom of press, assembly and speech. This special relationship was name ‘one country, two systems’. In the years since 1997, these freedoms have been progressively restrained, and many fear that China is slowly increasing its grip on Hong Kong.
In September 2014, hundreds sat on the busy highway of Central, the business city centre of Hong Kong. The Occupy Central movement had been progressively getting more and more supporters after their initial 2012 occupation. I personally walked among the various tents the protestors sat in, with some of them being ‘study tents’ for the university students among them. The atmosphere was calm, and the protest had not incited any violence, the protestors were extremely polite to passer-bys such as myself. I was shocked to see how the local police treated the protestors, spraying pepper gas and using tear gas. They fought back wearing cling film on their eyes and deflecting pepper spray with umbrellas. The so-called ‘Umbrella Movement’ had begun.
A divide between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing camps emerged. Younger citizens pointed to China’s growing influence over Hong Kong as a ‘special administrative region’. Older citizens just wanted to stick to the status quo. Yet a rise in other high-profile events since the 2014 protest need a closer look.
In 2015, five booksellers disappeared from Hong Kong, and were later found in Mainland China. They are widely believed to have been imprisoned due to them selling material that was critical of the Chinese Communist Party. In 2016, citizens protested against Chinese immigration laws being enacted in a certain area of the developing high speed railway between Hong Kong and Mainland China. Just a couple months ago, a foreign journalist was denied a renewal in his work visa weeks after he chaired a panel discussing democracy and China’s growing authority over Hong Kong. All these events show a clear pattern: China is growing as a global power, and it wants more control over Hong Kong as an economic hub.
Hong Kong has flourished under its freedom from China, and I was happy to call it my home for the past 18 years, but China is slowly increasing its grip on Hong Kong, and many fear that Hong Kong will be stripped of these freedoms before 2047, when the ‘one country two systems’ agreement is set to expire. If Hong Kongers want to maintain these freedoms, they need to stick together, now more than ever, rather than splitting into separate camps, and avoiding the real issue of Chinese control.