Hong Kong and China: A Tale of Hateful Prodigy

Hong Kong Protests

The Communist Party led People’s Republic of China recently brought the “People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security” law into force in Hong Kong. This law is something similar to the  infamous National Security Act in India. Framed behind closed doors, this ostensible law seeks to  charge all the acts considered to be the threat for the state. Laws similar to this around the world are often seen as a tool of despotism that are used as a legitimate weapon by democratically elected leaders to defend their political stance. Under PRC’s framework, Hong Kong is supposed to be a Special Administrative Region (SAR) holding “One Country, Two System”

To contextualize  what exactly a special administrative region, understanding the history becomes crucial:

  1. Modern day China was previously under  a Qing-dynasty’s rule as a form of imperialism. For 2,000 years Hong Kong remained a part of Chinese dynasty
  2. During the first opium war (1839), British were expanding their control and China had to temporarily cede Hong Kong. Post the war, Treaty of Nanjing (1842) forced China to surrender the southern island to British.  
  3.  China fought a couple of times with Japanese as well as other colonial powers; eventually losing two major territories of modern day Hong Kong and Macau.

Bear in mind, even the Japanese lost to British after a while and therefore, everything eventually came under the rulership of colonial powers, British (Hong Kong) and the Portuguese (Macau).

The colonial powers have a history of making ? They’ve been oppressive, inhuman, and exploitative and everything bad you could possibly imagine to the countries. Except there is in fact one thing that we should really need to learn from the West, that is their respect for the law. Regardless of how ruthless and barbaric individuals there could be, even though in power, for as long as there is a law on paper that is capable enough to stop their actions, their machinery does in fact put those pricks down.

As a result of this accountability towards the law, the conditioning of every single government entity- right from agents to agencies is such that even in times of crises, they are in fact very cognizant and careful in their deliberation such that no law is broken and every law is abided by the people. 

Special administrative regions have come into existence in China when the Communist party took over Mainland China as the entire global diplomatic space around the world took a blow by this overtaking. It took the world till 1971 to actually acknowledge the Communist leadership as the legitimate China and then accordingly give them the permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, and other diplomatic and economic fronts. 

Interestingly, it was the now illegitimate that was initially the leadership from whom the colonial powers had won over HK and Macau. 

Let’s just hyper loop into understanding how HK and Macau became SARs:

  1. The then leaders lost HK and Macau to colonial powers
  2. When Communist led China came into picture, they asked to be returned back
  3.  The colonials said “look, we get you, really; except you, “China” signed an agreement with us, and we really don’t care whether the leader of the gang back then was your enemy, for as long as the signature says “China”; you’ve to honour the deal. Period”
  4. To which communist led China “Ok,Ok. See I made this crayon back when I was a kid, it shows HK and Macau as a part of my China; but then cool, I’ll let these two handle themselves on their own, I’ll not try being a boss to these, except, only I get to impose rules in case of international relations and national security.

These Special Administrative Regions reserve complete autonomy from the ruling party of China, currently, the Xi Jinping-led Communist Party of China. Basically, Beijing decides whether these two states want to have communism or free-market no interventionist capitalism or whether they want to remain secular to show a streak of communal intolerance, barring just the two domains of diplomatic relations and national security. 

In the context of China, this type of governance structure has been popularly known as “One country, two systems”; under this system, SARs continue to have their own governments, legislature, legal system, monetary system,official language , postal system that are independent of the People’s Republic of China.

In context of Hong Kong, as Global News  remarks,

“The region adheres to a Basic Law, which is like a mini-constitution that grants Hong Kong certain freedoms. It allows for a number of civil liberties, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the right to protest.

Under Basic Law, Hong Kong promises to “safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and of other persons in the Region in accordance with law,” according to the government document”.

To the Hong Kong citizen’s horror, this Basic Law can in fact be overruled by even the Communist party on the grounds of national security. The 50 years of autonomy granted to HK in 1997 is midway for expiry and resistance among the public erupted after the trigger of extradition bill last year. 

China Vs HK Governance

Although politically the system has professed autonomous status to Hong Kong, the  special arrangement helped HK be one of the largest financial and economic power houses in the global markets:

Winning the Economic Race

As of 2018, HK has the freest and 35th largest economy in the world with a GDP of almost $363 billion. In the past one decade alone, as the overall Chinese territory saw the manufacturing sector shift its base towards inside the mainland; the economy of HK was quick to make use of the amazing opportunity to explore the services sectors more than the agro-manufacturing sectors. Besides, Hong Kong anyways has to rely on foreign trade for food and other natural resources. Resultantly, with the manufacturing sector contributing an insignificant 1.1% to the HK GDP, the agricultural sector produces a negligible 0.1%. We do the math right; the services sector contributes a fundamentally massive 98.8% to the GDP. The foremost criterion for any developed country is that the services should at least produce more than the other two sectors individually; so HK is one of the most utopian examples you could find for this; it’s just beautiful. Overall, the economy is characterised by low tax rates, least government interference and totally free trade.

The Mainland on the other hand, relies majorly on its manufacturing sector with a rather State controlled arrangement over the production ventures; in fact their share of services sector in the GDP is lesser than that of the Indian economy as well.

Hong Kong’s per capita GDP is also significantly higher than that of China.

The HK stock exchange has always been preferred over the Mainland’s, primarily due to the following reasons:

  1. Lesser unnecessary State regulations 
  2. greater transparency 
  3. lower operational costs since lesser cheques and balances

Besides, since HK has had a history of territorial allegiance with some Western powers too, it inherently offers greater international exposure to companies listed with HK stock exchange, and not with the Mainland. Furthermore, even in the namesake of a regulatory system, the HK stock exchange ensures one of the most transparent arrangements across stock exchanges around the world with reasonable yet minimum qualifying benchmarks.

In retrospect, HK’s autonomy has benefitted China in the following  ways:

  1. In the spirit of autonomy, the Mainland’s administration never had to bother for the citizens. HK was smart and consistent enough to manage for itself, and in fact do well for itself.
  2. In at least the Chinese context, the atypical capitalist and pseudo-democratic system in fact evolved HK into a contributor capable enough to enlist at least 60% of Mainland based companies to raise and oversee capital through its stock exchanges.
  3. Although things have changed over the years, HK used to be one of the largest gateways for Mainland based companies to the international markets.

Plus, as much as the Communist party has been known to be a radically nationalist community who believe in widespread propaganda, thanks to the autonomy, the communist party never really had any oversight, the muscle to unreasonably flex over the people of HK.

However, it is in fact the current President of China, Xi Jinping who has rather tensed the environment in HK.

China’s Vested Interest in HK

President of People’s Republic of China, Xi,  first made a committee that would bypass the law to change the constitution and made himself the head. Following which, he managed to make himself the head of the Communist party, then the war committee of the party; followed by becoming the supreme authority for the defence services and then all the economic bodies in China.

While his military expansionist efforts to dominate the South and East China seas have caught heat globally, it is reported than through ostensibly honest efforts to ensure free trade such as China Pakistan Economic Corridor,  Belt and Road and contentious advocacy of free trade and China-centric globalisation, he plans and has in fact gained total control of governments and economic systems of a number of Asian countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Philippines, etc.

In the context of Hong Kong, Xi seems to strategically position when it comes to snatching back ultimate control from the democratic system. From supporting police brutality to threatening the international space from “interfering” with the internal affairs of HK as a part of China implying the  ignorance towards all the laws and democratic accountability the people fundamentally had in HK.

Besides, for the economic miracle HK has made out of itself, Xi is not interested in having any adverse effect on that; his administration gets good riddance from not being compelled to bother. What he is in fact worried about is when the citizens in HK exercise their freedom of expression and in that spirit, express dissent against laws that give the communist party the possibility to oppress the citizens in HK just like the Communist party does in the Mainland.

Hong Kong Extradition Bill- A Turning Point

Formally known as Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, the bill would give the right to the HK police and the communist party controlled forces in Mainland to extend their jurisdiction in the domestic territory of HK and nab even suspected criminals to the Mainland. So far, in account of the SAR status, HK has maintained autonomy on all the 4 pillars of a democratic system, legislative, judiciary, executive and media. However, with this in combination with the Xi-styled intimidation of individuals in the HK administration, the Communist party would be able to nab anyone and everyone who shows even the slightest of dissent with the communist party (including Xi) in the red-taped grounds of “national interest”.

After a series of peaceful protests followed by incidents of very violent police brutality, the arrests, activism and protesting; the bill was formally withdrawn on 23rd October 2019.

While the communist party is known to make the system hollow from inside, like a termite, the citizens of HK were aware of this; on one hand there were subtle changes in the tone and handling in HK administrations─  public support to police brutality, botched judicial proceedings and unnecessary arrests are few of the many things the pro-democracy (anti-extradition) protesters have been protesting against till this date.

Except, since 30th June 2020, when the Communist party imposed the National Security Law in Hong Kong, things have been quite horrifying for the protesting citizens as well as foreign nationals in Hong Kong, even journalists.

Following are the reasons to worry about the imposition of such a law:

  1. Any law suggested by the communist party has to be ratified by the legislature in Hong Kong; except in this case, the legislature was not  even informed. In fact, even the international media was unaware about this action.
  2. Statements by contributing writers across the internet suggest that the law was passed the  day it was introduced in less than a couple of hours so as to leave no time or possibility of redressal or expression of a possible dissent.
  1. Activists also vowed to demonstrate against the law on July 1 — traditionally a day of protests in the city. However, for the first time since handover, police have not given permission to protesters to hold peaceful demonstrations. These people are literally ditching all accountability to the rule of law.

According to a CNN post,

“The local government tried to pass a national security law in 2003, but after massive protests, they shelved the legislation and no administration has dared to try again, much to China’s frustration.

Hong Kongers back then had the same fears as they do now ─   that a national security law could infringe on their freedoms and be used to crush dissent.”

Stating from The Hindu , According to the law, China may take over the entire prosecution from arrest to trial for: complicated foreign interference cases, “very serious” cases and cases where national security faces “serious and realistic threats.

Human rights advocates claim that some national security cases are highly likely to be politically motivated, with defendants denied the right to a fair and open trial. Activists, dissidents, lawyers and other opponents of the government are routinely targeted by China’s own national security laws, and often subjected to prolonged extralegal detention and even torture while awaiting trial.”

This completely rips HK off the healthy and law abiding executive system.

“The law states that certain national security cases could be held behind closed doors without juries in Hong Kong if they contained state secrets, although the verdict and eventual judgements would be made public. Defendants will not be granted bail “unless the judge has sufficient reason to believe they will not continue to commit acts that endanger national security”.

Making a joke out of the legislative system in the name of protecting national security.

Additionally,

“National Security Agency would be constituted where in the agency officials will not be answerable to the local laws at all; and the Hong Kong government will have no jurisdiction over the national security agency in Hong Kong and its staff when they are discharging duties provided in this law”

  1. The law gives police far-reaching powers to collect evidence, including tapping communications and spying on suspects. Which means even on the rhetoric of a supposed suspicion, all your communications and digital presence would be intercepted even without notification or margin of redressal?

Response from countries around the globe(all quoted from CNN): 

  1. In the month leading up the law’s passage, international leaders, lawmakers, and activists voiced their concern and condemnation.
  2. US President Donald Trump has also blasted Beijing for the law, and revoked Hong Kong’s special status on trade in May. Other US senators and leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, expressed criticism and outrage after the law passed.
  3. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued the law “would curtail (Hong Kong’s) freedoms and dramatically erode its autonomy,” and promised to provide a path to British citizenship for potentially millions of Hong Kongers.
  4. The leaders of the European Union (EU) expressed “grave concerns” about the potential threat to fundamental rights and freedoms. Lawmakers in the European Parliament warned that China was violating its international commitments, and proposed bringing China before the International Court of Justice.

Regardless of whatever you do, the communist party backed government can tag literally anything as “jeopardising national security”, even saying “I don’t like this law” on your social media.

The worst part is, even if you were completely non-violent in your expression, it would still be put under the criminal act.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”                           

  Martin Luther King 

Drawing a Tangent to India

Quite recently, when the anti-CAA and NRC protests happened across India, all the BJP-led states across the country saw at least some version of a martial law being imposed periodically with the State capital, New Delhi seeing the draconian National Security Act come into effect for three months in early 2020. 

China’s president Xi and India’s Prime Minister Modi have been in power for more than half a decade and apart from the economic downturns both the leaders have caused through their hap-hazard policy making. The leaders have a shared ambition to consolidate power and exhibit a centralization of authority, manifesting a near despotic approach towards leadership and imposing discriminative laws and rulings against communities based on religion, race, creed and regions.

China’s political interest in Hong Kong is apparent as Xi is planning to  advance control in Asia and specifically adopted the draconian measure to retain power in the mainland. In a similar vein, the current political regime in India aspires to exert power and has taken up the same path as China to systematically alter the constitutional framework. Defended as a benign law imposed under the overarching focus on inculcating nationalism has the potential to threaten the fundamentals of democracy. The history and the past seems to be a justification for achieving political objectives in  both the cases of India and China. 

India unlike China has the silver lining  that is of biology. Despots? They come and go; and with that peace, inclusivity promoting advocates get the chance to serve us as leaders. Any form of public resistance in India signifies an exercise to inch towards a  democracy that by virtue is available. 

With that comes only one responsibility as a citizen ─  bear the onus to be cognizant of who we choose as leaders; research on the backgrounds of the contesting candidate and read the party manifestos. In a dynamic political system that offers power to people only through voting , the most rational decision that can be made is to choose the least worst.

Mayul Manav
Mayul is an Economics student (2021) at Delhi University and has been a contributing writer to various students, privately and government run platforms. Having a knack of identifying the anomalies, he plans on exploring a variety of perspectives and topics on his blog, especially those that really matter.