It has been just about 23 years since the People’s Republic of China asssumed sovereignty over Hong Kong from Great Britain. Under the One Country, Two Systems Principle, Hong Kong was to remain a unique model of governance which would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy”. This high degree of autonomy was thought to be necessary to nourish its flourishment as an International Financial Centre. But since it assumed control over Hong Kong, the Chinese leadership has time and again displayed that it just cannot let something under its control be different than what it stands for, a regimented pattern of subservience to the state and the party and absolutely no freedom of speech. The Sino- British Accord of 1984 had mandated no changes to the lifestyle and freedoms of Hong Kong for a period of 50 years. But China being impetuous as it has grown to be, wouldn’t have the patience to wait for 50 years.
The first attempt to mould Hong Kong came in 2003 when the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government attempted to pass the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill 2003 in the Hong Kong Legislature. However, some of the provisions of the Bill raised enough concerns which prompted massive demonstrations. The demonstrations led to internal bickering in the Government of HKSAR and finally the bill could not be passed. This failure would have been difficult to gulp for the mainland Government, used to having its way, as it liked.
The basic freedoms bestowed in the HKSAR has allowed people to successively commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown through the years, something which cannot be even imagined on the mainland. However much of these freedoms have put the mainland Government at unease and it has tried time and again to tighten its iron grip on the affairs of Hong Kong.
The protests against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 (the Extradition bill) which would have allowed extradition to mainland China forced the HKSAR Govt to finally relent and withdraw the bill. However, things were different this time. At the helm is Xi Jinping who is known to have a firm belief in tough and obstinate stance. Moreover, the protests in 2019 were particularly worrisome for the mainland government as it showcased the strength of unity of people. Moreover, the intermittent calls for democracy as part of protests against the Extradition Bill unnerved the Chinese leadership. It feared that if the echoes of unity and pro-democracy sentiments reached the mainland, it would challenge the supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Hence, in the run-up to bulldoze Hong Kongers into subservience, Xi Jinping brought senior party functionaries and his loyalists to manage the HKMAO (Hongkong and Macao Affairs Office) in Beijing and the Central Government Liaison office in HK.
Countries across the globe are reeling under the impact of COVID-19. There has been unrelenting criticism of China for wrecking untold misery on the world in the form of COVID-19 which could have been contained only if, the political system of China had been accommodative enough to allow freedom of speech to the doctors who had identified the lurking danger and the Chinese state really cared for its people by cautioning them in time about the brewing crisis. However, the belligerence and aggressiveness that has characterized China under Xi Jinping thought of this as a favourable window period to impose the National Security Legislation (NSL) on Hong Kong.
Moreover, in utter disregard of the sentiments of the people of Hong Kong and in flagrant violation of the Sino-British accord of 1984, China circumvented the path of introducing the legislation in the Hong Kong Legislature and instead chose to get the National People’s Congress (NPC) to pass the resolution. It was reflective of the fact that China hardly cared about the opinion of other countries as well as its own people, the residents of Hong Kong. It also chose to broaden the scope of the Act to include “acts and activites” that threaten national security which would give a long arm to the state to interpret as per choice and arm twist any dissidence or opposition. The NSL would also allow Chinese security agencies to establish their offices in Hong Kong and enforce the essentials of the ‘surveillance state’.
Besides that, China did not stop at just the National Security Law. It further rubbed in salt on the already broken sentiments of the people of Hong Kong to impose the National Anthem Law which is feared to encroach upon basic freedoms and enforce respect towards the symbols of Chinese state.
The sum of all these concerted acts by the Chinese state is that it has robbed Hong Kong of the very characteristics which made it unique. Moroever, China’s actions in the matters of Hong Kong will also prove to be double whammy as it will lose its privileged status as a distinct entity from the Chinese state. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already certified to the US Congress that Hong Kong no longer enjoys autonomy and freedoms which paves the way for the US Congress to eventually revoke Hong Kong’s special trade status which it enjoys under the US law. China thus not only reneged on its promise to allow Hong Kong to maintain a “high degree of autonomy” but has also practically undermined the One Country, Two Systems Principle. This reflects the fact that the Chinese state cannot appreciate anything diverse in outlook and conduct and is overly keen to impose homogeneity. The efforts to sinicize the lives of Ughyurs, Huis, Tibetans now also extends to the lives of the people of Hong Kong. Hong Kong was once a free singing, merry making bird that has now been caged and dumbed.
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