Hong Kong’s international outcry for democracy

Trevor Gulock, Staff Writer

Between the years 1997 and 2018, the University of Hong Kong took a study of 1,000 representative individuals annually, asking Hong Kong residents one question; “Do you identify yourself as Hong Konger or Chinese?” In 2008, those who identified themselves as Chinese peaked, with 39% identifying themselves as Chinese and only 18% identified themselves as Hong Konger. Data from the most recent year provided is 2019 in which those identifying themselves as Chinese had hit an all-time low with only 11% identifying themselves as Chinese, with 40% identifying themselves as Hong Konger.

To investigate this drastic shift in the modern identity of today’s semi-autonomous Hong Kong, one must first consider that China and Hong Kong are two very different places with a very complex political relationship. Step inside Hong Kong today and you will not only feel China’s influence, but British ascendancy as well. Double decker trolleys occupy the streets on the right side of the road, an equestrian arena is a focal institution of the city, and street signs dubbed “Prince Edward Street” and “Queen’s Road Central” will catch the corner of your eye. This is because in 1898, Britain obtained a 99-year lease of Hong Kong from China, ending on the July 1, 1997. By the time Hong Kong had been handed back to China, Hong Kong residents had grown accustomed to British rule with individual freedoms including freedom of press, speech and religion and made up over a quarter of China’s economy. The conflict today stems from the re-incorporation of Hong Kong under the governance eventually coined “one country, two systems” back into mainland China.

“One country, two systems” was the policy under which Britain insisted on implementing under the transfer of the colony in 1997. That policy stated, “the current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged and so will it’s lifestyle,” for the next 50 years expiring in 2047. Up until 2008, Hong Kong residents were becoming more and more comfortable with identifying themselves as Chinese. However, this trend quickly reversed course into the late aughts. As China began encroaching on the freedoms implemented in Hong Kong, protests and riots began to rise, causing the now-famous “Umbrella Movement” of 2014. During this demonstration, Chinese government officials ordered police and armed officials to openly use tear gas on non-violent protests, with their only defense being umbrellas. The most famous protest was induced by the Chinese government after reform was strongly pushed on Hong Kong’s electoral college, in efforts to elect a pro-China candidate. The Chinese government since then has inserted themselves in extradition treaties with Hong Kong, limited free speech and reformed Hong Kong public education to include Chinese propaganda. As China continues to limit Hong Kong’s freedom, Hong Kong residents perpetuate their international outcry to protect the vastly different Hong Kong lifestyle.

So, why is China now in a rush to incorporate Hong Kong into China so quickly, particularly before Hong Kong’s “one party, two systems” 2047 expiration date? Hong Kong once made up 27% of China’s GDP as they flourished under British capitalism. However, tech and financial capitals Shenzhen, Shanghai and Nanjing have exploded economically in recent years. Today, Hong Kong makes up a little less than 2%of China’s GDP; removing their incentive to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy. Nonetheless, Hong Kong is still fighting for their independence against a much more powerful China. As the border between Hong Kong slowly erodes, the young Hong Kong generation is concerned with what freedoms they will have left.

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