Focus on Hong Kong - Part 2

Hong Kong’s Identity and Beijing’s power

In this second article of the series on Hong Kong we report the facts that have affected the special administrative region in recent years and that have allowed her to bring out her own identity, making her way between the Western and Eastern Worlds.

One Country, Two Systems 
At the end of the Nineties difficult negotiations followed to define the role of China and Great Britain in Hong Kong’s administration after 1997, year of expiration of the British jurisdiction. In 1984 it was decided, viaJoint Declaration, that sovereignty over Hong Kong would be transferred from Great Britain to the People’s Republic of China on the 1st of July 1997. The Chinese government undertook to establish a Special Administrative Region (SAR) in Hong Kong once it resumed the exercise of its sovereignty over it. With this declaration it was expected that policies that would define Hong Kong’s future would be stipulated in the Basic Law, a sort of constitution for the country. Interestingly, according to the principle of "one country, two systems," Article 5 of the General Principles of the Basic Law reads, "The socialist system and policies shall not be practiced in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years." In short, the People's Republic of China could not have made room for itself in Hong Kong before 2047. However, recent events have shown that Beijing's plans would be quite different.

Hong Kong's Identity 
Hong Kong for more than a century has oscillated between the overbearing Western presence and the growing and pressing Chinese communism. After the advent of nationalism and the Cultural Revolution led by Mao Zedong, Hong Kong found a major turning point in the search for its identity with the Tiananmen Square protests. If before the events of 1989 the Hong Kong people were determined to prevent or slow down the interference of the PRC in internal affairs, after the massacre of Tiananmen the population felt a strong desire to play a decisive role in the Chinese democratic movement. In order to calm down, a Hong Kong Bill of Rights was passed, protecting freedom of opinion, expression and association, as well as the right to peaceful assembly. Subsequently, however, the Provisional Legislative Council (a transitional legislature appointed by Beijing) introduced a series of laws - including a licensing system for public gatherings - to allow the police to ban a public procession in the interest of "national security". Today, the law provides that any gathering or procession of fifty or more people that has not obtained the prior consent of the police commissioner risks being declared an "unauthorized assembly"; therefore, organizing or participating in an unauthorized assembly is a criminal offense, thus subject to penalties of up to five years' imprisonment.

The Umbrella Movement 
The announcement by the Chinese authorities that the central government would select candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive elections - an office that was to be democratically elected - triggered the Umbrella Movement, which brought large numbers of students and workers together in the squares in 2014. The name comes from the fact that the kids were opening umbrellas to protect themselves from the tear gas used by police to try to disperse crowds from the squares. Anyone could buy an umbrella, but no one could know if the purchase had a political purpose or not until it was opened during an occupation. The students made several demands, but the government in Beijing was not open to dialogue. Nor did further debate follow.

Extradition law and national security 
An extradition law (later withdrawn thanks to Hong Kong protests) reignited the fuse in 2019. Under the proposed amendments, anyone-residents and non-residents, including foreigners-in Hong Kong would have been able to be tried in legal proceedings in the PRC, thus countering that isolation of the country from the Chinese legal system and essentially negating the "one country, two systems" formula. 
Numerous events over the course of 2019 have made the Chinese government's presence in Hong Kong less and less negligible, amidst acts of brutality and aggression. The movement has taken its cue from the motto of noted fellow citizen Bruce Lee: "be water" - don't bend, but adapt to the best form to resist
Trying to further empty the "one country, two systems" principle of meaning, in June 2020 came the National Security Act. This law, like the proposed extradition law, involves residents and non-residents, including foreigners; it punishes crimes of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with a penalty ranging from three years to life in prison. It also allows Beijing to establish a security office in Hong Kong and use its own security forces. In the first year since its enactment, it is estimated that at least a hundred arrests have been made to suppress internal dissent.

Financial uncertainties 
Further confirmation of Chinese meddling in Hong Kong's affairs is provided by Beijing's interest in financial matters in recent years. Hong Kong's is Asia's third largest stock exchange and the world's fifth largest, making it one of the world's largest markets for capital financing. As we approach 2047, local and foreign investors inevitably wonder if Hong Kong will remain the same as it is today. It is undoubtedly an economic hub that will change, losing its special status and becoming increasingly integrated with the mainland. Beijing has already made clear its long-term interest in shifting its financial focus from Hong Kong to Shanghai (and beyond). The future of Hong Kong's financial hub therefore remains uncertain, as do the security for its investors and the civil rights of its citizens.

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  • L'Autore

    Chiara Calabria

    Chiara Calabria vive a Palazzolo sull'Oglio, in provincia di Brescia. Ha conseguito la laurea triennale in Scienze Linguistiche e Letterature Straniere, curriculum Esperto linguistico per le Relazioni Internazionali presso l'Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Brescia.

    I suoi studi le hanno permesso di sviluppare un ampio interesse per le relazioni internazionali, la geopolitica e culture politiche. Al contempo ha potuto approfondire le competenze di lingue straniere, potenziate tramite il programma Erasmus a Tilburg, in Olanda.

    In Mondo Internazionale ricopre il ruolo di autrice per l'area tematica Legge e Società.

    Chiara Calabria lives in Palazzolo sull'Oglio, a city in the province of Brescia. She obtained a Bachelor Degree in Linguistic Sciences and Foreign Literatures, curriculum International Relations Language Specialist at Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Brescia.

    During her studies, she developed a strong interest for international relations, geopolitics and political cultures. She also had the chance to deepen her expertise in foreign languages, consolidated during an Exchange program in Tilburg, Netherlands.

    Within Mondo Internazionale, she is an Author for the thematic area of "Legge e Società".


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