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  • Shreyashi Tiwari & Gursimran Kaur Bakshi

Hong Kong’s Democratic March Against The Chinese Authoritarian Rule

Updated: Jul 2, 2023

This has been co-authored by Shreyashi Tiwari (alumnus of National University of Study and Research in Law [NUSRL], Ranchi (Batch 2014-2019) and Gursimran Kaur Bakshi (a fourth year student pursuing honors in Public International Law from NUSRL) ​In what can be referred to as the Les Misérables moment for the citizens of Hong Kong, the ongoing protest reflects the tyrannical interferences of mainland China into the semi-autonomous Chinese city. What initially started as a demonstration against the Extradition Bill has now turned into a pro-democratic movement. The motivation behind these demonstrations can be traced back to the intricate political set-up of the Chinese city. Hong Kong became a part of China as the ‘Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR)’ in 1997 after the termination of the British Lease on the region. On a closer analysis of the Sino-British Joint Declaration[1] and the Constitution of Hong Kong [Basic Law of HKSAR][2] which was formulated as a result of the former, it becomes clear that Central Government in China delegated the autonomous powers to the territory with a continuous ticking clock for the time period of 50 years under a principle recognized as “One Country, Two Systems”, in the international law literature[3]. The right to self-determination given to the citizens of Hong Kong finds its mention under Article 2 of the Basic Law of HKSAR. Recently, the interest in the autonomy of Hong Kong as a territory of China has engaged people across the world over the ongoing demonstration against the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, 2019[‘The Bill’][4] that provides for extradition of people to any part of the world including mainland China, irrespective of whether it has bilateral extradition agreements or treaties with such countries, which Hong Kong currently has with almost 20 nations[5]. The extradition bill would expose the people of Hong Kong to unfair trials practices prevalent in China. The massive protests undertaken by the people echo not only due to the feared abuse of power by the mainland authority in the form of suppressing voices of dissent and silencing critics but also the ripple effects that it would cause which might adversely affect the economy of Hong Kong[6]. One of the arguments that stand in favour with the protestors against the constant interference of the mainland is their will for the preservation of a democratic society in the face of the Chinese dictatorship. While the British might have tried to suppress the ideals of democracy during their rule in imperial Hong Kong, the ideas of common law and rule of law[7], as a means of protection inherited from the British justice system, serve as tools for safeguarding the basic tenets of a democratic society for the people in the city. The fact that Hong Kong boasts of an industrious economy also stems from the initial support rendered by the business community to a free society as it provided a better legal environment for commercial contracts to be executed. The said support of the business community diminished later during the 20th century as the businessmen saw an opportunity to enter into alliances with mainland China to exert greater control over the market, and at the same time, providing the Chinese government access into the market. This affected the autonomy of Hong Kong in a dual manner. On one hand, the Chinese Government’s desire of increasing its wealth gained pace and they wanted to integrate Hong Kong so as to reduce the extra tax, tariff and other charges on various goods, on the other hand, the ideas of common law and rule of law remained the only ideals for the protection of human rights in the region. Perhaps, the protests put forth the demand for democratic border reforms as well. Satellite images[8] show monitored units of China’s People Armed Forces holding drills across the border in Shenzhen, accompanied by shrill warnings of grave consequences against media and supporters of the movement. Fortunately, the pro-democratic movement also highlights the existence of the unelected and arguably illegitimate nature of the communist regime which has hijacked the central politics of Hong Kong[9]. It is pertinent to note China’s constant reluctance to any democratic reforms taking place in Hong Kong, considering that it whittled away any reforms suggested by the last British governor Chris Patten. With the unmatched determination of the protesters to fight back the suppressing rule of the mainland, and the protest entering its 19th week, the pro-Chinese government of Hong Kong has officially withdrawn[10] the controversial bill that sparked the protests. This comes at the time when the Government of China is deliberately trying to declare a State of Emergency without the concurrence of the Government of Hong Kong. What awaits the people of Hong Kong is a long period of recession marked by the aftermath of trade wars[11] between the US and China. The on-going trade war which is headed for further escalation[12] will subsequently affect small and medium enterprises based in Hong Kong with operational working in the mainland, as the high tariff rates imposed by the US are already taking a toll on the Chinese economy. The seismic political differences between a western liberal democratic set-up and a stringent autocratic regime also play an equally significant role in the political conflict between the two countries engulfed in trade wars. Consequently, in the face of airports shutting down, pro-democracy leaders being arrested[13] and other violent practices[14] being adopted by China to shut down the protests, the people of Hong Kong are still fighting for what might be their last opportunity to save the territory from falling under the complete central control of China and losing its autonomy. The ongoing protests in Moscow[15] where citizens are clamoring for the opposition leaders to be allowed on the ballot for the municipal elections or the decision of the Indian Government to unilaterally withdraw the special status given to Kashmir[16], disregarding the autonomy of the people of the valley, are some of the similar instances where efforts at preserving democracy and self-determination in the states and territories with complex legal status are being undertaken by the people of the land. Hence in Hong Kong, with the unmatched intervention by the United Nations[17] questioning the proxies of the regime over their use of weapons as a punitive measure under International Law and the support from the international NGOs and countries (18), the struggle to preserve a democratic society endures. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]​ [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17]

Display cover image source: Vivek Prakash/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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