August 15, 2019

On Hong Kong protests: Issues and implications

Kashmir, Hong Kong, Hong Kong protests

By Charles Onunaiju

IN the past month, Hong Kong, the iconic city of international commerce, finance, shipping and other logistics, has been in turmoil, with extremist radicals wreaking havoc on its reputation. By now, it is obvious to any discerning person that the sustained protest by extremist radicals has little to do with the proposed amendment of legislation on fugitive offenders ordinance and the mutual legal assistance in criminal matters ordinance by the Hong Kong legislative council.

Kashmir, Hong Kong, Hong Kong protests

The proposed piece of legislation actually had its origin in the instance of a Hong Kong resident, who allegedly murdered his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan and fled back to Hong Kong. Against the background of the heinous crime, Hong Kong Special Administration Region, HKSAR, which has no jurisdiction over the case took the decision to amend the aforementioned ordinances that would allow it to cooperate with the Mainland, Macao and Taiwan on extraditing criminal suspects and fugitives on individual cases through special arrangement.

This seeming piece of innocuous legislation to seamlessly network national crime prevention and apprehension of criminal suspects was just all it takes to orchestrate violent disruption of one of the world’s most stable and prosperous cities. Even as the Hong Kong authority has decided to withdraw the proposed legislative amendment to further consult more widely and extensively, the question remains: why are the protesters turning more violent and even more desperate. As at last count, they have invaded the Hong Kong legislative council chamber and thoroughly vandalised its facilities, turned against the building that houses the offices of their central government and wantonly desecrated the insigna of their national government and in addition, massively provoked the local police by invading their headquarters.

Ordinarily, there is nothing the Hong Kong residents would want than the continuous prosperity, stability and efficient governance of their city and the fact that Hong Kong has grown even more fabulously prosperous since its return to the embrace of their Chinese motherland in 1997. The question is simply, who beats the drum for disruption of the city.

Prior to the return of Hong Kong in 1997 to its Chinese homeland after more than hundred years of British colonial domination, a famous American international business magazine, Fortune, on June 25, 1995, published a special issue with the screaming headline “The death of Hong Kong”. In the article, the magazine wrote “it’s time to stop pretending. Supposedly, Britain’s handover in less than 750 days of Hong Kong, the world’s most aggressively pro-business economy to China, the world’s largest still officially communist dictatorship, is going to be non-event… what’s indisputably dying, though is Hong Kong’s role as a vibrant international commercial and financial hub”.

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Ten years after Hong Kong returned to the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China, the same Fortune Magazine published a lead article on June 28, 2007, with a headline: “Oops! Hong is hardly dead”. In the article, it wrote: “Well, we were wrong”. In advance of the handover of Hong Kong to China, Fortune wrote a cover story for its international editions: “The Death of Hong Kong”(June 29, 1995) predicting that under Chinese rule Hong Kong would lose its role as an international commercial and financial hub. Yet ten years after the handover on July 1, 1997, Hong Kong is far from over and hardly dead.

Twenty years after its decolonisation, Hong Kong has largely prospered but the recent event of extremist radicals holding the city by the jugular through disruptive and violent protests pose the real danger to the future of Hong Kong than the earlier paranoid of the Western political establishment and media about the prospects of the city under the sovereignty of the Peoples Republic of China. Like the arbitrary grab of most of Africa through colonial conquest, Hong Kong was seized by the British when it launched the opium war against a weak China under the corrupt and feeble Qing dynasty in the 1840s.

In 1842, the Qing dynasty having been defeated by the British was forced to sign the treaty of Nanjing which ceded the Hong Kong Island to London. Again, 1856 the Anglo-French allied forces waged the second opium war and compelled the Qing dynasty to sign the Treaty of Beijing which transferred the Kowloon Peninsula. And in 1898, the British further forced the weak Qing dynasty to sign the “convention for the extension of Hong Kong territory” through which the territory was “leased” to Britain for 99 years.

Even after modern China was founded in 1949, the unified national leadership of the new China with the Communist Party of China at the core, deferred the question of Hong Kong, even when it had the military capability and political will to abrogate the humiliating treaties and take back the territory by force. However, with the concerns for the stability of Hong Kong and the welfare of its residents China followed through the 99 years “lease” of the territory.

And to assuage the concerns of the international community and Hong Kong residents about the future of the territory, its stability and prosperity, the Chinese Central government adopted the unique and the epochally imaginative approach of “one country, two systems”, to guarantee the unique way of life and system of Hong Kong as it returned to China’s sovereignty at the expiration of the 99 years of “lease” to Britain. The “one country, two systems” simply implied that while the mainland is avowed “Socialist”, the Hong Kong special administration region can maintain its capitalist system. Under the framework of the “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong has been managed by Hong Kong residents and enjoyed a high degree of autonomy.

With most concerns about the future of Hong Kong after its return to the sovereignty of China dissipated as the territory continues to grow prosperous and stable, and the mainland Socialist China growing even more prosperous and influential, why is Hong Kong suddenly in crises. The continuous prosperity of Hong Kong does not fit into the Western narrative of Beijing’s alleged meddlesomeness in the affairs of the territory.

At the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China’s sovereignty in 2017, President XI Jimping remarked that “since its return to the motherland, Hong Kong has maintained prosperity and stability. Hong Kong has kept its distinct features and strengths. Its allure of being a vibrant metropolis where the East meets the West has remained as strong as ever. Under the practice of ‘one country, two systems’, Hong Kong has retained its previous capitalist system and way of life, and its laws have remained basically unchanged”.

If Hong Kong has staunchly retained its vibrancy why would a piece of legislation introduced by its own government to its legislative council provoke the mayhem that the city has witnessed?

Prior to the vicious protests, U.S. senior officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State, Mr Pompeo and the National Security Adviser have made remarks infringing on the sovereignty of China and have met some arrowheads of Hong Kong opposition.

Even the speaker of the U.S. Congress, Mrs Nancy Pelosi has referred to the violent protests as “a beautiful sight to behold”. However, to provoke and distract Beijing and undermine her world standing and influence, seem to be the main reason, why Hong Kong has been set on the boil.

But despite the wanton and acute interference in the affairs of China using Hong Kong and even Taiwan, as baits, history has shown that those who play with fire will only get their hands burnt. Despite provocations, Beijing is expected to maintain its famed restraint and decorum but also firm in resisting external manoeuvres as it has historically done in the affairs of her people and territories, some whose status quo is derived from history’s leftovers.