By Jayla Stack ’21
In April of 2019, the Hong Kong government introduced the Extradition Bill, which permitted Hong Kong to extradite people suspected of criminal activity by Chinese authorities from Hong Kong to mainland China. Since its passing, the Extradition Bill has sparked a movement of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Currently, Hong Kong is under the control of the Republic of China. In 1842, China ceded Hong Kong to Britain after the First Opium War. During that time, Hong Kong was ruled as a British Colony. After over 150 years of British control, Hong Kong was transferred back to Chinese control. Now, Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory of Mainland China.
The principle in which Hong Kong is ruled under is referred to as “One country, two systems.” According to The New York Times, this system allows partial autonomy and is “guaranteed under a mini-constitution known as the Basic Law” that ends in 2047. However, this system has led to an uncertain government for those living in Hong Kong.
The Extradition Bill, introduced in April, was passed by the Hong Kong government under the pressure of Mainland China. This allowed the Hong Kong government to extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong to China, meaning that Hong Kong criminals will be handed over to the jurisdiction of China. According to Vice News, “many residents saw the bill as Beijing’s attempt to tighten its grip on the semi-autonomous city.” With the Extradition Bill in place, Hong Kong residents feared that it would be used to target political activists and journalists and expose them to unfair treatment.
Citizens of Hong Kong followed the passing of the Extradition Bill with protests. These protests led in turn to violent confrontations with the police. Soon after, the Extradition Bill was partially withdrawn. However, protests are continuing and the people of Hong Kong are now pressing for the government to meet their demands regarding the bill. Vice News notes these demands include “officially withdrawing the bill and launching an independent investigation to examine the police’s use of force.”
The Extradition Bill has started a movement of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong similar to the Umbrella Movement in 2014, a prior pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. Also, parallel to the Umbrella Movement, the recent protests have been growing in brutality. These protests have involved many clashes with the police and a number of protesters getting arrested.
Ethan Chan ’21, a Gunnery student from Hong Kong, was in Hong Kong during the summer while the protests were starting to simmer. Close friends of Ethan attended protests and witnessed extreme violence and police brutality. Ethan says that recent protests are continuing to escalate and there have been “some deaths. Many, many injuries. Some teenagers got shot a few weeks back. We [also] had a group stabbing a couple of months back.” Recent protests also often end with fires and teargas.
Chinese Student, Maggie Wu ’22, was visiting Hong Kong this summer to enjoy a shopping trip by herself when she was caught up in a protest. Maggie saw hundreds of people marching in protest with large signs, all while she was shopping in a Hong Kong mall.
Maggie says that the protesters were dressed in black outfits and black masks to hide their identities because “people do not want to have their faces seen by the police.” The group marched in lines and shouted for their independence.
Protests end with a lot of destruction. Maggie accounts that as more people rushed in, shops began to close in fear of what would happen next. Maggie Wu was also scared that she might be dragged into a violent situation; she left the area as soon as possible.
When speaking about the brutality of the protests, Ethan Chan says, “it comes as a huge shock to the people of HK because of how safe the city has been in years prior.”
Ethan says, “the excessive violence of these protests is crippling Hong Kong to the point where they do far more harm than good.” The entire community of Hong Kong has been affected by these protests.
Ethan states that “Nobody really goes out anymore. Any small-time restaurants or street vendors are out of luck. They managed to completely shut down HK’s underground subway system, which we really can’t survive without. While my family lives in an apartment complex on a mountain away from most of the action, I have many friends who have been directly affected by the protests, to the point where the police and protesters would be fighting outside their front doors.”
Police brutality against Hong Kong protesters has only fueled them to continue fighting for their cause: an independent democracy for Hong Kong. The people of Hong Kong want complete sovereignty and they are prepared to protest for it by any means. But will all this brutality even end with Hong Kong’s autonomy? Additionally, even if Hong Kong gains independence, will they be able to survive completely independent from China after this violent split?