ver the past two-and-a-half months Hong Kong, a former British colony and now a part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), has been in a continual state of turmoil.
Demonstrations in Hong Kong which began over plans which would have allowed extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to mainland China - later put on hold - have now spread to reflect wider demands for democratic reform, the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality and the complete withdrawal of a controversial extradition Bill. The past two months has seen the largest protests in the city’s history. Protesters feel the extradition Bill, if passed, would bring the territory closer under China’s control.
Organizers say over a million attended an initial march on June 9, while an estimated two million people - out of Hong Kong’s total population of seven million - joined a week later. A general strike called last Monday caused severe disruption, and led to more than 200 flights being cancelled. The demonstrations have frequently ended in violent clashes with police. The western media portrays even the violent demonstrations as being a challenge to China’s authority in the territory and pro-democracy movements.
The former British colony - The New Territories and Hong Kong island - were ceded to the British under the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, after the British military might defeated Chinese Emperor Daoguang’s forces. Daoguang was attempting to halt Britain’s lucrative opium trade in Canton. Under the terms of that treaty, Britain pledged to return the territories in 1997, though they never thought they would have to.
From 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party captured power in China, the Chinese government permitted the British to continue their illegal occupation of the territory in keeping with the terms of the ‘Treaty of Nanking’. Finally in 1997, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese sovereignty. China permitted the aging colonial power to withdraw with a degree of face-saving grace, via an agreement through which Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China.
On August 6, after months of unrest and violence, China issued a strongly-worded warning to Hong Kong’s protesters, saying their attempts “to play with fire will only backfire”. BBC quoted Yang Guang, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) warning the protesters not to “mistake restraint for weakness” adding “radical and violent” forces were at the forefront of the protests, while “some misled but well intended” citizens were caught in the middle.
He accused “anti-China forces” and “meddling hands behind the scene” of instigating unrest. As examples, he cited US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who called the protests “a beautiful sight to behold”, and the UK’s then Foreign Secretary Hunt who urged an investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police. Hong Kong’s under-fire leader Carrie Liam at a press conference warned that the city was in a very dangerous position and accused demonstrators of attempting to destroy Hong Kong. But Hong Kong has seen mass protests before -some of them violent - and has withstood the pressures.
In 2003,protests erupted over an anti-subversion law known as Article 23 which prohibited treason, secession, sedition, subversion and theft of state secrets. Finally the bill was shelved. In August 2012, student protests commenced over a suggested change of curriculum to include topics on China’s history and culture and national identity. Students, parents and teachers across the city rejected the idea. In September, schools were given discretion on whether to implement the curriculum, effectively killing it. In 2014, the ‘Umbrella Movement’ took to the streets protesting a proposal permitting mainland Chinese authorities the right to vet lists of candidates standing for election. The protests continued for 79 days.
In August 2016, thousands participated in a pro-independence rally outside the city’s government headquarters demanding independence from mainland China.
But China and Hong Kong dwellers have successfully steered a course around problems. However as a ‘tiger never changes its stripes’, imperialist nations never give up their designs on their former colonies, attempting to stir unrest in their former dominions while using the biased pro-western media to portray themselves as guardians of democracy and paint internal contradictions as major conflicts. But Chinese memories too are long, and well aware of how the so-called democracies trampled their rights or the blatantly derogatory way they were treated under colonial rule. The signboards which adorned parks in China reading: “No dogs or Chinese permitted”, will undoubtedly neither be forgiven or forgotten