Since February, Hong Kong has hit the news for its protests against the proposed changes to its extradition laws. It is important to consider the wider context of the protests and the historical divide between China and Hong Kong in order to truly engage with these current events and the feelings of Hong Kong and Chinese citizens.
WHAT IS THE PROPOSED CHANGE?
Extradition is the action of deporting or expelling a person accused of convicting a crime. The proposed change for this law was sparked in 2018 in the wake of the murder of a pregnant woman in Taiwan; her offender fled to Hong Kong and could not be extradited due to the lack of an extradition treaty between the two countries. Thus, the proposed changes led by China expect to fill the loopholes of extradition and to restrict Hong Kong’s potential as a criminal safe place. Whilst for the most part this change in itself is not opposed; it is the association with the increased centralisation of Chinese power which has sparked much protest.
The political divide between Hong Kong and China was triggered during British colonial rule, whereby Hong Kong island and the New Territories were leased to the British. This rule was concluded with an agreement which established a policy of “one country, two systems;” within this, Hong Kong was to have autonomy and rights over areas such as legal systems and human rights whilst still existing under Communist China’s umbrella of foreign and defence affairs.
The political separation of Hong Kong and China has led to cultural and social differences whereby most Hong Kong citizens would not regard themselves as ‘Chinese.’ In June, a Hong Kong University poll concluded that 52.9% of respondents identified as ‘Hong Kongers’ rather than as Chinese. It is undoubtable that the separation of systems has generated a result whereby Hong Kong politics and democracy greatly differs to that of Communist China, for instance contrast over freedom of speech and free press. As a result, the proposed extradition changes strike resonance for many Hong Kong citizens due to the association they have with Chinese governance and processes, and fears that such may set a precedence for the infringement upon the island’s levels of political autonomy.
The proposed legal changes have no doubt divided opinions. I have spoken to a number of people who have lived in Hong Kong or China to hear what they think about the protests, the Hong Kong-China divide, and the extradition law.
Whilst some of these extracts are lengthy, I feel that it is important to share them in this detail in order to express and reflect as many thoughts as possible.
Andrew Andrew, Lived in Hong Kong for 17 years
Andrew spoke of the impact that changes to Hong Kong’s extradition laws would have on social activists: “if the bill or law passes, China will have power over all those who broke the law, which means that social activists and those who talk about anything that offends China will be brought to the mainland for trial,” as a result he feels that “freedom of speech in Hong Kong will become irrelevant.” He also feels that the proposed changes are an “act of aggression” and signify Chinese attempts to consume Hong Kong. Andrew also noted that for him, the suspension of the law “means that they have a bigger chance of passing the law without the people knowing.” As a result, Andrew sincerely hopes that the law will not be passed; however, he fears that “the government will simply ignore the people’s actions and pass it” (with reference to the 2014 Umbrella Revolution).
Andrew feels strongly that there is a cultural and social divide between Hong Kong and China, stating that as a Hong Kong citizen “our values are different, our views are different, our habitats are different” and recognises the contrast in propaganda and social surveillance control in the two regions. He also feels that Chinese tourists “do not respect his [our] culture.” As a result, Andrew stated that political separation between Hong Kong and China fuels “pre-judgement of all mainlanders and contributes to the rising tension and hatred between us.”
Anonymous Male, Born in Hong Kong, Lived in China since childhood
At first, this individual felt opposed to the proposed changes to the extradition laws due to the association with widening mainland control over Hong Kong. However, after doing more research he “can understand why the law is being introduced and its true form.” He feels that most people and the western media have focused on aspects which will influence the audience, such as concentrating on the role of the Chinese government and the theory that the “Chinese will punish those who speak badly of the Chinese government in Hong Kong.” Thus, he believes that due to the lack of extradition laws for Hong Kong, the law has solid reason and will pass eventually but “that the Chinese government and Hong Kong government should have done a better job of educating the citizens” on what it means.
He notes differences between Hong Kong and Chinese culture and society through his description of Hong Kong as a place which sees a mixture of “individualism and collectivism, and China is more about collectivism.” He respects and likes Hong Kong’s separate democracy but believes that “hostility between people from both parties will increase again mainly due to the misunderstanding and under-education on this matter.”
Nicole Nam, Student from Hong Kong
Nicole does not approve of the proposed changes to Hong Kong’s extradition laws as she doesn’t “trust the Chinese government” and is afraid they may “exploit the extradition law and arrest people, especially political prisoners.” She is also “afraid that there will be more literary inquisition,” and shared an article with me which describes the illegal arrest of a Causeway Bay bookshop owner. Despite her fears, Nicole feels that the law will be passed because Hong Kong’s “Chief Executive isn’t willing to withdraw the bill.”
Nicole notes the divide between Hong Kong and China, for example different languages and characters and feels that the Cultural Revolution and persecution of Chinese scholars “slowed down the civilisation of China.” Thus, Nicole hopes that political separation will continue.
Anonymous Female, British Citizen, Hong Kong Resident
This individual feels that the protests are very important but that the law will eventually go through. She feels that the events are unusual for Hong Kong “as people generally are so peaceful”, hence the political reaction demonstrates how concerned people are “not just about the law being passed, but the control and power China will continue to have on Hong Kong”. She also spoke of the impact of the law upon tourists and visitors and that extradition to China for committing an offence would become a reality for these people too.
She notes speculation which states that the recent Legco office break-in could have been government or police endorsed as an attempt to paint the protesters in a bad light and points out the severity of possible lies told by the Chinese government to Chinese citizens surrounding the protests in Hong Kong.
She shared this link with me which delves into the impact legal changes could have upon tourists: https://youtu.be/pUl-J0oh3k0
Anonymous Male, Born in Hong Kong
This individual feels that the proposed legal changes are bad “largely because the Chinese legal system cannot be trusted,” hence he feels that the “Chinese government will use the amended law to extradite critics” of their ruling and government. However, with reference to the extradition law he stated that Hong Kong’s government have suspended the “legislative process and claimed they would not re-animate it in the foreseeable future.”
He feels that the divide between Hong Kong and China is huge due to the “authoritative ruling by the CCP in China and the active information censorship” which has indoctrinated younger generations “with a set of values that are vastly different than those from Hong Kong.” He also states that the continuation of political separation is “essential if Hong Kong is to be successful and thriving as it has been.”
Paige Wilson, Studied a year abroad in Hong Kong
Paige feels that the legal changes are bad because the government are trying to “put the legislation on the back burner until people forget about it” and will try to push it through at a later date; she ties increased protesting in Hong Kong to the fear of this happening amongst citizens. She feels that the law will be passed unless “the world steps up” and expresses “on a world platform that what is going on is wrong” (this worries her further as she feels this is unlikely). Paige expressed great upset surrounding the proposed legal changes as she fears the loss of Hong Kong’s uniqueness, and sympathises with the extreme actions and police brutality endured by some protesters.
From her experience, Paige feels that there is a massive divide between Chinese and Hong Kong citizens. She found that Hong Kong people “are very proud of their history and like to see themselves as Hong Kongers to divide themselves from mainlanders” and witnessed clashes between the two which sometimes turned violent. Paige also feels that the extradition bill is a way of “the motherland trying to erode Hong Kong’s autonomy” and notes the building of the bridge to Macau as a demonstration of Hong Kong being brought closer under mainland functioning.
THE FUTURE The future of the extradition law is somewhat undecided and unclear. If the law is passed, the impact of such is also uncertain. Nevertheless, these events have highlighted the magnitude of the divide in politics, society and culture between Hong Kong and China. For many, these events signify a transition towards the centralisation of Chinese power over Hong Kong’s political autonomy. Whilst some think that this legal change is a necessary step to protect against the failed extradition of criminals, others fear that it will spiral and impede upon the valued political and cultural separation of Hong Kong and China.