15 | NOV | 2019
Hong Kong riots: the “one country, two systems” principle is in deep crisis
Protesters raise a black Hong Kong flag next to a national Hong Kong flag that was lowered outside the Legislative Council - Photo: Tyrone Siu/REUTERS

Hong Kong riots: the “one country, two systems” principle is in deep crisis

05/07/2019
15:52
Gabriel Moyssen
Mexico City
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The storming of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong by protestors last Monday confirms that the “one country, two systems” principle granted by Beijing to the financial and commercial enclave is facing a deep crisis

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The storming of the Legislative Council (Legco) in Hong Kong by thousands of protestors last Monday confirms that the “one country, two systemsprinciple granted by Beijing to the financial and commercial enclave is facing a deep crisis, with potential repercussions in Taiwan and mainland China.

One month of unrest reached its climax on the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty when mostly young protesters and students demanding the complete withdrawal of the local government’s now-suspended extradition bill attacked the glass front of the legislative chamber with makeshift battering rams.
 

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The activists, calling for the authorities to fully withdraw the bill instead of just suspending it, occupied and vandalized the Legco in the Admiralty district, prompting riot police to fire tear gas and stun grenades to clear the area after midnight. A total of 94 people were injured, including 13 policemen, and 11 arrested.

According to the protesters—grouped in the “pan-democracy” camp opposed to direct rule from Beijing,—if passed, the controversial bill would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no extradition deal, including China, where there is no guarantee of a fair deal.

As a woman cited by the WSWS website remarked during early demonstrations that gathered two million people, nearly one-third of the city’s population, “I don’t want my son to grow up in a world where he says something online and that could get him arrested and extradited,” in allusion to the strict laws governing freedom of speech and freedom of information in China.

After the clashes in the Legco and the administrative center, Hong Kong’s embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence at a 4 am press conference. 

She warned the government would pursue the lawbreaking behavior to the end,” and stressed that the extradition bill will expire in July 2020 when the current Legco term expires. That is a very positive response to the demands we have heard.”

However, radical organizations as the party People Power, which promoted the intervention of American lawmakers, and the student group Demosisto, have been calling for the end of the “oppression of the Communist Party of China (CPC),” and more political and economic powers for the city. 

They are also demanding the resignation of Lam, who ironically assumed office on July 1, 2017.

Hong Kong’s chief executive is elected from a committee of candidates chosen by Beijing

Pro-Beijing parties similarly control the Legco and the Basic Law agreed between Great Britain and China as part of the 1997 handover, allows Beijing to send its troops into the city during a state of emergency.

Colonial rule

Nevertheless, having inherited from 156 years of British colonial rule a westernized political culture, residents are used to defend their liberties

In 2003, they opposed a national security bill that would have effectively extended Chinese laws to the city. The initiative was discarded and Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was forced to step down two years later.

In 2014, the demands to directly elect the chief executive without intervention from the CPC led to mass protests known as Umbrella Movement or Occupy Movement

Some of its former members, such as Demosisto leader Joshua Wong, are now heading the “Black Orchidprotests (a red orchid is the city’s symbol).

Faced with the situation of the enclave, China has shown restraint, urging the government to “restore social order as soon as possible.” 

The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, along with Beijing’s liaison office, criticized the ransacking of the Legco, describing the protesters’ actions as an attack on theone country, two systemsprinciple.

While the central government of President Xi Jinping has tried to distance itself from the extradition bill, China is concerned that the opposition in Hong Kong would spread across the mainland, in particular to neighboring industrial fast-developing regions as Guangdong province.

Contrary to the glittering landscape of skyscrapers and cosmopolitan elites of Central Hong Kong, 20% of the city’s population live in poverty and face a severe housing crisis, highlights a report from World Socialist Web Site.

Workers have some of the longest working hours in the world and official data released this year showed that one in five people works 55 hours a week on average.  Yet between 2008 and 2018 workers saw only a 0.7% annual increase in wages, taking inflation into account.

A new protracted political crisis in Hong Kong—which channels 60% of foreign direct investment into China—could be used by the United States to stoke tensions with Beijing, where hardline officials are losing their patience.

In November, Major General Xu Yan, professor with the People’s Liberation Army’s National Defense University, denounced Hong Kong as an outpost of “people who hate the CPC with every fiber of their beings,” and remarked that “now is the time for us to act. A big problem for us in the past is that we emphasizedtwo systemstoo much. We didn’t emphasizeone country.’”

Ultimately, the questioning of the two systems, one countryformula could propagate to Taiwan, the nationalist island where it has been raised as an option to improve relations with Beijing and end the de facto secession established in 1949, after the victory of the Communists during the civil war in mainland China.

In the midst of the truce in trade war agreed between Xi and U.S. President Donald Trump last month, media reports have revealed the internal debate within the White House regarding the possibility of a break with the “one China” policy.

Since 1979, Washington has formally recognized Beijing as China,” despite its close ties with Taiwan, while Beijing and the island accepted in 1992 that there is only one China, yet agree to disagree on which is the legitimate ruler of the country.

Washington intends to sell USD $2.6 billion worth of weapons to the government of pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen in Taipei, which is preparing for elections next January.

Tsai has declared that her administration and the Democratic Progressive Party “will not back down” in the plans to reduce Taiwan’s economic interdependence with China. However, her approval ratings have dipped from 70% in 2016 to 30% this year against two populist candidates who favor closer ties with China.

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen
 

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