Hong Kong’s accession to mainland China in 1997 was a great achievement for Chinese diplomacy and Deng Xiaoping personally. The former British colony joined Beijing; the world recognized Hong Kong as part of China. However, China established a Special Administrative Region (SAR) status for Hong Kong and retained extended autonomy for 50 years. “The reunification with homeland” was based on the “one country, two systems” principle. Autonomy mostly implies economic preferences, preserving the status of a separate customs territory, an international financial center with its monetary system, a free port. Moreover, Hong Kong has its own, independent from Beijing government legislative, executive and judicial systems, as well as immigration and tax policies.
Recently, with the growth of China’s economic power and role in the international arena, Beijing’s involvement in Hong Kong also increasing. China intervention ın polıcy of the SAR rise mass protest in Hong Kong. In 2016, after Brexit vote in United Kingdom, a wide Hongxit or HKexit movement spread in Hong Kong. The reason was the removal of two elected deputies, who stand for independence, from the Hong Kong legislature after they deliberately misunderstood their oaths [Aljazeera, 2016]. Hong Kong opposition newspaper South China Morning Post published the text of flyer calling for the separation of Hong Kong from China [South China Morning Post, 2016]. The Umbrella movement emerged as call for democracy in 2014 and has grown into a civil actıvıty. The movement returned in June 2019 when hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of Hong Kong in protest to an extradition bill put forward that would send those accused of certain crimes to mainland China for trial [CNN, 2019]. The protests last until today, despite the fact that the chief executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam stated that the consideration of the bill was discontinued [Qin, 2019]. It is obvious that the population of Hong Kong does not trust the local authorities, accusing them of colluding with mainland China. This bill violates Hong Kong’s independent migration policy promised by the SAR status.
Needless to say that the “one country, two systems” concept is designed not only for the peaceful return of Hong Kong or Macau but mostly for Taiwan, which yet remains independent. Rising protests in Hong Kong undermine the viability of this system proposed by Beijing. Moreover, it threatens the fulfillment of one of the main tasks of the Chinese Communist Party – the goal of “reuniting Taiwan with the motherland”. Since in recent years, the power in China has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive, and this cannot but be a source of some alarm for Hong Kong. The increase in the number of asylum seekers from mainland China is also a signal. The current legislation makes it impossible to extradite not only to mainland China but also to Taiwan or Macao. Coming of Hong Kong under Chinese jurisdiction was possible only with the keeping of preferences for foreign business and established the way of life of local people. So the closer completion of the transit period of Hong Kong, the more SAR citizens think about their identity. Obviously, they don’t impersonate themselves with the communist ideology and its implementation in China. A number of latest events during which China has tried to break through measures that challenge Hong Kong’s identity showed that Beijing moving toward increasing restrictions [Saich, 2019]. Untouched by the Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong has managed to preserve traditional Chinese culture. Since Chinese consider calligraphy to be the main and integral part of their culture, officially the SAR still using classic Chinese characters, not a simplified by Mao’s reform version. At the same time, Hong Kong personifies liberal China, respecting rights and freedoms. This, in turn, contradicts the established communist dogma, which insists on the similarity of the traditional Chinese ideology of Confucianism with communism, and authoritarianism as the most acceptable way of government for post-imperial China. However, Hong Kong, unlike mainland China, is the opposite example of a much freer and more open society and administrative system, cultivated within the framework of traditional Chinese culture. This is a challenge to the ideology of the ruling party of China. Actually, Hong Kong and Macao are the only places in China where the dispersal of demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square anniversaries openly celebrated. In 2019, 180 thousand people came to the annual campaign to commemorate the victims. Even mentioning a 30 years ago events on Tiananmen is forbidden in mainland China. Against the backdrop of the recent events, various Chinese Communist Party’s programs to integrate with Hong Kong both economically and politically and ‘to conquer the hearts of Hong Kong people’ look increasingly unprofitable.
After the policy of reform and opening-up was announced, Hong Kong became the main investor in China and the conductor of Western technologies and management systems. Currently, when the income of the population of China and Hong Kong has leveled off, continental China is no longer dependent on Hong Kong, rather the opposite. The 1997 agreement, in addition to concern, brought 6.5 million Hong Kong residents a sense of national pride and the opportunity to prove their Chinese identity after a 150-year colonization period. However, many believed that as the well-being of the people of mainland China improved, political liberalization would follow. The Hong Kong people hoped that instead of turning Hong Kong into China, China would become like Hong Kong [French, 2017]. Experts suggest that if Hong Kong developed as a liberal society under the jurisdiction of China, then perhaps Taiwan would gradually follow the example of uniting with the mainland within the framework of the “one country, two systems” principle.
To sum up, the increasingly centralized and authoritarian policies of China within the country are currently being projected in Hong Kong. Just as China has become an active player in the international arena, in the economy, and politics, so is its policy toward Hong Kong becoming more aggressive. While Hong Kongers seek greater autonomy and according to the 1997 agreement, they have that right until 2047, the authorities of SAR becoming more pro-Chinese bringing a different type of new law consideration and giving preferences to Chinese business development. Many will depend on how things develop in mainland China. Therefore, under the present circumstances, debates on Hong Kong’s total independence or hongxit are impossible.
Aljazeera (2016). China Bars Two Rebel Hong Kong Mps from Retaking Oath. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/11/china-bars-rebel-hong-kong-mps-retaking-oath-161107033944766.html. Accessed on 02.07.2019.
CNN (2019). The Return of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/12/asia/hong-kong-umbrella-extradition-intl-hnk/index.html. Accessed on 07.07.2019.
French, Howard (2017). Is It Too Late to Save Hong Kong from Beijing’s Authoritarian Grasp? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/mar/21/hong-kong-china-authoritarian-democracy-one-country-two-systems. Accessed on 10.07.2019.
Qin, Amy (2019). Extradition Bill Is ‘Dead,’ Says Hong Kong Leader, Carrie Lam. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/08/world/asia/carrie-lam-hong-kong.html. Accessed on 08.07.2019.
Saich, Tony (2019). Simmer Nears Boil ın Hong Kong. Retrieved from https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/07/harvard-china-expert-examines-whats-behind-the-hong-kong-protests/?fbclid=IwAR0cg_rmx1PlYXCra2P7uoJBziKxF3iu9-r48JxngWrj7bEiXWyYiPo7u1w. Accessed on 10.07.2019.
South China Morning Post (2016). Hongxit! Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/magazines/hk-magazine/article/2038052/hongxit. Accessed on 09.07.2019.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Azhar Serikkaliyeva graduated from China Studies Department of the Faculty of Oriental Studies in Al-Farabi Kazakh National University in 2008. She completed master education in 2010 by presenting her master thesis namely ‘Chinese strategy of peaceful rising and current sino-kazakh relations ’. She holds a Masters in Area Studies from al-Farabi Kazakh National University. Azhar Serikkaliyeva started doctorate process in 2010 and completed it in 2014 by presenting her PhD thesis ‘Chinese social and economic activity at the SCO’. During academic career she has published more than 20 scientific p