CHINA was recently shaken up by the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests. The protests centered on a Hong Kong bill that would allow the extradition of local citizens from Hong Kong to Mainland China. Had the bill passed, it would have severely undermined Hong Kong’s special status as an autonomous region.
Leaders and organizers said that around two million people showed up at the height of protests. For comparison, the EDSA People Power was estimated to have attracted over 2 million people. So the anti-extradition protests were as big as the first People Power Revolution. That should give you an idea of how significant this protest was.
It was massive, and also futile.
Hong Kong is a very important and very rich autonomous region in a country that likes to be in control, and the bill is simply one of many attempts by the PRC and PRC-friendly forces in Hong Kong to gradually erode Hong Kong’s autonomy.
For Hong Kong, the loss of this autonomy means the loss certain traditions and liberties. It also means the loss of identity. In fact, a survey conducted by the University of Hong Kong revealed that only 15 percent of Hong Kong residents consider themselves Chinese. The rest consider themselves as Hong Kongers first and foremost, which explains why so many showed up in the protests.
For China and the PRC government, the situation is more complicated. They cannot allow Hong Kong to rebel because it would undermine their power and status. Not only will they lose face in front of their people, they will also lose face to the rest of the global community, and China cannot afford either of those.
Any weakness in Hong Kong could undermine PRC control in places, like Tibet and the Western regions. Furthermore, it could also undermine relations with Taiwan. Add the ongoing food problems in the country, and China has no choice but to look tough without provoking escalation in Hong Kong.
So far, Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has apologized for the bill and has promised its indefinite suspension. In other words, the bill has been suspended but not eliminated. Once the situation changes or the PRC finds itself in a better position, Lam and her supporters will most likely push the bill again, and barring another major protest, she will most likely succeed.
As things stand now, time is against Hong Kong. Even their autonomy has an expiry date, and given China’s history, they are unlikely to hold on to their autonomy barring some cataclysmic event or civil war. The island’s unique character developed due to a confluence of British and expat Chinese culture, but that time has passed, and now, the Middle Kingdom is swallowing it back into its influence. ([email protected]/PN)