China passes a new law that might end Hong Kong’s unique status

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The Chinese parliament will discuss the controversial new laws at its annual session [Andy Wong/Pool/AP Photo]
China’s parliament has voted and passed a new security law for Hong Kong. Many people worry that this will end Hong Kong’s unique status.

What is Hong Kong’s unique status?

To understand this, one needs to understand Hong Kong’s past history. Though Hong Kong is a part of China it is different from other Chinese cities like Beijing or Shanghai.

Almost 200 years ago, Hong Kong was a fishing community and a safe zone for pirates. It was colonised by the British In the 19th century, and was ruled by the British Empire for 156 years. During this time, they made it a major trading centre. Today, it is one of the world’s top financial centres. The British ultimately had a 99 year lease on the city. This means that they ‘rented’ it from China, for a period of 99 years. The lease expired in 1997.

In the early 1980s, as the deadline for expiry of the 99 year lease drew closer, Britain and China held talks to discuss the return of Hong Kong to China. While China claimed that all of Hong Kong should be returned to them and governed under their system of communism, the British disagreed. The two countries  reached an agreement in 1984 that would see Hong Kong return to China in 1997, under the basis of “one country, two systems.”  China agreed that until 2047, Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy (independence) in all matters except foreign and defense.

Today, Hong Kong enjoys its own legal system, has multiple political parties, and its citizens enjoy the freedom to gather and freedom of speech.

The new security law is set to change this. What does it say? 

Though the details of the law are still unclear, it seems as though it is aimed at stopping protests that have plagued Hong Kong for the past year. The law will punish anyone who criticises the Chinese Government in Hong Kong just like those in mainland China are. It will also punish activists who lobby (ask for help from) foreign governments to help them fight the Chinese government. The law could also see China installing its own security agencies in the Hong Kong for the first time.

All in all it seems people in Hong Kong will lose many civil and political freedoms that they have enjoyed so far.

What is the current mood in Hong Kong?

The city of Hong Kong has been in turmoil for over a year. Last June, the Chinese government started to exert more influence on the island and introduced an ‘extradition bill’. If this bill were passed, people suspected of committing a crime could have been extradited or sent from Hong Kong to mainland China, to face their punishment there.

This didn’t sit well with the people in Hong Kong. Millions of anti-government protestors took to the streets, calling for change. Though the extradition bill was scrapped protests continued. The peaceful demonstrations became violent and lasted for months.

Then Covid-19 struck and put a pause to the protests. This new move from Beijing has prompted a lot of disapproval inside and outside of Hong Kong. Stay tuned for more updates.

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