Americans were shocked this summer when reports of massive public protests in Hong Kong began to surface. Time magazine reported in June that protestors were singing Christian hymns in the streets of Hong Kong and cited the haunting anthem “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” had become their unlikely theme song.
While only 10% of Hong Kong residents admit to being Christian, the underground church in China is said to be the fastest growing Christian movement in the world. By August the crowds were growing in the streets of Hong Kong and the protestors were still peacefully singing in English and hoping for American support of their cause against this tyranny.
While the topic has been reported in the Western main stream media, the dynamics of the situation are confusing. A quick bit of historical background is needed for clarity and perspective. Hong Kong is now designated as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) located along the southern coast of the China Sea comprised of a large, densely populated- squiggly land mass and a smattering of islands: This is all divided into several sections composed of the New Territories, Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island amongst others. Controversial Taiwan sits off to the North and East of Hong Kong and requires its own article at a future point in time.
During the heyday of the Victorian era, the Qing dynasty ceded Hong Kong to the British Empire in 1842 via the treaty of Nanjing successfully wrapping up the First Opium War. As another jewel in the British Crown colonies, Hong Kong began to grow as an important international port and trade center. The Second Opium War put more points on the board for the Brits and the Qing Empire of China was forced to add Kowloon to the list of British acquisitions in 1860. The Chinese kept a finger in the pie by leasing the remaining New Territories to the British Empire for 99 years.
This arrangement was working well until WWII when Japan occupied Hong Kong from 1941-45. As the War in the Pacific ground to a halt, Hong Kong was liberated by both British and Chinese forces and was returned to British oversight. In following years, Hong Kong increased in population as refugees fled from Mainland China with the Korean War and China’s “Great Leap Forward” creating a run for the border. During the 1950’s Hong Kong transformed itself from a well-placed trade center to a major manufacturing hub. As Chinese economic reforms required manufacturers to relocate to the mainland, Hong Kong began to re-make herself into a commercial and financial powerhouse.
In 1984, England’s feisty Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher hoped to curry economic reform and allow the continuation of British rule. She signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration which intended to pre-establish for Hong Kong the proposal of “One country, two systems” with China’s Deng Xiaoping.
Banking uncertainty and political upheavals soon followed rattling the wealthiest center of the Far East. The countdown passing Hong Kong from freedom to Communist rule created a wave of manic immigration out of Hong Kong to the free world ahead of the July 1, 1997 deadline. Hong Kong had adopted the Hong Kong Basic Law- essentially a small constitution. Those in favor of Chinese rule from Beijing called it the most democratic legal system to ever exist in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Those in favor of democratic rule stated it was sadly lacking in personal liberties.
The situation in Hong Kong SAR has limped along for two decades with the specter of Chinese oversight, as they learned to adjust. The number of impoverished Hong Kong citizens hit a record high in 2016 with one in five people now living below the poverty line- a huge change from her prosperous past. Growing tensions with the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese Rule clash with the democratic ideologies of the Hong Kong citizenry.
Following a good bit of election drama with Mainland interference, Carrie Lam was elected recently as the first woman and latest Chief Executive of Hong Kong. It was her proposal of the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill 2019 which has led to the massive public demonstrations which erupted this summer. The bill would make it legal for China to extradite “criminals” from Hong Kong, potentially including political prisoners. The fear, of course is that this legislation is opening the region to the long arm of Communist China and mainland Chinese law and the people would then become subject to a different legal system than promised.
Tensions have continued to mount and the protests have grown, becoming less peaceful as police ratchet up their Beijing monitored response. This week, a riot officer shot an 18 year old in the chest at close range, leaving him bleeding in the street in the midst of a chaotic melee. Tuesday alone, police report firing 1400 rounds of tear gas a non-linear jump from the 159 canisters used at a June 12 protest. At least 169 people were arrested, raising the total detained now to more than 2,000 Hong Kong citizens.
The Washington Post reported October 2 that China was wining and dining the Hong Kong Police Chief Lau Chak-Kei. He is despised by Hong Kong protestors for his harsh stance against protestors. “The contrasting reactions to Lau after the incident underscore a new reality for the HK police Force. It is seen here increasingly as an occupying force, an arm of Beijing tasked with crushing the city’s freedoms. In Beijing, the HK police are seen as saviors and protectors of Chinese unity.” The WP article penned by Shibani Mahtani, Timothy McLaughlin and Tiffany Liang states, “For many protestors, China’s warnings of military intervention are immaterial, as are fears of another Tiananmen-style crackdown. The oppressors are already here, in this view, and they are the Hong Kong Police.”
It was reported that the officers fired live rounds as protesters on Tuesday as protesters called for the police force to be disbanded. In Tseun Wan, where a police officer shot a teenager on Monday, police fired tear gas at protesters who occupied roads and threw gasoline bombs. In one area protesters invaded a subway station and vandalized it. “Police actions in recent months have profoundly damaged their standing in HK society while at the same time being utterly inefficient in the goal of actually curbing the protests,” assessed Mike Chinoy a HK based nonresident senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s U.S.-China Institute. Chinoy covered the conflict in Northern Ireland as a journalist now added, “HK police are being asked to solve on the street what is essentially a political problem.”
Demonstrators have several demands one of which is an independent investigation of the HK police force. Their primary goal, however, is to see a full withdrawal of the extradition bill. The world watches to see how China will respond to the rising rebellion- with hopes that the desperate people of Hong Kong continue to Sing Hallelujah to the Lord.