Over the years, democracy has established itself as a rather distinctive tool essential for the efficient and wholesome governance of a country. This forms the basis of rule of law which inherently confers an important status to every citizen of a country through which they can exercise their natural rights. With civilians clashing with the police every other day in the special administrative region of Hong Kong, an integral question regarding the state’s obligations to protect its own citizens comes into being.
The Current Crisis
The crisis that has plagued China and Hong Kong has a history that dates back to 1984 when the Sino-British Joint Declaration had been made to ensure the transfer of Honk Kong to China. When Britain handed over Hong Kong to China, it was under certain strict conditions that had to be mandatorily adhered to in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the region. Even after the handover to China, Honk Kong continued to mirror the political model practiced in Britain that included transparency and due process. Owing to these very basic principles, Beijing has had a hard time placating the citizens of Hong Kong. Amongst the many conditions of the declaration, Honk Kong was to be governed under the principle of ‘One country, two systems’ which would ensure the region a high level of autonomy except in foreign and defence affairs for the next 50 years after 1997.
The present situation is a culmination of the anger that has been simmering within the civilians of Honk Kong for the past few years. The present crisis began due to the introduction of an extradition bill, namely the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 which was put into place ostensibly to solve the loopholes in the extradition law of Hong Kong. The bill would allow Honk Kong to detain and transfer people wanted in countries and territories with which it has no formal extradition agreements, including the Chinese mainland.
The biggest reason of concern for the citizens of Hong Kong has been the possible attack on their treasured community of political activists and pro-democracy activists who vociferously have been voicing out their concerns regarding the semi-autonomous status of Hong Kong. With the power of China increasing over Honk Kong substantially, a worrying cause of concern for Honk Kong is the prosecution of innumerable people who are not nationalistic and inclined towards the rigid policies of Beijing. The movement to protest against the bill has eventually turned into an uprising against the Chinese forces, demanding freedom from authoritarian rule to exercise their natural right to democracy. As it turns out, the will of the people can no longer be subdued which is unlike anything that China has witnessed before.
Rights Granted Under the Basic Law
With the territory being a special administrative region and boasting of a constitution of its own, it has to be understood that Honk Kong has traversed through the past 22 years trying to carve out a distinct identity for itself to no avail. Ever since they attained freedom from the British rule, it has been a battle of attaining freedom from the grasps of Chinese authoritarianism which has persistently tried to throttle the region by denying the semi-autonomous right that was legally granted to them.
While the handover agreement did not immediately grant Honk Kong the right to democratically elect the city’s leader, the constitution of Honk Kong, i.e., the Honk Kong basic law mentions it as the ultimate aim. With people being drawn to the streets for the past 2 months, demanding their basic rights to be granted to them, the transition to a democratic state has seemingly not achieved much success. While Honk Kong has not seen a protest on this scale, it must be noted that the region has not gone without controversies before.
The major problem in the present case has been the difference in the interpretation of the basic law which understandably poses questions in respect of the basic laws of interpretation. One of the primary policies of the declaration laid down that that while Honk Kong would be directly under the authority of Beijing, it would also enjoy a high degree of autonomy except in foreign and defence affairs. Considering that Beijing does have substantial power over Hong Kong, the permissible limits of autonomy can be trickier to demarcate than it seems.
Though one of the tenets of basic law grants Honk Kong the right to eventually develop itself into a democratic state, the current Chinese government continues to interpret their constitution in a rather biased way. The current government has been trying to gain complete control over Hong Kong, ever since they came to power, by exercising the absolute level of authoritarianism that they have been in China. It must be noted that it is due to this persistent lack of denial of rights that there were protests held back in 2014, most famously known as the Umbrella movement. The political dynamics of this movement reflect divisions which emerged during the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Back then, the perennial concern was regarding the erosion of “one country, two systems” principle because of the excessive intrusion of Beijing into the selection of the Honk Kong chief executive. Furthermore, over two years ago, it declared that the Sino- British joint declaration, an UNregistered treaty intended to remain in force for 50 years, was a non-binding historical document and lacks any practical significance today. This was met with a rather harsh reaction by its British counterpart since there exists a legal obligation on the part of Britain to ensure that China does not deny the citizens of Hong Kong the basic rights that they derived through this declaration. Even with an international power behind the implementation of democracy as a basic requirement and right of the people, it continues to remain a long and harsh battle for Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong crisis reflects a broader, global clash not of civilizations but of ideologies, a contest between liberal, democratic laws-based governance and authoritarian, nationalist rule. Despite the inclusion of democracy into the socio-legal sphere of every society as one of the crucial catalysts in upholding the rule of law, there hasn’t been much of an effort into implementing the same in Honk Kong despite their continued efforts. While the contested law has been declared dead, it hasn’t seemed to satisfy the people, and rightly so. Considering that the people of Honk Kong have realized that there exists a systematic problem with the political system, the movement has turned into a democratic movement that is significant of their freedom, rights and democracy, which is why it demands the support of every country today.
Shrishti is a noetic and very mindful woman who carries great capabilities of mooting, writing, and drafting. She learns from her mistakes and transforms her weaknesses into strengths. In one word, she is a scholar.