By Austin Maho Ph.D.
In the last 12 weeks, Hong Kong has been facing unusual media scrutiny. The Western media have been on a feeding frenzy over the protests rocking China’s Special Administrative Region. Why is Hong Kong protesting? What do protesters really want? And who are really fuelling the protests and to what end?
Initially, the Hong Kong protests began for just one reason. It was a protest against proposed amendments to its extradition law.
The amendments were prompted by the gruesome case of a Hong Kong man who was accused of strangling his pregnant girlfriend and stuffing her body in a suitcase while they were in Taiwan in 2018. The suspect, who was identified as Chan Tong-kai, fled back to Hong Kong. Now because Hong Kong doesn’t have a formal extradition treaty with Taiwan, even though both regions are a part of China, he couldn’t be sent back to Taiwan to face trial.
Evidently, the case was a demonstration of the limitation in Hong Kong’s extradition law. To rectify this deficiency the Hong Kong government proposed amendments that would allow case-by-case extraditions to countries and regions that lack formal extradition treaties with Hong Kong.
Although the law and its amendment were the results of the reality on the ground, mainland China came under flak as the originator of the extradition bill and was viewed by some as an attempt by Beijing to exert more control over Hong Kong.
To doused fears expressed by some people over the proposed amendments to the extradition law and demonstrate that it has nothing to do with mainland China the Hong Kong government added some concessions to the bill, including limiting the extraditable offences but critics allegedly backed by forces outside Hong Kong weren’t satisfied.
The issue gradually snowballed into talk of autonomy for Hong Kong, Pro-democracy and individual freedoms.
On June 9, a million people reportedly protested against the bill. Thereafter a series of large-scale demonstrations followed leading to attacks on journalists and travellers, arson, assaults on police officers, violent acts and disrupted of social order.
After the protests on June 12, the government of Hong Kong “indefinitely suspended” the bill that would have amended the extradition law. This should have brought the entire issue to a close but the protests continued, leading to the belief that external forces were sponsoring the leaders of the protest towards a different agenda, which some have labelled as the ultimate destabilization of mainland China. Hong Kong was just a pun in the wider geopolitical and ideological battle between China and the US, and with the escalation of the trade war between China and the United States, the US was accused of propping up dissidents in Hong Kong as a way of fighting a proxy war with the Chinese.
It is instructive to note that since 1997 Hong Kong has been a Special Administrative Region of China. How it became a Special Administrative Region of China is a subject of history and of benefit to this article.
Historically, Hong Kong has always been a part of China. However, the old British Empire took over Hong Kong around 1840 during the Opium Wars.
In 1898, China formally ceded the territory to Britain on a 99-year lease, which expired in 1997.
In 1984, after lengthy negotiations, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping signed a Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong. Britain by the agreement returned Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997. There was however a caveat. China was to give Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years, until 2047. This led to the “one country two systems” rule adopted by China in the administration of Hong Kong.
Under the guidance of China, Hong Kong has been able to maintain its status as an international financial capital in the last 22 years. The operation of the joint guarantee has been a win-win for all parties and Hong Kong has prospered under China.
But why the reversal and the protests in Hong Kong which the Western media have chosen to frame as a pro-democracy uprising?
Hong Kong is the economic and financial hub of Asia. The fear that such a strategic Territory would fully be in the control of mainland China in 27 years’ time makes many uncomfortable. What’s more, they’re starting to realize that 2047 the year Hong Kong’s special status is set to expire under the original agreement between China and Britain is not as distant as it once seemed. Fears of hidden agenda are rife and the US is been accused by China of leading the charge to destabilises Hong Kong.
As if confirming these fears, the US State Department, like a child throwing tantrums, in August issued a statement calling on China to honour the “one country, two systems” rule, and described China as a “thuggish” regime.
Chinese authorities have also accused the US of meddling in its internal affairs by meeting with Hong Kong protesters a charge the US has not denied.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also been accused of fuelling the crisis when he drew a parallel between the events in Hong Kong and “Tiananmen Square”.
He reportedly said in an interview two weeks ago that China should respect the rights of Hong Kong and in what many have called a Freudian slip said “something like Tiananmen Square” in Hong Kong could jeopardize a trade deal! Analysts are left to wondering if the events in Hong Kong is about the US-China trade war after all.
Also following this line of attack, the National Security Adviser to President Donald Trump, John Bolton also warned against a “new” Tiananmen Square, in Hong Kong.
In the US Parliament, some Congress members, including Sen. Marco Rubio, have also spoken against China and the extradition bill.
On August 6, Speaker of the United States House Nancy Pelosi, issued a statement in support of the protesters where she said, “the extraordinary outpouring of courage from people of Hong Kong stand in stark contrast to a cowardly government, that refuses to respect the rule of law or live up to the one country two rule systems” or describing the protesters as “a beautiful sight to behold”.
Reading through these comments it becomes easy to see why China accuses the US of harbouring an agenda or using CIA props to covertly fuel the crisis in Hong Kong. Clearly this is a blatant interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.
A simple matter as an amendment to a law, presented through normal legislative processes and subsequently suspended when there were dissensions should not ordinarily draw the extraordinary global attention it is getting.
These statements by high ranking US officials are incitements to violence as they are bound to fuel and embolden the protesters. The protesters have been seen waving American flags calling for American support. But the question remains support for what?
Will these US politicians tolerate a situation whereby a foreign diplomat or official make such remarks on its own domestic affairs. Imagine a Chinese official describing a “ black life matters” protest “a beautiful sight to behold” or the gun violence in the US which has assumed endemic levels as “the failure of American democratic freedoms”
However, these US officials against diplomatic norms continue to make divisive comments about the internal affairs of a sovereign power. They have described the violent protests in Hong Kong as efforts to pursue human rights and freedom, slammed the Hong Kong government, and have even threatened to pursue the so-called “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act”. US officials have also tried to blackmail China by tying the progress of the China-US trade negotiations to events in Hong Kong.
Unfortunately, the media is complicit in the distorted information flowing out of Hong Kong. The distortion is worrisome, the failure to report the news objectively and fairly is a sad reality of contemporary western media when reporting China and other developing nations. The global media are in the hands of Western hegemony and only reflects the views that suit capitalist domination and exploitation while contrary views are roundly ignored.
All the news about the protest in Hong Kong is framed and focuses on the protesters while there seems to be a deliberate attempt to avoid or ignore the voice of the government of Hong Kong. This is not objectivity but a distortion. Not news but Propaganda against the Hong Kong government framed as news.
Arguably it would seem that the United States want to make it difficult for China to exercise full sovereignty over Hong Kong, and maybe using it as a bargaining chip in its trade war with China.