The protests in Hong Kong (SAR) which began six months back is refusing to abate. The Chinese authorities from the mainland are threatening to send the notorious People’s Liberation Army to crush these protests.
1. Location of Hong Kong, its history in brief and its importance
Hong Kong is a city located on the coast of South China Sea, situated to the east of the Pearl river delta. The river delta is one of the most urbanized and densely populated regions of China and leads the rest of nation in terms of economic growth.
The territory became a part of Britain after the end of First opium war (the war began when the Chinese authorities cracked down on opium cultivation in their land which was supported by Britain. The Qing dynasty lost the war. It was a series of battles from 1839-42) with the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. Britain started incorporating new territories and made it a part of the Hong Kong region.
After the second opium war, in 1898, Britain received a lease for 99 years over the territory of Hong Kong. When the lease was about to expire in 1997, China and Britain agreed to extend the special protection to the region by another 50 years till 2047.
Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region (SAR), is part of China’s ‘One Nation two systems’ policy. The policy seeks to grant special protection to the region from the policies adopted by mainland China. The city state (partially) is permitted to follow a different system of economy as opposed to the practice of socialism in the mainland, have extensive trade links with the world, make its own laws (subject to the overall approval from the mainland) and have its own currency. This policy is now under currently under strain.
The importance of the city can be gauged by the fact that its GDP for the year 2018 stands at US $362.99 Billion. In India, the Gross state domestic product of Maharashtra (the state with the largest economy) was US $374 Billion approximately. Hong Kong is a city state and not a full state/province like Maharashtra. Globally, it is a developed economy and is also an investor in projects around the world. It rivals the city state of Singapore.
It leads the People’s Republic of China’s much flaunted economic growth and development. The nation cannot do without its southern special administrative region.
2. Reasons for the current protests
It is generally been observed that ever since President Xi Jinping took over from Hu Jintao, he has been working at a break neck speed to erode the autonomy enjoyed by the city region.
In the months preceding the protests, the residents observed a few extra judicial/ illegal acts against their city. These included: kidnapping of book shop owners and taking them across to the mainland, the increasing cost of housing, increased connectivity with mainland China (Shenzhen province) has led to Chinese goods flooding the local markets, resulting in massive loss for the local manufacturers.
The immediate reason for these protests that are current going on since the last six months are the following:
The controversial extradition bill- This legislation sought to deport people from Hong Kong to mainland China and Taiwan, which would enable the authorities in these regions to register cases and try individuals deported for various offences. This became a flash point and the Bill was withdrawn after the international community condemned it and the US even sanctioned the government of Hong Kong and imposed trade and other economic restrictions.
This bill was subsequently withdrawn.
The protesters though continue to protest against the erosion of autonomy in their city. The other demands of the protesters include:
The current protests not to be categorized as riots.
Amnesty scheme for those arrested of rioting during the protests.
An independent enquiry to be set up which will investigate cases of police brutalities.
Implementation of complete universal suffrage in the city.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) which seeks to establish a so called ‘Middle Kingdom’ treats its neighbours with contempt and see them as nothing but territories that are to be conquered and incorporated into the Chinese empire. Nothing frustrates them more than seeing Hong Kong and Macau enjoying the status of a special administrative region and Taiwan being an independent nation.
3. The road ahead
There is no end to the brutal crackdown initiated by the police forces. Protesters are being killed and there appears to be no value for human life.
Over 2379 people have been arrested and this includes almost a third of them being children.
Police brutalities have included stabbing of protesters, using live ammunition and day light murder. This happens even as the People’s Republic of China has protested the human rights violations in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir which has largely remained peacefully. China’s concern for human rights appears to as genuine as their products sold in the flea markets around the world.
Recently, soldiers from the People’s Liberation of Army were seen clearing the streets of Hong Kong. It appears to be a subtle message from the mainland to the people of Hong Kong, that their protests will be crushed mercilessly.
The Finance Minister of Hong Kong has reported an economic recession that has set in the city. Financial analysts have predicted that the GDP may contract by 1.3 % by end of 2019 even as businesses considered to be pro-Beijing (mainland) are being shut down violently by the protesters.
Stocks have fallen and tourists’ arrivals have decreased since the last month.
4. Impact on India
The bilateral trade between India and Hong Kong stands at US $31 Billion. The latter is India’s fifth largest export destination. Some of the commonly traded items include jewelry, food items, electronic goods etc. As of August 2019, the trade didn’t witness any major decline. Further data in this regard is awaited.
The Government of India has refused to take sides on this matter even as China continues to flaunt its status as a permanent member of the UNSC and lectures India on ‘alleged’ human rights violations in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The city hosts a vibrant Indian community and the government will be closely watching the situation as it develops.