By Heidi Welte:
In Hong Kong, two pro-independence lawmakers were disqualified from parliament after deliberately misreading their oaths of office and draping themselves with “Hong Kong is not China” flags. Nearly ten thousand people protested Beijing’s decision last week, and tens of thousands turned out to support Beijing’s decision this week. These protests are clearly well organized, some critics assert that a number of protestors were paid to be there, but no evidence supporting this has yet surfaced. Critics of Beijing’s decision say it undermines Hong Kong’s rule of law. These are not the first protests either in support of independence or in support of remaining a part of China, and they are unlikely to be the last.
Hong Kong has an interesting history. In the 1800’s, China and Great Britain were trading heavily, but the British had a trade deficit. Seeking to balance this, they began trading opium, a highly addictive drug and one which turned the trade deficit in favor of the British. Because this drug was doing great harm to the Chinese people, Commissioner Lin Zexu attempted to put an end to it, sparking what would become two wars between the British and China known as the Opium Wars. The weakened Qing dynasty had no modern military and had little choice but to accept the treaty terms, terms which heavily favored the British and took advantage of China’s weakened state. For that reason, these negotiations were known as unequal treaties and many other western powers, including the United States, would secure their own unequal trade treaties with China. The first of these, the treaty of Nanking, was between the British and China and among other provisions, ceded the island of Hong Kong to Great Britain. Hong Kong remained a part of the British empire for over 100 years, until returned to China in 1997.
Great Britain modernized Hong Kong by building more contemporary infrastructures; however, not everybody was a fan of being a British subject. In 1899, residents of the village of Tam Kin staged a revolt, which was not put down for some months. Later, during World War II, Japan invaded mainland China and occupied Hong Kong for three and a half years, from 1941 to 1945. The population shrank from over 1.5 million to 600 thousand at the time they were liberated in August of 1945 by British and Chinese troops. A civil war between nationalist forces and communist forces on the mainland resumed when World War II ended resulting in the Chinese Communist Party taking control in 1949. Thousands of refugees fled mainland China to Hong Kong and thousands more flooded in during the 1950’s as a result of the failed Great Leap Forward campaign. The incoming refugees, as well as a trade embargo of goods from mainland China, helped turn Hong Kong into a vastly profitable center for industry and manufacturing. In the 1980’s, increasingly open relations between Great Britain and China prompted the British to begin preparations for the returning of Hong Kong to mainland China. Beijing promised to allow Hong Kong to retain its profitable capitalistic system and a great deal of independence.
In 1997, Hong Kong was returned to China and has thus far held to their end of the bargain. To this day, citizens of Hong Kong retain a great deal more freedom than their mainland counterparts, including freedom of the press. This has sparked some new problems. Some think Hong Kong should remain a part of China; after all they had been a part of China for far longer than under British rule. Despite the great degree of autonomy and freedom that many others simply don’t enjoy, some feel that Hong Kong isn’t democratic enough and should be an independent nation. Regardless, it will be a topic to address well into the future and of course, something to protest about.
Heidi Welte is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Navy Veteran.