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The Hong Kong protest worked

Written By: - Date published: 8:22 am, June 16th, 2019 - 20 comments
Categories: China, Free Trade, human rights, International - Tags:

Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has permanently suspended the legislative proposal to enable extradition of Hong Kong people to among other places mainland China.

Hundreds of thousands of people had taken to the streets of Hong Kong to oppose this bill. Previously she had not held back on criticizing them.

One may ask: why does politics between and Hong Kong and mainland China matter to us here in New Zealand?

Why would U.S. Presidential candidate Joe Biden state that: 

The extraordinary bravery shown by hundreds of thousands in Hong
Kong, marching for the civil liberties & autonomy promised by China is
inspiring. And the world is watching. All of us must stand in support
of democratic principles and freedom.”

Isn’t this just the usual U.S. anti-Chinese rhetoric?

To answer that dual question, let’s go both a little back, then forward, in time.

After Britain took over Hong Kong as a colony following trade and military wars, what they got was a lowly-populated set of rocky outcrops. Following British colonization, the population and wealth of the area exploded and grew particularly since WW2 into the dominant financial city of Asia outside of Japan. Even though most of its population came from mainland china, it evolved into a very different society from the mainland China that underwent a communist revolution in the 1950s.

The term of the lease that Britain signed with China back in 1897 was that the lease would expire after 99 years and would return to Chinese rule after that.

As that expiration date grew nearer, Britain and China began to negotiate on how much of the rule of law, civic society institutions, democratic responsiveness and membership, political independence, and other freedoms, would continue afterwards. Most of that kind of stuff was never even going to happen even under the modernisations of Deng Xiaopeng and successors.

Governor Patten of Hong Kong and the Chinese negotiators wangled out a
really important agreement that would enable the most prosperous Asian
city city in the world to be assured of its continued success.

The key passage from the Joint Declaration agreement, so far as the protestors of today are concerned, goes like this:

The current social and economic systems in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, and so will the lifestyle. Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief, will be enshrined by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate rights of inheritance, and foreign investment, will be protected under law.”

It’s pretty succinct, but it was in stone.

Human rights.

And this agreement was to stay in force for 50 years beyond 1997. That’s 2047 on the horizon there folks, not too far from 2020 next year.

This was read as a hopeful sign that the ‘One Country Two Systems’ model really was possible again after the massacres of Tianenmen Square in 1989.

So instead there remained Hong Kong as a territory that really remained its own independent little country. It was a little holdout right beside a massive empire in which measures of tolerance, accountability, civil society, and protection of the citizen from the state could flourish alongside economic prosperity.

For the first decade after handover, the central Chinese government respected all of that, and with good economic reason. In 1997, Hong Kong’s economy was worth US$120 billion, more than a quarter of the size of China’s entire economy.

But the growth of China’s coastal mega-cities have now engulfed and supplanted the economic power of Hong Kong, and its influence has diluted with it. Hong Kong’s share of the overall Chinese economy has gone from 27% in 1997 to just 3% today.

In 2014, a great uprising began on the streets of Hong Kong, in what was termed the Umbrella Revolution. It was crushed and its aims did not succeed. There were much greater controls put on who could run for government in Hong Kong.

Naturally, the Chinese government made sure that such unrest was seen
to be caused by having a multi-party representative government system.
Kinda the axiomatic definition of democracy: freedom to oppose and to
be an opposition.

And in recent years, the evening tv news starts with the Chinese national anthem from a choir (be still my heart TVNZ).

Last year the Asia news editor for the Financial Times in Hong Kong, Victor Mallet, was expelled. Sometimes the business community is prepared to turn against a thorn in their sides, but this particular expulsion made a lot of influential people concerned at the threat to One Nation Two Systems arrangement:

Hong Kong is definitely no longer the tail that wags the dog.

But the political awakening among those young protesters has grown in maturity and they are starting to stand for office, and growing into influential positions. As a corollary, across different surveys with different strengths, by far most people identify as Hong Konger rather than as Mainland Chinese.

Who knows, maybe the Chief Executive of Hong Kong is playing a longer game and assuming that integrating in other ways such as the great big marine highway that now connects Hong Kong, Macau and Zuhai.

Every year in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park there are peaceful vigils held for those who stood to completely reform China’s single-party government in Tianenmen Square.

This time on its 30th anniversary, they got a win, though who knows for how long. I think history will show that while it took 30 years, the Tianenmen martyrs and the Umbrella Movement exiles started something that was irreversible.

Of course this matters to anyone who trades between China and the United States because under the U.S. Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, the United States treats Hong Kong as a separate port and customs area as long as it is sufficiently independent from the mainland.

Cue a great big care-out enclave in the 2019 trade war, worth multiple billions of dollars to each other. And to us: upon that political difference built over 100 years lies a trade safe-haven and entry of our trade into China.

Hong Kong is still a massive financial and property and trade centre for the world and for China.

So that little pile of rock matters for us in a trade sense, as well as a political sense.

And in case we’re inclined to see precedent, this dual economic and democratic contest is watched closely in Taiwan, for very similar reasons.

One can but hope.

20 comments on “The Hong Kong protest worked”

  1. The Chairman 1

  2. Jenny - How to Get there? 2

    The popular myth that protest doesn't work, is a product of our education system and media.

    NZ is a test case.

    Per head of population, New Zealand had the highest number of protesters against the Vietnam war than any other country.
    US ships that came here from that US war for R&R and to engage in public relations, were greeted with massive protests.

    Compulsory military training, which was a precurser to conscription, had to be abandoned when protesters blocked the trains carrying the young men to Papakura military camp for military training when the trainees got off the trains and joined the protests.

    Australia brought in conscription for Vietnam New Zealand didn't.

    Protest works. Don't let anyone tell you it doesn't.

    • Peter Christchurh nz 2.1

      Yes Jenny, and the anti tour protests of 1981.

      Did not stop the tour at the time, but did result in the government and the Rugby Union never allowing another tour from apartheid South Africa.

    • mac1 2.2

      In 1968 we didn't get the Omega station because we demonstrated against the idea.

      One man in a political meeting locally kept calling out to Muldoon, "Give us your policy". Muldoon got so rattled by this advice from the floor about is personal attack style that a comment of his afterwards was next day's headline. "Blenheim-worst yet." He lost the election, and Marlborough went to Labour.

      Protest- speaking truth to power works.

      A big rally this year with mostly college and primary school students didn't affect the local MP much, but the government listened in the Budget. The PM when she was here met with some of those students concerned with the environment.

      • Peter Christchurh nz 2.2.1

        Protest probably works.when there is a clear cut issue and a tangible result aimed for.

        The climate change protests are usually a little nebulous in their goals and hypocritical (like why did all the protesters have cell phones and leave piles of garbage behind if they truly believed in their cause?). Hence, little public support. Hence they always fail.

  3. A 3

    All this does is delay the inevitable, but maybe they can hold out for a generation. Glad to hear that for now HK is ok.

  4. ScottGN 4

    IThis article in the NYTimes has an interesting take on what has transpired in Hong Kong over recent weeks. The business leaders who were briefed in the Legislative Council on the intention of the extradition law (and who were very quiet until last week) were, apparently, not told of its full intent, i.e. that Beijing would be getting the power to seize assets in HK and that foreign nationals would also be liable for extradition to China. Their angry, horrified reaction is most likely the real pressure that Carrie Lam has faced in recent days. Add to that the fact that it’s unclear if Beijing even wanted the extradition law in the first place and their thinly veiled exasperation with the Legislative Council and Mrs Lam and their hamfisted handling of the issue which has stymied their preferred introduction of increased national security laws in both HK and Macau at least in the short term.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/15/world/asia/china-hong-kong-politics.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

  5. Yes we know China wants to engulf the jewel that is HK , and its extend its territory's in full demonstration to the world, and wants to save face,… but after 100 or more years and many generations of family's that have grown up by and large removed from the goings on of mainland China?

    They are a completely different group such as European descended New Zealanders are to the people of the UK with their own unique culture and way of doing things…

    And then theres Taiwan, with Chinas menacing stance towards them… yes we know America has a finger in the pie and the Chinese want to cut that invasive finger right off, but it would seem to be a better move to grant independence , develop close relations with both , reap the financial rewards of that and gain another willing satellite if the worst comes to the worst…

    But I guess the political species don't like to think that way.

    Oh ,… and as for protests always working/ … sometimes they do and sometimes they dont, all depending on the ruthlessness of the people involved such as Ruth Richardson and her 1991 Employment Contracts Act….

    Defeat the Bill! The struggle against the Employment Contracts Bill, 1991

    https://iso.org.nz/2016/02/23/defeat-the-bill-the-struggle-against-the-employment-contracts-bill-1991/

  6. Rae 6

    Does anyone think that mainland China will just leave it at that? I sure don't. Next time they have a go it will be sneakier. Hong Kong people will need to remain on their mettle, probably for quite some time.

  7. SHG 7

    yes the Chinese Government sure does have a long track record of backing down in the face of protests

  8. Gosman 8

    The analysis from this person (who looks to be a lot closer to the actual situation) suggest that this is not the victory for people power that this posting makes out. It is in fact indicative of how far China has already subverted the unique character and seven fundamental freedoms of Hong Kong.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/16/hong-kong-not-china-yet-but-feared-grim-day-coming-ever-nearer

    Btw. Hong Kong was never leased by the British. It was given to them in perpetuity by the Chinese as a result of the Opium wars in the middle decades of the 19th Century . The New Territories were leased by the British from 1898. The trouble is Hong Kong could not exist separate from the New Territories so when the Chinese refused to renew the lease the British had to negotiate the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong.

  9. The bill has been 'suspended'. It will be back..just 'better communicated", and as long as Candidates for Leadership need to be pre approved by the Chinese Communist Party things will not change any time soon.

    “You can say it was a partial victory, in the sense she has halted this bill at this moment,” said the opposition lawmaker Charles Mok.

    “We are not celebrating. Many of us were still not satisfied that she hasn’t withdrawn it completely, and the way she talked about police [brutality].”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jun/15/hong-kong-leader-carrie-lam-extradition-bill-delay-protests-china

    • Peter Christchurch NZ 9.1

      Yes that is true, but most importantly news of these protests will have made there way to China. The Chinese government will no doubt be somewhat concerned, as it should be. The Tiananmen Square solution simply will not be possible in 2019. How much longer can the Chinese 'communism' system last?

      Try reading Xinhua, the mouth piece of the Chinese government. Not a mention of the protests. Pretty much the same in all the Chinese newspapers. The Chinese government just has not learned that the world has changed, and a news blackout can never be any more than partially effective in the modern world. My partner spoke to her niece in Jinan last night. Despite the news blackout and very restricted access to outside news sources, she was aware of the protests and the reasons for them.

  10. That_guy 10

    Wonderful moment but I'm skeptical. Carrie Lam is still there. Allegations of police brutality have not been addressed. I suspect she thinks of this as simply a pause to "better communicate" and to target and harass anyone identified as a "protest leader", with a view to reintroducing this at a later date.

    Failing that, the government of PRC will simply keep abducting people and saying "whaddayagonnado? Stop buying our stuff? lol"

    • Peter Christchurch NZ 10.1

      The government of the PRC is on borrowed time. Yeah, they can thumb their noses at the Chinese people, the UN and the rest of the world, but only for so long. The young of China are now well educated and travel and will, within a generation, kick out the corrupt old boys. Revolution number 2.

      If you look on Xinhua, Xi is unbelievably claiming that the UN has expressed gratitude to China for teaching them how to handle terroism in Xinjiang. Total 180 turnaround of the facts! The Uighurs of Xinjiang are about where the Jews of Germany were in the late 1930s.

      • That_guy 10.1.1

        The Uighurs of Xinjiang are about where the Jews of Germany were in the late 1930s.

        Yes, that's what I'm worried about.

        • Peter Christchurch NZ 10.1.1.1

          And once again the world watches. Says nothing. Does nothing.

          Chinas shear economic clout means we ignore this. Sooner the autonomous provinces of China break away, the better.

  11. That_guy 11

    If any further proof is required that the government of PRC are attempting to control the narrative by distributing a "PRC approved Chinese Version Of The Truth" within NZ media…

    https://www.newsroom.co.nz/2019/06/17/636037/chinese-nz-herald-retracts-misleading-article?fbclid=IwAR0ywojOV8lquWUpkEfF__xRminITCO7R4enyZyxhaR3rlev-c_ND5IYRyM

    Short version: the Chinese NZ Herald printed verbatim an article that is basically propoganda, with provably false claims.

    The story, which comes from the international edition of the People's Daily, a CCP-controlled newspaper and website, claimed recent protests in the city had been stirred by "foreign anti-China forces". It also used a much-debunked website to allege at least 860,000 people had signed a petition in support of the extradition law.

    • Mark 11.1

      "that the government of PRC are attempting to control the narrative"

      Well, if they are, so what. What's the big deal. Does not every government?

      The most amazing things about these protests is the restraint and humane response of the Hong Kong police and government. And the magnaminous response to essentially withdraw the bill.

      Imagine if crowds of this magnitude, throwing rocks and bricks and launching steel rods had tried to storm Capitol Hill or the White House etc. Would not like to fancy their chances – they would be getting far far worse than a whiff of tear gas.

      The fact is many jurisdictions extradite criminals to China, including Spain recently, and Taiwan itself extradites fugitives to the mainland and vice versa. Mainland China routinely extradites wanted fugitives back to Hong Kong, but Hong Kong does not reciprocate. This loophole is something that should be fixed.

      That was all the law change was about – to allow fugitives from Chinese law to be extradited to China. Nothing to do with China interfering in the running of Hong Kong.

      Yes, the whole matter was handled appallingly by the Chief Executive of HK, Carrie Lam, in terms of communications. But what is not noted is this was in response to an actual murder case, the parents of the victims whom repeatedly beseeched her to make changes to the law so that their dead daughter could get some justice. It was not some nefarious plot by China to undermine Hong Kong, as the Western press repeatedly tries to claim.

      Carrie Lam, to an unbiased observer, is a compassionate leader. Not a show-boater or a power obsessed political climber. When a young sufferer of a rare disease wrote to her asking for funding for an extremely costly drug, she took action, and got it funded.

      https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2135249/best-birthday-gift-rare-disease-patient-hong-kong

      Unlike our Jacinda who constantly tells us how 'kind' she is, but responds to similar requests here with a shrug of her shoulders, describing the matter as not a 'political decision' but a 'medical' one (what total baloney)

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