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Hong Kong: From a self-governing territory and world financial center to a satellite of the Chinese regime

Hong Kong is a former British colony declared autonomous territory since 1997. This status has allowed it to develop and become one of the most important financial centers in the world. But the Chinese regime in recent years has ceased to respect the “non-intervention” agreements, penetrating more and more into the political, economic, and social affairs of the island. As a result, Hong Kong has lost its international prestige status, and the West is no longer relying on the city as one of its strategic allies in Asia.

There have been many angles from which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has penetrated and taken control of Hong Kong. Still, it was mainly since the imposition of the controversial National Security Law in June 2020 that the regime made its intervention in the city official.

Since then, it has not stopped in its attempt to control and suppress the independent press, political dissent, and all aspects that promote freedom and rejection of communist policies. 

One Country Two Systems

After several years of negotiations, in 1997, Britain and the Chinese regime managed to agree on the future of Hong Kong. As a result, the British handed over the prosperous island city to the communist regime under the “Sino-British Declaration,” based on the principles of “one country, two systems.” 

After 156 years as a British colony, Hong Kong became part of the Chinese communist orbit. Under the agreement, Beijing would handle defense and foreign affairs, but the “people of Hong Kong” would manage their internal affairs with “a high degree of autonomy” for at least another fifty years.

The agreement stipulated that Hong Kong would retain its capitalist economic system and currency, the Hong Kong dollar. The same would apply to its legal system, legislative system, human rights, and freedoms enjoyed by its citizens. 

Despite the promises made to the international community, from the beginning of the transfer of power, some critics denounced that the CCP constantly failed to comply with the explicit and implicit agreements on how China would govern Hong Kong and what civil rights its people would enjoy, as established in the “Sino-British Declaration.”

With the coming to power of Chief Executive Carrie Lam in 2017, the central authorities of the Chinese regime have tightened controls drastically to the current status quo. 

As a result, China has succeeded in crushing political dissent, eroding the legal system inherited from the common law, and eliminating acquired civil rights.

Anti-regime protests and demands for Hong Kong’s independence have grown over the past 20 years, leading to violent demonstrations, mainly by young people who refuse to accept the CCP’s forcefully imposed rules. 

An intolerant Beijing reacted by declaring that the law and order problem in Hong Kong could undermine the entire nation’s security. And with that argument, it imposed a series of harsh laws that ended any hope that a “high degree” of autonomy could last until the 2047 target.

Hong Kong’s growth and development as a global financial powerhouse

After World War II, Hong Kong became a critical link between the Chinese communist regime and the major economies of the West. This allowed the city to steadily develop into a true economic powerhouse.

While Hong Kong implemented an accelerated development from the textile industry after 1950 based on a free market economy, Western powers such as Great Britain and the United States used the city to link with the Chinese communist regime. They developed deep businesses despite being the great political and ideological enemy as was communist Russia at that time.

By 1997, Hong Kong was no longer simply a highly developed textile industry territory. Instead, it had transformed itself into one of the world’s leading commercial, financial, and business centers within a few decades.

Although relatively small in terms of population, about 7.39 million people, slightly smaller than Switzerland, and an area of 1095 square kilometers, about one-third larger than New York City, Hong Kong had become an economic powerhouse, with a GDP equivalent to $155 billion and banking assets valued at more than $1 trillion in 1996, according to data provided by the International Monetary Fund.

These achievements took place within a framework of economic policies of stability and minimal government intervention. The authorities traditionally provided a legal and administrative framework and part of the physical infrastructure. At the same time, the private sector decided how to allocate resources following the clear signals of a free and transparent market.

Student protests

During the 2000s and 2010s, protests against the advance of the Chinese communist regime in the former British colony increased with increasing violence. But it was not until the arrival of Executive Director Carrie Lam in 2017 that the protests became truly massive and with international reach and support.

Clashes between police and activists became increasingly violent, with repressive police firing lead bullets and protesters attacking officers and throwing Molotov cocktails.

The people were protesting against controversial laws that the communist regime was trying to impose through Hong Kong’s rulers to “legalize” the regime’s meddling in various matters affecting citizens’ freedoms, the BBC reported at the time.

The regime’s legislation was trying to impose the possibility of extraditing Hong Kong citizens to Mainland China for prosecution. However, opponents interpreted it as a huge risk of exposing them to unfair trials and violent treatment, getting hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest.

On October 1, 2019, as China celebrates 70 years of Communist Party rule, Hong Kong was experiencing one of its “most violent and chaotic days” in history.

While in Mainland China, the CCP tried to impose an image of national unity with a parade of more than 15 thousand soldiers and the entire state propaganda apparatus, demonstrators in Hong Kong took to the streets to protest against the regime, and the police responded by firing lead bullets.

The leader of the Chinese regime, Xi Jinping, warned against separatism and said that any attempt to divide China would end in “crushed bodies and bones reduced to dust.”

The protests continued and came to a head in the weeks leading up to June 20, 2020, when the regime announced the passage of the controversial National Security Bill, through which the Chinese Communist regime succeeded in legalizing its intervention in a wide range of Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

National Security Law

The legislature of the Chinese regime passed the so-called “national security law” for Hong Kong in June 2020. The legislation allows the central government in Beijing to establish a national security bureau in Hong Kong, whose task is to confront “subversion of state power, terrorism, separatism and conspiracies with foreign forces.” 

The scope of these tasks is so abstract that it is ultimately up to the authorities to subjectively determine at their whim what failure to comply with these matters entails. This is how they have managed during the last months to position any dissident voice in illegality, silencing the opposition.

The measure succeeded in making legal the interference of the Chinese communist regime in the internal affairs of the island city to control under its orbit any political dissent in the territory.

The law severely limits freedom of expression in Hong Kong. It allows the authorities to apprehend suspects in the city and try them in Mainland China, where complaints abound about the non-existence of minimum rights for political prisoners and dissidents.

It also provides for the creation of a kind of secret police, which would act directly under the orders of the CCP, placing the territory under the same authoritarian rules as Mainland China.

On June 30, 2020, bypassing Hong Kong’s Parliament, Beijing finally imposed the controversial law whose 66 articles were kept secret until after its approval, reported the BBC.

Since that time, the CCP’s power over the city of Hong Kong has been virtually unchecked. The crimes of “secession, subversion, terrorism, and conspiracy with foreign forces” are punishable by a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The delicate interpretation of what breaching these matters entails is in the hands of members of the Chinese regime.

It should be noted that the National Security Law is above any Hong Kong legislation, so there is no local regulation that Hong Kong citizens can use to avoid being affected by the abuses imposed by the Chinese regime.

“It is clear that the law will have a severe impact on the freedom of speech, if not personal safety, of Hong Kong people,” Professor Johannes Chan, a lawyer at the University of Hong Kong, told the BBC before the law was passed.

“Effectively, they are imposing the PRC (Peoples Republic of China) criminal system on Hong Kong’s common law system, leaving them total discretion to decide who should fall under which system,” Professor Chan added.

Persecution of the media

Predictably, the Chinese regime used the National Security Law as a legal tool to persecute and eliminate opposition media and independent journalists who criticized the repressive policies of the CCP and its accomplices inside Hong Kong. 

The communist regime acted unabashedly to eliminate even the leading opposition media.

Such is the case of the anti-communist media Apple Daily, whose founder Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy leader, was imprisoned with other Human Rights activists and newspaper managers during 2021.

The board of directors of Apple Daily, following the arrests of several of its leaders, including its founder Jimmy Lai, on June 24, 2021, announced that it would stop publishing both its print edition and the digital version of the anti-communist newspaper, according to an official company statement.

For the past 26 years, the Hong Kong media outlet conducted defiant investigations into Beijing’s political influence on the island, resulting in strong editorials in favor of democratic reforms in Hong Kong and denouncing the atrocities and corruption of the communist regime’s leaders, which provoked the CCP’s wrath. 

The regime’s authorities argued for the persecution of the Apple Daily media, saying it was provoked by articles and columns written during the last year that allegedly support international sanctions against China, which, following the new National Security legislations, is an opinion that is considered illegal.

Before imprisoning its executives, the regime had managed to demonetize the newspaper by blocking its bank accounts and sources of financing. Faced with this situation, readers tried to support by donating money and buying ads, reported Daily Caller. Still, the situation was unsustainable, and they finally decided to close the publishing house.

In December 2021, another of the few remaining pro-democracy media outlets in operation, Stand News, had to close its doors and cancel its publications after more than 200 police raided its offices, in addition to freezing its assets and jailing its executives for alleged “seditious publication” offenses, Reuters reported.

Just hours after the raid, Stand News announced that it would cease operations. Currently, its website is inaccessible, and its Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts have been deleted. In addition, all videos from its YouTube channel were also deleted.

Much of the international community reacted against the regime’s totalitarian measures, although they could do little about it. 

The United Nations (UN) said it was alarmed by the “extremely rapid closing of the civic space and outlets for Hong Kong’s civil society to speak and express themselves freely.”

In the same vein, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called on Beijing and the Hong Kong government to immediately release media personnel arrested during the raids.

In an official statement, Blinken said: “We call on PRC and Hong Kong authorities to cease targeting Hong Kong’s free and independent media and to immediately release those journalists and media executives who have been unjustly detained and charged.”

The CCP’s censorship since the imposition of the National Security Law has grown exponentially. Just as it succeeded in shutting down the most important pro-democracy newspapers, it also silenced most independent journalists, influencers, and professionals who issued critical speeches against the regime. 

They also tightened censorship of film productions, further restricting the movies that can be distributed and broadcast in the city through legislation banning the screening of films deemed “contrary to national security,” AP News reported.

Fraudulent elections

The so-called Basic Law of Hong Kong, signed in 1997 as part of the British Sino-British agreement, establishes the guarantees for its citizens to enjoy free and democratic elections to elect their political representatives in parliament.

This delicate point could not be overlooked by the communist leaders, who did their best to eliminate all transparent and prosperous democracy guarantees. 

Thus, in early 2021, the Chinese parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a controversial bill aimed at increasing Beijing’s control over Hong Kong’s weakened electoral system. In doing so, they ensured that Hong Kong’s regime opponents and those advocating independence from the CCP would be affected, with absolute restrictions on their ability to participate in politics. 

The electoral reform further reduced democratic representation in the former British colony and introduced a mechanism through which the CCP examines the “loyalty of politicians” to the Chinese regime. They seek to guarantee that only the so-called “patriots” can govern Hong Kong. That is to say, through the imposition of law, it was possible to eliminate all types of opposition to the Chinese communist regime, Fox News reported.

Until then, half of the 70 seats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, known as LegCo, were directly elected by voters. The other half represents industries, trade unions, and professionals and is filled with pro-communist regime members.

Through electoral reform, Beijing increased the legislature’s size to 90 seats, adding 20 that are not democratically elected, thus reducing the proportion of eligible legislators.

On Sunday, December 19, 2021, Hong Kong held its parliamentary election. But with the foremost opposition leaders in prison and electoral reform already in place, the results were a forgone conclusion.

“For the Hong Kong people there are not many choices now but to accept illegitimate elections. The parliament is going to be a rubber stamp for Beijing and this election carries no democratic element at all,” former lawmaker Ted Hui said from exile, The Guardian reported

Reflecting widespread disappointment and outright rejection of the measures implemented by the regime in recent months, only 30.2% of the electorate turned out to vote, highlighting the disbelief of the population in the elections organized by the Chinese communist regime.

Turnout in Hong Kong’s recent elections was the lowest in its history since 1997, reported CNBC.

Exodus as a result of CCP oppression

Hong Kong is experiencing a historic exodus of its inhabitants. Public statistics recently indicated that its population has declined by 1.2% during 2021. The control, repression, and limitation of freedoms that the Chinese regime is imposing since it decreed the National Security Law in 2020 would be the leading cause of the massive abandonment by its inhabitants.

After many years in which Hong Kong achieved constant growth and economic development, accompanied by better welfare for its citizens and a logical population increase, now, political repression has caused a substantial population fall due to the emigration of thousands of young people and entire families, reported the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

The population fell to 7.39 million, down 1.2% from the previous measurement. This decline is the largest since the local population saw the first signs of a downward trend in mid-2020, by 0.3% year-on-year.

Before these declines, at least from 2003 onwards, Hong Kong’s population grew every year at a rate varying between 0.2% and 1.1%.

Experts in social demography, such as Paul Yip Siu-fai, a renowned professor at the University of Hong Kong, called the trend “alarming” and said that part of the decline was due to a sharp increase in net migration in addition to a minimal birth rate.

Professor Yip warned of the problems that the mass exodus of human capital that Hong Kong’s big city is suffering could create in the short term. 

“If you go to the airport, you will see that young and middle-aged families are moving out,” adding, “When they leave Hong Kong, they are taking their skills and capital out of Hong Kong … our aging will be more acute than ever.”

Countries such as Britain, Canada, and the United States announced new ways to facilitate residency for Hong Kong citizens escaping China’s communist regime.

The United Kingdom introduced a new visa scheme. It promised a path to citizenship for up to 3 million Hong Kong residents who hold or are eligible for a British nationality passport.

Conclusions and prospects

The Chinese communist regime was extremely successful in its strategic plan with Hong Kong. During the first years after making a pact with Great Britain to cede its former colony, it maintained a certain degree of independence in the territory. It took full advantage of it as a link to penetrate the West, which allowed it to achieve enormous economic growth and development. 

Now that its economy has managed to establish itself in the entire world, generating an absolute dependence in the supply chain of most countries, the regime did not hesitate to do everything to suppress political and social dissent throughout its territory, including Hong Kong. 

While there were some attempts by the international community to condemn and reject the actions of the communist regime in Hong Kong, nothing was forceful enough to bring about any change.

The prospects for the freedoms of the Hong Kong people and the development of their democratic system are not optimistic. It seems that only a joint and decisive action led by the major Western powers could put enough pressure to bring about any real change. Unfortunately for the people of Hong Kong, no such movement seems to be in the making so far.

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