FAQ on Hong Kong: A Guide for the Perplexed
The phrase “Hong Kong” seems to appear on news headlines quite frequently recently. For those who have not been following the situation in Hong Kong closely, they can sometimes appear perplexing or even unintelligible. What’s going on in Hong Kong? Why do Hongkongers sometimes react in the way they did? What can I do if I want to offer a hand?
This is what I am going to discuss in this brief guide. While the views are strictly my own, I believe they do represent the views of the majority of my fellow Hongkongers as well. If you want to ask more questions, or discuss any of my answers below, please feel free to DM or tag me (@thomashoylehk) on Twitter.
Why should I care about Hong Kong?
Before reading on, you may be wondering, why should I care about Hong Kong? I suggest that there are at least 2 reasons. Morally, Hongkongers, a civilised and freedom-loving people, are now being crushed by the oppressing hands of an autocratic if not totalitarian regime called the Chinese Communists (see below for further details). In the memorable words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil….Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” It is therefore incumbant on anyone with a conscience to speak out against the oppression on Hongkongers. This is particularly so if one has a moral or legal duty to guarantee the way of life of Hongkongers, e.g. the UK government.
Strategically, Hong Kong is also a bastion of freedom, not dissimilar to that of Berlin in the Cold War. If the Free World allows Hong Kong to fall to the Communists, it will only allow or even encourage them to expand further, into Taiwan, South East Asia and the Pacific, or even India and beyond. One must remember the lessons learned in the Second World War: the expansion urge of a dictator could never be satisfied by a victory or invasion (e.g. Czechoslovakia) or appeasement (e.g. the Munich Agreement). We may not want conflicts, but sometimes we need to fight and defend ourselves against an invasion, metaphorically or otherwise.
What is Hong Kong?
Hong Kong was a British Colony from 1841 to 1997. It can be broadly divided into 3 parts: Hong Kong Island (“the Island”), the Kowloon Peninsula (“Kowloon”), and the New Territories. The first two parts were ceded to the British Crown in 1841/1842 and 1860, while the last part was leased to the Crown in 1898 for 99 years. During this time, it developed from a fishing village into an international financial hub.
In 1984, the UK Government and the Chinese Government reached an agreement (the Joint Declaration) to return Hong Kong (all 3 parts) to China in 1997. Since then, it has been a Special Administrative Region of China.
The native dialect of Hongkongers is Cantonese instead of Putonghua of China. We also write in Traditional Han characters instead of Simplified Chinese characters in China. The English proficiency of a Hongkonger is also generally much higher than an ordinary Chinese.
What is the Joint Declaration?
Since the New Territories (as opposed to Island and Kowloon) were only leased to the British until 1997, as that date loomed, the British wanted to have an explicit agreement with the Chinese as to how to deal with Hong Kong then. After a few years of negotiation, they eventually came to a legally-binding (and later UN-registered) agreement known as “the Sino-British Joint Declaration” in 1984.
Under the Joint Declaration, the British agreed to hand Hong Kong over to the Chinese in 1997, on the condition that the common law and capitalist system of Hong Kong had to remain unchanged (and thus distinct from the Chinese system) for at least 50 years. This came to be known as the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement. The Joint Declaration also provides for the fundamental freedoms and human rights of Hongkongers.
China has since then declared that the Joint Declaration has become a historical document and is thus obsolete. But as the UK Government repeatedly insists, the Joint Declaration is still a legally-binding, and UN-registered, international treaty between the two governments.
What is “One Country, Two Systems”?
See above for “What is the Joint Declaration?”
What is going on in Hong Kong?
In early 2019, the puppet administration of the Chinese Communists in Hong Kong sought to introduce an Extradition Law in Hong Kong which would allow the Chinese Communists to extradite political dissidents in Hong Kong to China. It would also oblige everyone in Hong Kong, not only Hong Kong citizens, to observe Chinese law, lest one be extradited to China for trial.
Unsurprisingly, this has provoked massive protests in Hong Kong since June 2019 to this day. The Extradition Bill was only shelved a few months into the protests. In the meantime, excessive police violence and atrocities became a commonplace occurrence in Hong Kong, including the co-operation of the Police and triad gangs who were then allowed to assault passengers and passers-by in a metro station (July 2019), beating up passengers in another metro station by the Police themselves (August 2019), laying siege to two University campuses by the Police (November 2019) and many mysterious deaths of protestors who were suspected to have been killed by the Police.
In the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremonial Chinese National People’s Congress (“NPC”) announced on 21 May 2020 that it would seek to unilaterally impose a new national security law on Hong Kong, in an attempt to quell these almost 1-year-long protests and to tighten its grip on Hong Kong. The new law will allow state agents from China to come to Hong Kong to silence any dissenting voices which are perceived to undermine the authority of the Communist Party in Hong Kong. It will also seek to introduce “patriotic education” for the children of Hong Kong which will teach them to support the Communist regime uncritically. This is a flagrant breach of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle, undermining both Hong Kong’s independent legislative and law enforcement powers, and the fundamental freedoms and human rights of its people. This has become a new locus of local protests and international condemnations.
The National Security Law was passed by NPC on 28 May 2020. Further details of the Law will be hammered out by the Standing Committee of NPC later.
What’s wrong with a National Security Law?
China claims that many countries also have a national security law, and therefore there is nothing to be alarmed about. This cannot be further from the truth. This is because in the Chinese Communist lexicon, “national security” can mean many things that would not normally be considered as a matter of national security in other civilised countries: for instance, speaking your mother tongue (e.g. Tibetan), mocking the government, protesting, publishing books or newspaper, worshipping God/gods, expressing your (dissenting) political views, or, telling the truth (e.g. exposing the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan).
In a sense, one may even say that “national security” means anything but that in China. No one has been arrested or sentenced for overthrowing the Chinese Communist regime, but many have been for just exercising their civil and political rights. In other words, A Chinese national security law is just a disguised means to crush the freedoms and way of life of Hongkongers. This is why it causes so much alarm, concern, and worry among Hongkongers and beyond.
What’s wrong with imposing a law on Hong Kong?
Under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement, Hong Kong has a separate legal system from that of China. The law of Hong Kong can only be enacted or amended by its own legislature (statutes) or the courts (common law). To impose a law on Hong Kong in relation to a matter within the autonomy of Hong Kong means that there is no longer “two (legal) systems”, as China can now directly enact a Chinese law for Hong Kong. This is a flagrant breach of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle enshrined in the Joint Declaration. This is also a violation of the express provision (Article 18) of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution of Hong Kong.
While China claims that national security is a matter outside the scope of autonomy of Hong Kong, one only needs to look at Article 23 of the Basic Law to refute this argument. According to Article 23, it is the responsibility of Hong Kong to enact such a national security law. There cannot be a clearer indication that this is a matter well within the autonomy of Hong Kong.
What are the international responses to this so far?
To my knowledge, these are some of the major international responses so far:
- Our former Governor Lord Patten of Barnes has led a group of 739 Parliamentarians from 36 countries (as of 1 June 2020) to condemn the “flagrant breach” of the Joint Declaration;
- The UK, Canadian and Australian Foreign Ministers have issued a Joint Statement on 22 May 2020 to express their deep concern at the introduction of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. The Statement also clearly states that such a move “clearly undermine the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’” and that the Joint Declaration is legally binding;
- The UK, US, Canadian and Australian Foreign Ministers again issued a Joint Statement on 28 May 2020 condemning China’s imposition of the National Security Law on Hong Kong as a “direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration.”;
- The EU also express its grave concern at the imposition of the National Security Law on Hong Kong, which “are not in conformity with its international commitments (Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984) and the Hong Kong Basic Law”.
- Taiwan also offered its support to Hongkongers;
- The UK will re-consider the status of about 2.9 million Hongkongers who are also British Nationals (Overseas)(more on that below) if China insists on the imposition of the National Security Law on Hong Kong;
- US President Donald Trump has announced on 29 May 2020 that the US will “begin the process of eliminating policy exemptions that give Hong Kong different and special treatment”. The US will also “take necessary steps to sanction PRC [China] and Hong Kong officials directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy and…..smothering, absolutely smothering Hong Kong’s freedom.” Speaker Pelosi also issued a statement in response to the President’s statement.
Why are Hongkongers celebrating the cancellation of privileged status by the US?
This is because Hongkongers came to realise that the only way to break free from the strangle of China is to bring down the Communist regime. One of the ways to do that is to metaphorically choke the only window China has to the outside world, namely, Hong Kong itself. According to the Economist, most Chinese foreign direct investment still flows through Hong Kong. Not to mention that Hong Kong has been a favourite secret channel for the Chinese Communists to transfer their bribery money to the safe outside world.
In a sense, Hong Kong remains the only international financial centre of China, largely due to the fact that it has a separate legal system and the privileged status and policy exemptions granted to Hong Kong by the US and others. If these policy exemptions are withdrawn, it may be a block to the “airway” of China and thus a death blow on the already-crumbling economy of China that many Hongkongers have hoped for.
Hongkongers of course realised what this would entail for ourselves, but we are willing to accept this in the spirit of a Greek tragedy hero. This is because we have determined to bring down the Chinese Communists regime at all costs. In the local Cantonese dialect, we call this “laam chau”, which can roughly be translated as “if we burn, you burn with us” (cf. Hunger Games). Many Hongkongers, including myself, therefore see this revocation of privileged status by the US as a light of hope that China may finally begin to fall apart.
However, we also believe that like the mythological phoenix, Hong Kong will be reborn after this.
Are all Hongkongers also British Nationals (Overseas)(“BN(O”)?
No. Only those Hongkongers who were born during the colonial days could be BN(O)s. Therefore, the youngest British National (Overseas) is already almost 23 years old. In fact, many of the young freedom fighters on the streets right now are not BN(O)s because they were only born after 1997; while many of those who oppress them or in open support of the Chinese Communists are. It is a grave mistake to treat “British National (Overseas)” as synonymous with “Hongkongers”, or at least the Hongkongers in need of British support.
This is why I argued that if the UK Government wants to give a lifeboat to Hongkongers (for which we are grateful), there should be a kind of reviewing system to identify who were, or may be persecuted by the Chinese Communists, instead of simply changing the status of BN(O)s in Hong Kong.
What else can the UK do to help Hong Kong?
As essential as giving Hongkongers a lifeboat is, it would be even better if they didn’t need it. I therefore urge the UK government to
- take the Chinese Communists to an international court for its violation of the legally-binding Joint Declaration;
- impose Magnitsky sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who erode the autonomy of Hong Kong;
- review the British citizenship of the Hong Kong officials (and their families) and revoke them after such review;
- hinge any trade agreements with China on its compliance with the Joint Declaration and other basic norms of the current world order;
- join the US in its efforts to combat the global bullying of China. The UK may also exercise its influence to co-ordinate such efforts.
What can I do for Hong Kong?
Thank you for asking this question. If you are currently residing in a democratic Western country, the easiest way to help is to contact your democratic representative(s) (e.g. a MP in the UK, or a Congress(wo)man/Senators in the US) to express your concern and demand them to follow up with real actions (e.g. sanctions on China). You may also ask them to sign Lord Patten of Barnes’s statement.
Do you have other questions about Hong Kong that you want me to answer? If so, contact me on Twitter!
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