History of Hong Kong (HK)
The significant part of HK history goes back to the Sino-Britain Opium War (1839 to 1842). China (Qing) lost and signed Nanjing Treaty ceding HK to Great Britain for 100 years. The subsequent Second Opium War (1856-1860) with France joining the British weakened Qing government further with unequal trade treaty opening duty-free ports and unfair trading agreements. Since then HK had become the jewel of the Orient benefiting the U.K. financially and her colonial empire in the East. The Nanjing Treaty opened the flood gate of future unequal treaties including the most infamous Eight Nation Alliance (including the U.S. and Japan) invading China resulting in looting Beijing and the unequal Beijing Treaty, requiring China to pay an indemnity of $335 million (over $4 billion in current dollars) plus interest over a period of 39 years. Author Kenneth Clark stated: "Following the taking of Peking, troops from the international force looted the capital city and even ransacked the Forbidden City, with many Chinese treasures finding their way to Europe.” This invasion had emboldened Japan to contemplate a plan to conquer China in the following years.
Return of HK to China
The sovereign and administrative arrangement of the British colony HK had to be reset after 1 July 1997, when the lease of the New Territories was set to expire according to the Convention for the Extension of HK Territory. In 1984, British Prime Minister, Margret Thatcher met with Chinese leader, Deng Xiao Ping, for discussing the return of HK. Then a declaration was signed by Premier Zhao Ziyang of PRC and Prime Minister Thatcher of the U.K., entered into force on 5-27-1985, and registered at the UN on 6-12-1985. The Joint Declaration stated that PRC had decided to resume the exercise of sovereignty over HK and adjacent territories effective 7-1-1997, and the UK Government would hand over HK to the PRC on such day. The PRC Government also declared its basic policies regarding HK according to the "one country, two systems” principle and agreed with the U.K. that the socialist system of PRC would not be practiced in the HK Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and HK's previous capitalist system and its way of life would remain unchanged for a period of 50 years until 2047 to be stipulated in the HK Basic Law.
The Nature of HK City
HK was a free trading port ever since its colonial days (over 100 years). HK is one of the most densely populated cities in the world, with more than 6,300 people per square kilometer, understandably with the world's lowest birth rate (1.1085 per 1000 people, 2018, and 1.1027, 2019 far below the replacement rate of 2.1). HK has a good healthcare system but a fast aging population. HK has a modern education system, however, with a strong colonial legacy influence. HK’s per capita GDP is $48,717 in 2018, an impressive figure, however, HK has a serious ever widening wealth gap problem (The 2016 figures showed that the richest 10% of households – with a median monthly income of HK$112,450 – earned 44 times more than the poorest 10% making an average of HK$2,560 per month). The HK tycoons pretty much own everything, properties, industries, financial institutions and media. (Four families own 90-95% of land). HK is a financial center, free trading port and a tourist city. HK served as a conduit of the West to the East, a beneficial city to the West and to a 'sanctioned' China. But China’s rapid development is making a complex psychological impact on HK people, a different ‘fear’ among HK elites (some with dual citizenship) and low-income citizens (most poor immigrants). HK gradually feels less important in her role as a financial center and free trade city.
HK Peaceful Protests Turning Violent
The democratic political system in HK was hastily established by the British before its handover back to China. HK had no democracy under British rule, but it has a democratic law-abiding government now except its HKSAR Chief Executive is elected by a HK commission and appointed by the central government of China (versus a British Governor appointed by the British Queen). HK’s judicial system was inherited from the British System and was stacked with judges still holding British passports or dual citizenship. HK people have voting rights to elect their Council Legislators and have more freedom than most citizens of other Asian countries, perhaps even more freedom than Americans as seen from their frequent protests now becoming very violent. The HK court system held a very lenient attitude towards riots. Under British rule, protests were rigorously prohibited, but under HK self-rule, HK protesters seem to exhibit a ‘proud and selfish’ attitude towards their government making demands. The recent protest over extradition law revision not only lasted very long (over six months) but evolved into violent riots demanding resignation of Chief Executive and suffrage right, and became more frequent but with less mass participation. These riots have grabbed headlines of world media and given excuses and opportunities to internal and external forces to fan the HK unrest for various purposes.
Analysis and Reasons for HK’s Riots
HKSAR had several protests in two decades but they were generally peaceful and dissolved rationally. This year’s protest prolonged into riots was first triggered by the government’s proposed extradition law to include Taiwan and Mainland to HK’s existing extradition agreement, a logical and legal proposal. A HK youth who murdered his girlfriend in Taiwan and escaped back to HK to avoid prosecution was a clear case leading to HK government’s proposal. Numerous analyses including the author’s articles have appeared in HK and international media. This paper summarizes various reasons contributing to the HK protest/violence as follows:
1. Large concentration of international spies in HK (obviously hate extradition) instigated the initial protest.
2. Losing economic superiority to neighboring Mainland cities and Mainland shoppers’ crazy buying in HK stores created animosity.
3. HK has a serious wealth gap problem, worst of all, four tycoon family owns 90-95% of HK’s land.
4. Colonial legacy left in society especially in education, textbook and history distorted, false superiority/pride, elites holding British citizenship, anti-communism becoming anti-China.
5. Tycoons (who control elites, industries, banks, properties, and media), not the common folks, want suffrage right so the tycoons can control the entire government through suffrage rather than just a few legislators now.
6. HK elites have strong links to U.K. and U.S. with lobbying ability. For example, Apple Daily newspaper founder Li Zai Yin had personal audience with Pence, young activists and lobbyists greeted by Marco Rubio (R) and Nancy Pelosi (D). This somewhat legitimized the HK riots.
7. HK media was controlled and biased leading to fake news in the West media, creating a twisted world image for HK, inflaming violence, until truth came out of Internet from citizens and eyewitnesses. Now the hidden supporters don’t know how to end the blossomed violence. No leaders can be identified to do the negotiation with government.
8. China’s conduct was surprising even to Trump who suggested Xi to send in troops to squash the riots like the U.S. would do. But China exhibited extreme patience. It might have worked, the truth eventually changed world media and led majority of HK people sympathetic to the police and the government.
9. The riots contained anger which was related to reasons above creating a complex psychology, superiority and inferiority complex, and fear for the future (witnessing the rapid rise of Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou), somewhat similar to some Western people's fear China of and China threat sentiment.
10. Many youth (13-14-year-olds) engaged in the violence like playing violent video games. A biological effect - crowding - (HK poor’s living condition the worst for a developed region) could be a hidden reason for HK's illogical violence (Monkey and rat experiments had proven crowding causing insanity and violence).
Future of Hong Kong
unfortunately the HK protests happened when US-China are engaging in a trade negotiation. The U.S. politicians think they can exploit the HK situation (lobbying money is tempting, but HK is watching the money flow now). Hence, we have the HKHRD Act. But HK is not lacking freedom nor democracy but future prospect! It has a democratic system. The only difference is that the HK executive has more independent power than Mayor of NY (Bill de Blasio), London, LA, or Paris. She even controls her own currency. Historically HK is always a part of China, a city. If HK people really just want a suffrage vote and accept being a city of China, China would modify the political system immediately just like she would flexibly accept Taiwan as a province with democracy.
But the external forces and internal elites are wishfully hoping HK could be an ‘independent’ city country under their control. That is as unrealistic as New York or San Francisco wanting to be independent. It won’t happen even if a bloody war would occur. HK’s future depends on China's steady reform. So far, China seems to be doing the right thing. Find out the real trouble maker in the background and apply HK law to deal with them, in the mean time, the HK government will focus on its social policies, such as housing. (By the way, HK healthcare is one of the best in the world, especially on drug coverage, covering the $75000/yr Biogene’s Spinraza.) A recent news, one of the four tycoon families donated 30,000 acres land to the government for public housing development. This may be a sign, the Tycoons finally woke up. I think HK will be fine eventually; the U.S. or U.K. or China will not make HK a war zone, because everyone has too much to lose!