DISCUSSION: The Hong Kong protests, explained

For months, demonstrators in Hong Kong have been taking to the streets in massive protest.

The movement began over concerns about a proposed bill allowing Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to mainland China. It has evolved into a direct challenge to China's Communist Party rule over Hong Kong.

  • Watch the Wednesday morning segment above.

Here are the key points:

The extradition bill

  • Major protests began in June over concerns that Hong Kong was set to pass a bill allowing individuals to be extradited to mainland China.
  • The proposed law stoked fear that civil liberties currently enjoyed by Hong Kongers, but denied in mainland China, would be eroded.
    • Basic Law in Hong Kong guarantees that Chinese authorities cannot stifle dissent as they do across the mainland.
  • Defenders of the bill said it would target criminals in Hong Kong fleeing legal systems elsewhere.
    • Opponents fear the law would target not just criminals, but political activists as well.
  • Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam insisted the bill would not apply to issues of free speech, but protesters were unconvinced.
  • In response to initial protests, the bill was suspended, but it has not been withdrawn.
  • Read more: What Is Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill?

One country, two systems

  • Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when it was transferred to China under a “one country, two systems” arrangement.
  • “One country, two systems” would allow Hong Kong to continue functioning as it had been, with its own independent legal system and police force.
  • The arrangement was set to last for 50 years.
  • The proposal of the extradition bill was the latest move to concern democracy activists.
    • Earlier this year, a bill was proposed that would criminalize Hong Kongers for disrespecting the Chinese national anthem.
  • Read more: What is China’s “one country, two systems” policy?

The protests

  • Began in April as a peaceful demonstration against the government.
  • They have evolved into a direct challenge to China’s Communist Party rule over Hong Kong.
  • Protests began as weekend marches in the streets, but have become a daily phenomenon with increasingly violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
  • In June, 2 million people reportedly took part in what was likely the largest protest in Hong Kong’s history.

The demonstrators have five key demands

  • The complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill
  • The government to withdraw the use of the word “riot” in relation to protests
  • The unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped
  • An independent inquiry into police behavior
    • Police in Hong Kong have been accused of using excessive force against protesters by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at close range.
    • Hong Kong residents have posted videos and photos of alleged police violence on Twitter with hashtags such as #AbolishHKPF and HKPoliceState.
  • Implementation of genuine universal suffrage 

Other developments

  • On July 1, protesters forced their way into the legislature.
    • Demonstrations occur annually on July 1--the date Britain gave up control of Hong Kong in 1997.
    • The annual demonstrations are organized by activists who want to preserve Hong Kong’s status. This year’s July 1 demonstrations were amplified by the extradition bill.
  • Demonstrators in Hong Kong’s international airport began blocking travelers last week, forcing airlines to cancel and reschedule hundreds of flights.
    • China has labeled the demonstrations as “near terrorism.”
    • At least two men were set upon by protesters--accused of being undercover police--after authorities admitted they had deployed officers disguised as protesters.
  • China’s armed police force was seen conducting exercises near the Hong Kong border Friday in what some have interpreted as a threat.
  • It was confirmed Wednesday that an employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong has been detained in mainland China.
    • Simon Cheng, 28, a Hong Kong citizen, was detained while crossing the border into Hong Kong from China.
    • He is accused of violating China’s Security Administration Punishment Law. No specifics have been given about his alleged wrongdoing.

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