For over a year, the world has watched as battles over Hong Kong’s future have shifted from the courts and the ballot box to the streets. Demonstrations, sometimes violent, have been met with both ineffectual concessions and repressive crackdowns. But this month, with the deployment of Beijing’s new National Security Law for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), the Chinese government has given itself powerful tools to shut down dissent.
The result is what some have described as “the end of Hong Kong” as an autonomous entity, 23 years after the British handover, and 27 years before China’s promise to maintain a “One Country, Two Systems”—established by Deng Xiaoping during the negotiations with the UK over Hong Kong—was due to expire.
From one perspective, the fact that China had tolerated a liberal bastion within its borders for so long is a tribute to the basic confidence and security of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) government. Can we imagine the United States promising by treaty to respect the autonomy of a subnational authoritarian regime within its borders? Hardly. And yet for the last two decades, Hong Kongers have enjoyed what for Chinese has been unique access to freedoms of expression and association. This is so notwithstanding the Chinese view that the 1997 Sino-British Joint Declaration became void and had no ongoing legal effect after the handover occurred.
At the same, time, the rise of a younger generation of Hong Kongers who do not remember the handover and resent authoritarian interference had given new life to the push for more voice in public affairs—that is, more democracy.
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