Just recently, Hong Kong experienced one of the largest protests since 1997, when Britain returned it to Chinese custody. According to organizers, approximately two million people were on the streets Sunday, denouncing Beijing and China’s Communist Party. Authorities state the numbers of protesters was actually closer to one million, but the important point still stands; these peaceful yet furious protesters, clad in black to signify their rage, are demanding the release of student protesters that were recently arrested, the resignation of the city’s top leader, Carrie Lam, and the revocation of controversial extradition proposals.
For those who don’t know, Hong Kong is officially an independent entity, but it is technically a Special Administrative Region of China. Most of its foreign relations and defense are handled by the Chinese government, and by extension, a lot of their political climate is determined by the same. However, what they don’t share is China’s legal system, which is a large part of what sparked these protests in the first place.
The citizens of Hong Kong are primarily concerned that some suggested changes to the current system of extradition laws could subject them to the legal system of mainland China. Lawyers in Hong Kong have stated that due process and fair trials have been questionable at best along the soft border between the two entities, with many people arrested for crimes they did not commit. And of course, there was the infamous 2014 incident, in which many booksellers in Hong Kong that had criticized China disappeared, only to show up in custody in China. Lam’s critics equate the intended proposals as legalized kidnapping, and they aren’t entirely mistaken.
On Saturday, Lam reversed her stance completely, suspending future discussion of extradition changes indefinitely. However, she didn’t make any sort of apology for the fallout of the proposals themselves, which resulted in many violent riots that caused dozens of injuries thanks to crowd control weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets.
Despite her reversal on the proposals, this protest Sunday occurred in full force. The first protester death spurred the crowd forward in its mission, though it’s worth noting that protester was not struck down by government forces; they fell to their death while hanging an anti-extradition banner. Even so, crowds of protesters on Sunday demanded the complete withdrawal of any proposed extradition changes whatsoever.
As things stand right now, the tension between the two entities is one of the most intense since Hong Kong’s return to China from British colonial rule. Protests of this scale haven’t been prominent in decades, and the Chinese government doesn’t seem all that invested in placating the people of Hong Kong, who don’t believe for an instant that Lam’s statement of ‘accepting criticism with humility’ is genuine.
While Lam seems to be reversing on the extradition proposals that started these protests, it seems likely that another could ensure, considering there have been three already in this week alone. Whether or not the tension between the two entities will cool anytime soon remains to be seen.