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A promise kept or a betrayal? Hong Kong 25 years after the handover

#promise #betrayal #Hong #Kong #years #handover

As midnight struck on June 30, 1997, and Hong Kong transitioned from British to Chinese rule, pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Wing-tat stood with colleagues on the balcony of the city’s legislature and protested defiantly.

Hong Kong on Friday will mark the 25th anniversary of the handover and the halfway point of One Country, Two Systems – the governance model agreed by Britain and China under which the city would retain some autonomy and freedoms.

This model was designed to last 50 years. But within the first few hours, battle lines were drawn that would define Hong Kong’s politics for the next two decades.

Angry at outgoing British governor Chris Patten’s latest attempts at democratization, China had announced that any lawmaker who had openly supported the measures would be thrown out.

The moment the handover took effect, Lee and many of his colleagues were stripped of their seats but remained within the legislature to protest their deportation.

Other opposition figures went to the handover ceremony to show their goodwill but later returned to join the rally.

“This is a moment all Chinese should be proud of,” Hong Kong Democratic Party founder Martin Lee said in a speech at the time. “We hope Hong Kong and China can move forward together.”

Lee Wing-tat had mixed feelings.

“We weren’t that optimistic anymore and I didn’t believe anymore that we would have a full-fledged democracy,” he told AFP news agency.

Twenty-five years later, there are no opposition lawmakers at all in Hong Kong’s legislature.

Many were arrested under a national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 or barred from running under the new “patriots-only” election rules.

Others have fled – including Lee Wing-tat, who now resides in the UK.

– Escalating distrust –

Like many others, Lee had been hopeful in 1984 when the Sino-British Joint Declaration paved the way for ending more than 150 years of British colonial rule.

One country, two systems promised a high degree of autonomy, an independent judiciary and the appointment of the city leader by Beijing on the basis of local elections or consultations.

“Deng[Xiaoping, China’s leader at the time]said a lot about things like ‘Hong Kongers manage Hong Kong’ at the time, which was pretty persuasive,” Lee said.

But China’s deadly crackdown on Tiananmen Square in 1989, when Beijing sent tanks to crush a pro-democracy movement, shook its faith in the ruling Communist Party (CCP).

In the years following the handover, distrust between Beijing and Hong Kongers like Lee only escalated.

The pro-democracy camp viewed Beijing as ruthless authoritarians bent on denying Hong Kongers their promised rights. And the CCP increasingly saw its demands as a challenge to China’s sovereignty.

In 2003 and 2012 there were successful mass protests that led to the overthrow of the government.

But campaigns to let Hong Kong choose its own leaders, including the 2014 Umbrella Movement, fizzled.

Tensions eventually exploded in the huge, sometimes violent, protests of 2019, to which China responded with a sweeping crackdown that transformed the once-open city.

– “Not exaggerated” –

Critics like Patten, the last British governor, have accused the CCP of failing to keep its promises to Hong Kong.

“China has torn up the joint statement and is vindictively and comprehensively trying to eliminate Hong Kong’s freedoms because it sees them as a threat, not to China’s security but to the Chinese Communist Party’s ability to remain in power. ‘ Patten told AFP last week.

But former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying said the crackdown over the past three years has been “not excessive”.

“You can’t say, ‘We want a high degree of autonomy and you’re missing it’ – that would be Hong Kong’s de facto independence,” he told AFP.

Leung, whose government opposed the Umbrella movement, blamed years of social and political unrest on people being misled by political figures and misunderstanding Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.

He also hinted that hostile “external forces” were involved, but declined to be specific.

Echoing Beijing, Leung described One Country, Two Systems as a success and said the agreement could continue beyond its 50-year term, calling July 1, 2047 “a non-event.”

– ‘A country’ –

Many Hong Kongers are not yet convinced.

Public confidence in One Country, Two Systems hit an all-time low in mid-2020, according to surveys conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute since 1994.

Some, like Herman Yiu, a young politician born in the year of the handover, have lost all hope of ever changing the system.

“Being born in 1997… it felt like my destiny was tied to Hong Kong’s destiny,” Yiu told AFP. “I wanted to join to make Hong Kong better.”

As a recent graduate, Yiu was part of a pro-democracy landslide in the 2019 district council elections with just one person and one vote.

However, his career was short-lived – in June he became one of many politicians to be ousted from office.

“I think now the emphasis of One Country, Two Systems is on ‘One Country,'” Yiu said.

“I feel helpless for Hong Kong and for myself.”

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