We didn’t start the fire (in Hong Kong)

By Manavi Nag

On February 8th 2018, a young couple residing in Hong Kong left to go on vacation in the neighbouring country of Taiwan. The couple stayed at a resort for 9 days in Taipei but on the 16th of February 2018, only one returned. After one month of returning to his home in Hong Kong, the young man confessed to murdering his pregnant girlfriend. This sinister and somewhat Agatha-Christie-like murder is what provoked a protest one year later with nearly the entire Hong Kong population as avid participants. 

Why would this one specific murder catch global attraction? There are several other murders which haven’t even brought to the eye of domestic media stations? This is because even after the man confessed to murdering his pregnant girlfriend, Hong Kong authorities could not arrest him. The reason being the crime was committed on international waters in Taiwan and consequently wasn’t the Hong Kong police’s jurisdiction. What would need to be done to arrest the man would be to send him back to Taiwan to face a trial and eventually jail. However, for Hong Kong to send a criminal to Taiwan they would require an extradition agreement which they didn’t possess. So, in 2019 an extradition bill between Hong Kong and Taiwan was proposed however it included extradition to mainland China. And this sparked the longest ever protest in Hong Kong history. 

In 1997 the British handed Hong Kong back to China, under the “two systems, one country” rule. This meant that Hong Kong had full autonomy over its nation until 2047 when China will adopt it legally. Hong Kong has its own currency, postal system, government, passports and has prided itself on being a democracy. Under this system, the only thing China has a say in is foreign affairs and defence.  Hong Kong has freedoms that China doesn’t such as, free speech, freedom of press and freedom of assembly. However, China is a censored nation. From media to military everything is state-owned.

 So in 2003, there were protests in Hong Kong about a law that would have punished people who spoke out against China, even though Hong Kong advocates free speech. Then in 2014, there were more protests, when the Hong Kong election had influence from Bejing. Apparently, Bejing would have to approve of the candidates running in that election. This would allow China to only pick Pro-China candidates. Hong Kong sees this extradition bill as another way that China is trying to sneak its way into Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s government is made up of 70 officials, however, only 40 are democratically elected. The remaining 30 are business seats which corporations vote on. Most of these corporations are Pro-China since the business with China is pivotal. Therefore, people in Hong Kong feel like China is taking over their government and trying to censor everything they do. 

On the surface, the extradition bill seems like a good idea. Sending criminals to other countries to be put in jail. However, the bill would allow people from Hong Kong to be sent to China for unfair trials. China has a notorious reputation for censoring anything said against them. They handpick what Chinese people can see. In 2012, the government created a pro-China and patriotic education syllabus, in Hong Kong. The syllabus was censored and controlled by Chinese authorities. Then in 2014, five booksellers, who sold material that was banned in China, ominously disappeared. And then in 2016, pro-democracy opposition leaders were thrown out of Hong Kong’s parliament for speaking out against China. China’s hold on Hong Kong tightens by the day and the precarious game that Hong Kong is playing with censorship and free speech anger many.  Sites like Facebook and Twitter are banned and they have their own version. However, on their version, they have the power to delete anything that they feel are not in the best interests of Chinese people. This leaves Chinese people with little knowledge about their world and ignorance to comprehensive and unbiased issues about the world. They state-control everything. 

The extradition bill would allow Hong Kong residents, expats and even tourists, to be sent to China to be put on an unfair trial if they do even as little as speaking out against China. people in Hong Kong feel like their free speech is threatened if the extradition bill is passed because they can be sent to mainland china and face jail time. Hong Kong is rooted in the idea that they allow free speech and are different from China but with all these past events, China is stealthily making its way inside. 

The extradition bill worries many people, like journalists, authors and even civilians. One tweet against China can have you sent to mainland China and can result in prison, with the extradition bill in place. One article against China and you could vanish. Finally, after three months of pepper spray, guns, tear gas and angry chants, Hong Kong has revoked the extradition bill. But this hasn’t stopped the protesters.

They feel like this is too little too late. This battle has become less about the extradition bill but more about China and how they are trying to run Hong Kong like their own nation, democracy, autonomy and free speech.

The protesters want to make it clear that Hong Kong is not China. Protesters have resorted to violence with fireballs and tear gas being sprayed. The streets of Hong Kong are on fire and people are being beaten and hurt. Are these protests going to end or is it just the start of many many more to come?

Manavi Nag is a the co-head and of the Ascent. She is in the 9th Grade and strives to use her voice for change. She likes spreading awareness and opinions through her articles to her community and the world. She enjoys writing articles, dancing and travelling. Manavi is extremely passionate about the Ascent and wants to use her voice for change in the world, as a teenage journalist living in the 21st century.