HONG KONG IN 2017
“The turbulence experienced by Hong Kong was rooted in the misunderstanding of the Chinese government and its citizens.”
The “one country, two systems” policy put in place by former leader of the People’s Republic of China, Deng Xiaoping, after the handover of Hong Kong by the United Kingdom to mainland China in 1997 marked the beginning of a particular approach of governance, introducing Hong Kong thenceforth as a Special Administrative Region. The agreement between the Chinese and the British in 1984 was to allow Hong Kong to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, preserving the capitalist system that had been carried out under British rule, and promising the people of Hong Kong freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of speech for fifty years after the handover, as well as universal suffrage and the right to elect their own leader. However, in 2012, the Chinese government planned to introduce National Education in schools in Hong Kong, stimulating a rising fear of communist China taking over the territory. In addition, China went against the Basic Law, refusing to give the people of Hong Kong universal suffrage which lead to political tensions and mass demonstrations carried out in September 2014 which became known as “the Umbrella Revolution”. The statement claiming that “the turbulence experienced by Hong Kong was rooted in the misunderstanding of the Chinese government and its citizens” is arguable through the idea that the political tensions were not based on a misunderstanding but a disagreement between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy supporters in their opinions of Hong Kong as a British colony and in their different interpretations of the Basic Law and the “one country two systems” policy.
First of all, the disagreement between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy citizens in Hong Kong and in China is illustrated through their different perceptions of Hong Kong as a British colony. In effect, controversial opinions of Hong Kong as part of the United Kingdom or as part of China have risen since the handover in 1997. Many pro-Beijing supporters recognise the period of Hong Kong under British rule as “one hundred and fifty years of humiliation”. As a matter of fact, when talking about Hong Kong as a British colony since the early 1840s in his speech during his visit to Hong Kong in June 2017, president Xi Jinping and head of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China, stated that “that page of Chinese history was one of humiliation and sorrow”.
On the other hand, the citizens of Hong Kong have enjoyed more freedom under the British rule and the capitalist system has enabled Hong Kong to develop into an international, financial, trading and shipping centre with a booming economy. Although Hong Kong’s Basic Law states that “the socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years”, many pro-democracy supporters fear that communist China is taking more and more control over Hong Kong and is not abiding to the Law, and expressed their dissatisfaction during the “Occupy Central” protests in 2014.
Second of all, the claim that the Hong Kong people misunderstand the Chinese government and its citizens may merely be a statement to justify the implementation of National Education in schools in Hong Kong. In fact, Ho hon-kuen, head of Education Convergence in Hong Kong was quoted in the China Daily newspaper, saying that the “government’s oversight on national education in the first few years after the handover led to a confusion of identity among Hong Kong people”. He noted that “Chinese history — an important channel for Hong Kong people, particularly the younger generation, to understand the country — has been ‘cut up’ and merged into other subjects by some middle and high schools”, a move he described as “hasty and troublesome”.
On the other hand, the Hong Kong people and most notably the pro-democracy supporters do not seem to misunderstand the Chinese government and its citizens, but simply disagree with them. The People’s Republic of China’s interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law is not in accordance with that of the people of Hong Kong. In fact, Joshua Wong, who later became the leader and face of the “Umbrella Revolution”, founded Scholarism, a pro-democracy student activist group, in 2012, when he was only 14, to stand against National Education and prevent the Chinese government from “brainwashing” the Hong Kong population. Scholarism and pro-democracy supporters disagreed with National Education and the fact that it was to be introduced because of the “unpatriotic ways the younger generations in Hong Kong had been thinking and behaving”, according to the People’s Republic of China.
Finally, the people of Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China disagree on the “one country two systems” policy, although it is stated as a misunderstanding of the policy by Xi Jinping in his speech in June 2017. In fact, Xi states that “it is imperative to have a correct understanding of the relationship between ‘one country’ and ‘two systems’” and emphasises on the importance of the “one country” through the metaphorical comparison of it to the roots of a tree. He states that “for a tree to grow tall and luxuriant, its roots must run deep and strong” therefore expressing his belief that Hong Kong’s booming economy is dependent on the support it gets from mainland China. Xi’s final paragraph of his speech stresses how important China is to Hong Kong; he says “Hong Kong has the strong backing of the great motherland and the strong support of the central government and the people of the mainland. Hong Kong has gained a wealth of experience over the past 20 years since its return; it has a solid foundation for achieving further development, and it enjoys the concerted dedication of the HKSAR government and people in all the sectors”.
Additionally, in a June 2014 white paper, China said some had a “confused and lopsided” understanding of the “one country, two systems” model, and Ho hon-kuen expressed that the society “seemed to have overstressed the ‘two systems’ in education and failed to respond to the ‘one country’ part of the principle, which was dangerous” to justify the plans to start National Education in Hong Kong. However, it is argued that this is not a misunderstanding of the Hong Kong people of the “one country two systems” policy but more of a disagreement on the interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law and on the policy itself. This demonstrates the somewhat flawed “one country two systems” agreement which fails to find a balance between the “one country” side of the policy and the “two systems”, leading to controversy between China and Hong Kong.
In conclusion, the statement that “the turbulence experienced by Hong Kong was rooted in the misunderstanding of the Chinese government and its citizens” arguably aims to deflect the people of Hong Kong’s disagreement and dissatisfaction with the Chinese government, and to blame the tensions between HKSAR and China on a “misunderstanding”. In reality, the political demonstrations and “turbulence” in Hong Kong originated with the controversy between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy supporters, having different perceptions of Hong Kong as a British colony and different interpretations of the Basic Law as well as the “one country two systems” policy.