One country, yet two vastly different regions, opposites in government type, language, culture, social systems, and so much more. There has long been a group of activists in Hong Kong who want to separate from mainland China, but protests and opposition have been increasing in recent years, causing more tension in the already precarious agreement.
Hong Kong History: One Country, Two Systems
Hong Kong was originally a British territory and became a special agent to China under an agreement in 1997. Since then, the city has been pulled in two directions—towards the mainland China systems and communist ways of thinking and also towards its long history of British rule and Western democratic practices and ideals.
Under an agreement with China, Hong Kong has legal autonomy from the mainland and can preserve its economic and social systems from its days as a British colony. However, Beijing still holds the power to veto changes to the political system. Separation supporters say China has been attacking the system lately and have been frustrated by the slow pace of political reform, with many of the mainland’s actions and decisions seen as extremely restrictive to Hong Kong’s ideals. Hong Kong’s current status is guaranteed through 2047, after which time some activists hope to break away.
“Within 10 years, we hope to decide self-determination and have a referendum on the sovereignty of Hong Kong after 2047,” said activist Joshua Wong.
Even though the idea has grown in recent years, most people in Hong Kong apparently don’t believe it is a realistic idea and don’t support the movement. In fact, one in six Hongkongers support separating from China. Even many leaders in Hong Kong who are sympathetic to the cause realize independence from China isn’t likely because the idea would be so strongly opposed in Beijing. That doesn’t stop thousands of activists from vocally supporting the idea; they even held Hong Kong’s first pro-independence in August with more than 1,000 people in attendance.
Changes and Election Results
The idea of independence from China has long been dismissed as too extreme, but growing fears of increased control from Beijing have moved the idea more towards the mainstream. Recent years have seen an increasing number of protests against Beijing, including the Umbrella Movement protests in 2014 when Beijing was attempting to place what many people thought were overly restrictive regulations in Hong Kong’s election and in 2015 when five local publishers who specialize in books that are critical of Beijing’s leaders disappeared. There are also increased complaints against the influx of people moving to Hong Kong from the mainland, with many long-time Hong Kong residents blaming them for raising home prices, fewer available jobs, and a lack of resources and groceries.
After Hong Kong held elections on September 4, it was announced that six of the 70 members of the area’s Legislative Council are people who support Hong Kong gaining independence from China. Though they are far from the majority, these leaders are now in a position of power to potentially change how residents view Hong Kong and could add more fire to the push for separation.
Re-Establishing Ties to the U.K.
Some activists are campaigning for a return to British rule. While many people in Hong Kong find the solution extreme, activists argue that re-establishing links with the U.K. would be a transition that could lead to Hong Kong being able to fully cut ties with China. In just the last six months, two political parties advocating breaking away from China have launched, the Alliance to Resume British Sovereignty over Hong Kong and Independence, plus the National Party. Nearly 20% of the vote in the recent election came from members of parties that favor separation.
Fears from Beijing
Central government rulers fear that calls for independence from Hong Kong could lead to more democracy in the mainland. Just recently, thousands of residents in the Chinese village of Wukan marched to defy authorities who had arrested their elected village chief. Almost five years ago, Wukan rebelled against corrupt officials accused of selling land to developers; as a result of the protests, the village was granted the rare provision to elect its own leaders. In Beijing, there are fears that renewed protests in Wukan could incite rebellion in other areas of the mainland.
China has a long history of communism, which is deeply engrained in society and widely supported by mainland government officials. According to some ex-pats, the Chinese government will and must suppress the move towards independence by any means necessary.
With both sides strong and seemingly set in their views, China-Hong Kong relations appear to be at somewhat of a standstill. With just 30 years to go until the current agreement expires, there is still plenty that could change to tip the scale in one side’s direction.