Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hong Kong: Freedom at Risk

When the U.K. relinquished control of Hong Kong to China in 1997,  China promised to protect the island’s autonomy. Indeed, Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which is based on the common law, grants this special administrative region a high degree of autonomy with respect to local issues.  Specifically Article 27 of Hong Kong’s Basic law states that “residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, assembly, of procession and demonstration. . .”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those freedoms are now under fire as mainland government has chosen to gradually rewrite the rules.  On June 10th of this year, the Chinese cabinet issued a white paper that declared that “[the high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership. . .” According to an article in the New York Times, the document also suggested that judicial appointments would now be subjected to a political litmus test which critics suggest will undermine the rule of law.

In response to the white paper, local officials sponsored an unofficial poll to gauge support for changing the process whereby the city-state’s next top political official will be chosen in 2017 to a more democratic process. That poll gained over 800,000 votes over a ten day period.

Still, a public opinion poll released yesterday shows a more ambivalent attitude towards the current relationship with China.  While 33% of the respondents viewed the central government’s policies negatively, 31% possessed a positive attitude.  Yet the poll revealed a stunning age divide as anti-government attitudes were prevalent among the younger generation as 52% of respondents aged 18 to 29 had a negative view of the central government’s policies.

Earlier today however, “tens of thousands of people converged on Hong Kong’s Victoria Park for an annual protest march” while only a handful of individuals showed up for a pro-China rally. During the march, activists from the League of Social Democrats burned a copy of the white paper and called for the Hong Kong’s Chief Executive to be sacked. It remains to be seen what message the Chinese government will draw from the large size of the demonstration crowd. In 2003, after a crowd of 500,000 turned out to protest a series of anti-subversion laws, the government scrapped the proposed legislation.

It remains to be seen how the Chinese Cabinet will respond to the public demonstrations.

 

References

Michael Forsythe, “Sparse Turnout at Pro-China Rally in Hong Kong,” The New York Times, July 1, 2014. Available online at: http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/sparse-turnout-at-pro-china-rally-in-hong-kong/
 
James Pomfret and Grace Li, “Passions Run High as Hong Kong Marches for Democracy,” Reuters Online, July 1, 2014. Available online at:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/01/us-hongkong-protests-idUSKBN0F632A20140701.
 
Austin Ramzy, “Hong Kong Survey Finds Record Dissatisfaction with Beijing,” The New York Times, July 1, 2014. Available online at: http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/hong-kong-survey-finds-record-dissatisfaction-with-beijing/?ref=world 

Alan Wong, “Beijing’s ‘White Paper’ Sets Off a Firestorm in Hong Kong,” New York Times, June 11, 2014. Available online at: http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/11/beijings-white-paper-sets-off-a-firestorm-in-hong-kong/

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/comparative_law/2014/07/hong-kong-freedom-at-risk.html

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