One of the biggest fights for freedom in the 21st century is happening right at this moment. Hundreds of thousands are currently protesting in Hong Kong to stop a bill being passed. More than just this bill, this is a fight about the status of Hong Kong and the power that China has over it.

The event that kicked off this debate over the future of this small island took place on the 8th of February 2018. A man called Chang Tong Kai and his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hui-Wing left Hong Kong to take a holiday at the Purple Garden Hotel in Taiwan. However, only one returned. One month after returning to Hong Kong, Chang Tong Kai confessed to the murder of his girlfriend. The problem was that Hong Kong authorities couldn’t charge him as he didn’t commit the crime in their area of jurisdiction and Taiwanese authorities couldn’t charge him as there was no extradition bill to allow him to be sent back to Taiwan. To solve this, the government of Hong Kong proposed an extradition bill in 2019 that would allow criminals to be sent to Taiwan to stand trial. However, the public of Hong Kong was extremely against this bill as it would also allow criminals to be transported to China; China has no fair trial laws and many question their methods of punishment. They are afraid that this is China’s next move into solidifying ownership of Hong Kong.

But why does Hong Kong operate separately from China in the first place? After the Opium Wars, negotiations took place between China and Britain. Since China lost the war, they agreed to give Hong Kong to Britain for 99 years. Hong Kong then remained a British colony until 1997 when Britain agreed to hand the island back to China. However, Britain’s attempt to protect Hong Kong by making China agree to keep ‘their way of life’ the same in Hong Kong; This included free speech, a democratic legal system and freedom of religion. To ease the transition, China also agreed to let Hong Kong rule over themselves for 50 years before it would return to Chinese rule. This is why Hong Kong operates as a semi-autonomous region and a border will continue to exist between China and Hong Kong until July 1st 2047.

But China is tired of waiting and would like to solidify its ownership as soon as possible. In 2003, half a million protesters successfully fought legislation that would have punished people for speaking out against China. In 2014, tens of thousands of protesters occupied the city for weeks to protest China’s interference in Hong Kong elections. And now in 2019, protesters are fighting against an extradition bill that will, again, allow China to become one step closer to securing Hong Kong. With 2047 not too far in the future, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the population of Hong Kong to retain their freedom. In 2018, 40% of students who responded to a study done by the University of Hong Kong said that they identify as Hong Kongese only. This was a large percentage compared with a measly 18% of the students who saw themselves as exclusively Chinese. Even with such a big percentage, it’s unlikely that Hong Kong will be able to stand against China.

However bleak the island’s future may seem, protesters are still turning out in hundreds of thousands and will most likely continue to do so until all their demands are met.

By Amelie H