One Country, two systems: The Hong Kong riots explained

Kodee Christensen and Nicholas Solomon

A murder case from 2018 has sparked turmoil in Hong Kong as citizens protest a bill which would allow for criminals to be extradited to other regions for trial, one of these being mainland China. The Hong Kong government, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, proposed the extradition bill. Citizens were outraged due to Hong Kong’s complicated history with China.

Hong Kong was a colony of Great Britain, but in 1997 the region gained status as a semi-autonomous region of China. However, there was a catch. Fifty years later, in 2047, instead of being its own entity, Hong Kong will have to be integrated with communist China. 

Since 1997, communist China has been encroaching on Hong Kong’s freedoms, particularly evident in the rise of protests in recent years. The Umbrella Revolution protests in 2014 and others in 2016 were similar to today’s in the way that they all stem from a fight for Hong Kong’s continued autonomy and the desire of many for a democratic state. The proposal of this new extradition bill has caused outcry from citizens of Hong Kong as they fear what will happen if mainland China is given more power over Hong Kong before the year 2047.

Washburn Law professor, Craig Martin, discussed the background of the protests further, describing some of the intricacies of China and Hong Kong’s relationship. 

“The relationship between China and Hong Kong is captured by the phrase ‘one country, two systems,’ so the idea is Hong Kong is part of China, but there are two different political and legal systems in existence. China overtime would like it to be one country one system, they hope to absorb Hong Kong,” Martin said.

There are some differing opinions surrounding the issue. Foreign exchange student Yun Gao from Shanghai has a perspective of someone living in mainland China.

“From our perspective, I’m from the mainland of China, we think Hong Kong is a part of China,” said Gao.

Gao speaks on how the protests are largely influenced by the younger generation of people living in Hong Kong.

“The younger generation is afraid that criminals will be sent to China and just be hit by Chinese law,” said Gao. “They make things bigger and think its related to whether Hong Kong belongs to China, and they started to do some really bad things.”

Martin shares a second opinion on this issue.

“The Hong Kong criminal law system is very similar to the British law. There’s a lot of guarantees, a lot of rights embedded in it. The fear is that if they get extradited to China, they won’t have those rights, and they’re just going to get prosecuted and sent to prison.”

The main commonality connecting both sides of the issue is concern for how violent and disruptive the protests have become.

“I’ve seen news accounts of the Chinese military on the other side of the bridge,” says Martin, “being seen with armored cars and so forth, clearly a signal to Hong Kong that if they don’t get a grip on things than the mainland Chinese government may send in troops which could be a disaster of all kinds of proportions.”

The issue is in fact deeper than just the extradition bill. Having unofficially withdrawn the bill, Lam has not yet satisfied the citizens of Hong Kong. In order for there to be some resolve, the bill must be fully dissolved. However even at that point, the question of Hong Kong’s independence will still remain more evident than ever after these most recent protests. 

“The protests this year have escalated and have taken on other issues, it is no longer just about extradition,” said Martin.

Currently, one of the main concerns of both the Chinese government and that of Hong Kong is that peace is restored. However, without an agreement or resolution, that peace is proving hard to find. Gao expresses this desperate desire in a final statement.

“From a long time ago, we are all the same,” said Gao. “We think this kind of action is too violent. I think that most things can be solved by talking, but if you choose to use violence, it’s really bad.”

Edited by Adam White, Abbie Barth, Jessica Galvin.