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China may have won its battle of reigning in the protests but may have lost the war. It lost the war because it forced calm on the city rather than bringing calm in the hearts of residents of the city. China has lost the confidence of Hong Kongers.

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IPRI # 133, 31 December 2020

Conflicts around the World in 2020
Hong Kong: Slow Strangulation of Protests, Security Law and China's victory

  Mallika Devi

Protests in 2020

On 30 June 2020, just before the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China- China imposed a new national security law over Hong Kong. The law titled as 'The Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region' introduces four offences of secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security into the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Secession has been defined as any attempt to illegally separate Hong Kong from the People's Republic of China (PRC); or surrender Hong Kong to a foreign country. 

Subversion has been defined as overthrowing, threatening, or undermining the body of central power of the PRC or the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Terrorist activities include sabotage of means of transport, transport facilities, electric power or gas facilities, other combustible or explosible facilities, and serious interruption or sabotage of electronic control systems to manage public services water, electric power, gas, transport, telecommunications and the internet. Collusion with a foreign country includes imposing sanctions or blockage, or engaging in other hostile activities against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or the People's Republic of China and provoking unlawful means of hatred among Hong Kong residents towards Beijing city government. The law also establishes 'Office for Safeguarding National Security' which can take over jurisdiction from the city's independent law courts if there is a threat to national security. Beijing implemented the law by including it in Annexure III of the Basic Law, which puts the law outside the limits of the region's autonomy and thus being automatically put into effect. 

A series of arrests of prominent leaders and supporters of pro-democracy camp followed with the law's passing. Jimmy Lai, owner of the city's popular newspaper- Apple Daily- and had been extremely critical of Beijing authorities and hardcore supporter of pro-democracy protests of 2019, was charged with "collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security" under the new law for calling on overseas governments to sanction Hong Kong and China in response to the crackdown on pro-democracy activism in the city. Joshua Wong- leader of Umbrella Movement of 2014, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam, have been charged for inciting a rally during last year's pro-democracy protests and have been jailed under the new law. Four pro-democracy legislators were ousted and banned from running in the city's legislative elections which were supposed to be held on 6th September 2020 for calling on the US to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials. Fifteen other legislators in pro-democracy camp resigned en-masse to protest the decision taken by authorities in Beijing. 

Chinese prosecutors have officially indicted 10 Hong Kong residents in December 2020 who were detained in Shenzhen to cross the border by boat to Taiwan illegally. Bao Choy Yuk-ling, a producer from public broadcaster RTHK was arrested for a mob attack report on 21 July 2019, in Yuen Long. Graduating students of CUHK displayed slogans like "Liberate Hong Kong", "Revolution of our times" which also have been outlawed. Police are mulling over the action which is to be taken against students whose faces were covered under Guy Fawkes masks. All the above-mentioned actions taken by Hong Kong authorities with approval from Beijing highlights slow strangulation of protests. 

Issues in the background
Dwelling deeper into why Hong Kong went into seven straight months of protests in 2019 which earned it the names of 'city of protest', 'China's rebel city', and 'city of dissent'. The unrelenting protests brought a recession into the city with its economy shrinking by 3.2 per cent in July-September 2019. The protests were against the extradition bill introduced by pro-Beijing Chief Executive of Hong Kong Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor which would have allowed criminals and suspects' extradition to the mainland. The protests which saw two million people out on streets and even turned violent at later stages did not die down when Chief Executive agreed to suspend the bill. The protesters' demands included officially withdrawing the bill and an investigation into police action for throwing tear gas on protests and universal suffrage. After much deliberation, Beijing consented to withdraw the bill but did not agree on the other two demands. 

Why an extradition bill convulsed the city into one of the biggest protests the city witnessed so far? China had resumed Hong Kong's sovereignty on 1 July 1997 under a Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. According to this declaration, Hong Kong was to be governed under 'One Country, Two Systems', which would ensure an independent judiciary, the rule of law, freedom of the press, and civil and political rights for the next fifty years is till 2047. The extradition bill was seen as an attempt to cut down on the political freedoms ensured till 2047. Hong Kong had experienced two significant protests earlier: one in 2003 wherein the city government had tried to introduce national security bill, and protests emerged over the same; the other in 2014, which is more popularly known as umbrella movement for universal suffrage. Each time the city went under protests, participation rates grew, became violent and lasted longer. 

Why did Beijing introduce New Security Law 2020? 

After witnessing the tumultuous protests in 2019, Beijing was not likely to maintain the status quo. Besides, the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution, requires Hong Kong to pass a national security law that Hong Kong authorities did not deliver. Beijing said the new security law brought in calm and stability in the city. Since imperial times, Beijing has been threatened by chaos, disorder and instability and sees instability as the root for political fragmentation and division. Beijing adheres to its imperial maxim of unity is instability. New Security Law brings instability if not unity. Hong Kong's Return was a matter of national pride for China as it meant the beginning of the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation and overcoming its century of national shame and humiliation that had begun with giving Hong Kong away to the British Opium War of 1840. But protests of 2019 damaged national pride of China.

Perspectives in 2021
China may have succeeded in temporally nipping the protests in the bud. With the spread of the pandemic, protests have become weak with a ban on assembly of more than four people. Moreover, fatigue and economic distress may be other factors that brought down protests this year. And with the passing of the new security bill and all prominent leaders behind bars, Beijing has managed to instil a sense of fear among the city residents. Passing of the National Security Bill directly bypassing Hong Kong legislature invited international criticism. Britain termed passing of the law as 'draconian'. US has imposed sanctions on Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other officials of the CCP. Clamping down of political freedoms of Hong Kong sets a bad example for Taiwan. Taiwan was to be reunified with the Chinese mainland under the same system of 'One Country, Two Systems'; with the system fairing badly in Hong Kong itself, there is a little possibility that it would be successful for Taiwan. That leaves force as the only available option to be implemented for unification with Taiwan. Additionally, it was in Hong Kong is the main conduit through which exchanges with Taiwan are conducted. The passing of the law weakens the umbilical cord that connects the PRC with Taiwan.

China may have won its battle of reigning in the protests but may have lost the war. It lost the war because it forced calm on the city rather than bringing calm in the hearts of residents of the city. China has lost the confidence of Hong Kongers. A sense of injustice and despondency looms large over Hong Kong. Hong Kongers may have temporally given in to the present situation, but going by its history, it is unlikely that they have accepted defeat. The city may see waves of protest when the time would be ripe as the seeds of protests are still intact in Hong Kongers.


Mallika Devi is a PhD scholar at the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Delhi.
 

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Chavindi Weerawansha

A majority in the minority community suffers, for the action of a few

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 50
IPRI Comments

Chrishari de Alwis Gunasekare

The Cardinal sermons for peace, with a message to forgive

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 49
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Who and Why of the Perpetrators

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 48
IPRI Comments

Natasha Fernando

In retrospect, where did we go wrong?

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 47
IPRI Comments

Ruwanthi Jayasekara

Build the power of Co-existence, Trust, Gender and Awareness

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 46
IPRI Comments

N Manoharan

New ethnic faultlines at macro and micro levels

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ONE YEAR AFTER THE EASTER ATTACKS IN SRI LANKA
April 2020 | IPRI # 45
IPRI Comments

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera

A year has gone, but the pain has not vanished

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 44
IPRI Comments

Kabi Adhikari

In Nepal, it is a struggle for the women out of the patriarchal shadows

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 43
IPRI Comments

Jenice Jean Goveas

In India, the glass is half full for the women

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WOMEN, PEACE AND TWENTY YEARS OF UNSC 1325
April 2020 | IPRI # 42
IPRI Comments

Fatemah Ghafori

In Afghanistan, there is no going back for the women

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Conflict Weekly 13
April 2020 | IPRI # 41
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Executing Mujib's killer in Bangladesh, Continuing conflicts in Myanmar, Questioning Government's sincerity in Naga Peace Deal, Releasing Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, and a report on damming the Mekong river by China

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Conflict Weekly 12
April 2020 | IPRI # 40
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Globally, Coronavirus increases Domestic Violence, deflates Global Protests, threatens Indigenous Communities and imperils the migrants. In South Asia, two reports question the Assam Foreign Tribunal and the Afghan Peace deal

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Afghanistan
April 2020 | IPRI # 39
IPRI Comments

Sukanya Bali

One month after the deal with the Taliban: Problems Four, Progress None

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Conflict Weekly 11
April 2020 | IPRI # 38
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Releasing a former soldier convicted of a war crime in Sri Lanka, Deepening of internal conflicts in Myanmar and the Taliban’s Deal is a smokescreen in Afghanistan

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Report Review
March 2020 | IPRI # 37
IPRI Comments

Lakshmi V Menon

Pakistan: Decline in Terrorism

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Conflict Weekly 10
March 2020 | IPRI # 36
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

More violence in Afghanistan, Naxal ambush in India, Federal-Provincial differences in Pakistan's Corona fight, and a new report on the impact of CoronaVirus on Conflicts

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Conflict Weekly 09
March 2020 | IPRI # 35
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

The CoronaVirus: South Asia copes, China stabilises, Europe bleeds and the US wakes up finally

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Conflict Weekly 08
March 2020 | IPRI # 34
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Triumphant Women's march across Pakistan, Anti-CAA Protests in Dhaka,  Two Presidents in Afghanistan, and Turkey-Russia Ceasefire in Syria

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Conflict Weekly 07
March 2020 | IPRI # 33
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Aurat March in Pakistan, US-Taliban Deal in Doha, Anti-CAA protest in Meghalaya, Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the UNCHCR Resolution, and the problems of ceasefire in Syria and Libya 

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Conflict Weekly 06
February 2020 | IPRI # 32
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Seven Days of Peace in Afghanistan, Violence in Delhi, Setback to Peace Talks on Libya and the Ceasefire in Gaza

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Conflict Weekly 05
February 2020 | IPRI # 31
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Afghan Election Results, US-Taliban Deal, Hafiz Saeed Conviction, Quetta Suicide Attack, Assam Accord, Mexico Femicide and the Climate Change impact on Bird Species

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Conflict Weekly 04
February 2020 | IPRI # 30
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Sri Lanka drops Tamil anthem, Assam looks for a new census for the indigenous Muslim population, Bangladesh faces a Rohingya boat tragedy and Israel witnesses resurgence of violence post-Trump deal

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Conflict Weekly 03
February 2020 | IPRI # 29
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Continuing Violence in Afghanistan, Bodo Peace Accord in Northeast India, Attack on the anti-CAA protesters in Delhi, and Trump's Middle East Peace Plan

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Conflict Weekly 02
January 2020 | IPRI # 28
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Bangladesh and ICJ's Rohingya Verdict, Taliban and Afghan Peace, Surrenders in India's Northeast, New government in Lebanon and the Berlin summit on Libya

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Conflict Weekly 01
January 2020 | IPRI # 27
IPRI Comments

IPRI Team

Nile River Agreement, Tehran Protests, Syrians meet in Berlin, Honduran Caravans in Mexico, Taliban's ceasefire offer, Quetta Suicide attack, Supreme court verdict on J&K and the Brus Agreement in Tripura

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Myanmar
October 2019 | IPRI # 26
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Will prosecuting Suu Kyi resolve the Rohingya problem?

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Climate Change
October 2019 | IPRI # 25
IPRI Comments

Lakshman Chakravarthy N & Rashmi Ramesh

Four Actors, No Action

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From Okjökull to OK:
September 2019 | IPRI # 24
IPRI Comments

Rashmi Ramesh

Death of a Glacier in Iceland

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The Hong Kong Protests:
August 2019 | IPRI # 23
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudan

Re-defining mass mobilization

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The Hong Kong Protest:
August 2019 | IPRI # 22
IPRI Comments

Parikshith Pradeep

Who Wants What?

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Africa
December 2020 | IPRI # 6
IPRI Briefs

Apoorva Sudhakar

Ballots and Bloodshed: Trends of electoral violence in Africa

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Myanmar
March 2019 | IPRI # 5
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

The Other Conflict in Rakhine State

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West Asia
February 2019 | IPRI # 4
IPRI Comments

Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

Yemen: Will Sa'nna fall?

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China and Islam
February 2019 | IPRI # 3
IPRI Comments

Harini Madhusudhan

Sinicizing the Minorities

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Terrorism
January 2019 | IPRI # 2
IPRI Comments

Sourina Bej

Maghreb: What makes al Shahab Resilient?

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Global Politics
January 2019 | IPRI # 1
IPRI Comments

Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Myanmar: Will 2019 be better for the Rohingya?

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