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About the Author

N. Jayaram is an independent journalist currently based in Bangalore after having worked with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years, including as its Beijing correspondent (1988-94) and with Agence France-Presse news agency's Asia-Pacific operations in Hong Kong for 11 years until 2006, when he took time off to study human rights law (LLMHR) at the University of Hong Kong.  Since 2007 he has been editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions, including the Hong Kong-based French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC).

 

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IPRI # 2, 10 October 2019

Contemporary Conflicts
The Hong Kong Protests

  N Jayaram

 

Click here for the PDF version.

 

In order to understand the current churning in Hong Kong, which has received global attention, it would be useful to take stock of developments in China and in Hong Kong from at least the mid-1970s.

 

Some essential details

Britain acquired Hong Kong island and the Kowloon peninsula after the mid-19th century Opium Wars, adding the vast New Territories taken on a 99-year lease from Qing Empire in 1898. In the 20th century, during the period of Civil War pitting the Communist Party (CPC) forces and the Nationalist (Kuomintang or KMT) forces and in the aftermath of the Communists’ victory and establishment of the People’s Republic of China 1949, there was a steady influx of refugees that helped boost Hong Kong’s economy. The influx continued during the periods when Mao imposed ultra-left policies such as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). In 1967, at the height of the Cultural Revolution, there were also riots in Hong Kong, fuelled by the gross inequalities in the territory. This spurred the British colonial government to adopt a series of welfare measures including public housing, the addition of more schools and hospitals, crackdown on corruption and police reforms.

 

First Tiananmen Incident and later rise of Deng

Some weeks after Premier Zhou Enlai, long the number 2 leader after Mao Zedong, died in January 1976, there began an outpouring of grief as he was seen as having tried to temper the worst excesses of the regime. This was the first ‘Tiananmen Incident’ initially deemed ‘counter-revolutionary’. But after Mao’s own death in September that year, the downfall of the “Gang of Four” ultra-radical leaders, including Mao’s wife Jiang Qing, and the eventual rise of Deng Xiaoping as paramount leader by the late 1970s, the verdict on the Spring 1976 demonstrations was revised: it was deemed “patriotic”.

This revision of the labelling of the 1976 ‘Tiananmen Incident’ has continuing implications for subsequent and ongoing events in China and especially in Hong Kong.

Deng ushered in economic reforms and opening to the outside world calling for “Four Modernisations” – modernisation of agriculture, industry, science and technology and national defence. But he paid no heed to the call for a “Fifth Modernisation” demanded during the brief “Democracy Wall Movement” of late 1978 that was supportive of his policies. Rather, Wei Jingsheng, who articulated the democratisation demand, got jailed for his pains.

 

The Hong Kong question

Meanwhile time was ticking for Hong Kong’s New Territories lease. Banks and businesses had begun to worry: mortgage periods were being reduced – to 20 years, 15 years and so forth. When the issue was broached with Beijing, the reply was that Britain should hand over all of Hong Kong. Then began protracted negotiations resulting in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which envisaged a “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong for 50 years, with international human rights treaties Britain was party to and which were automatically extended to Hong Kong continuing to apply beyond 1997. 

Deng had meanwhile come up with the “One Country, Two Systems” formula under which not only Hong Kong but the nearby Portuguese administered tiny enclave, Macau was to be handed over to China. More crucially, Taiwan, which Beijing deems a province of the PRC, was the formula’s most important target. Macau was handed over to Chinese sovereignty on 20 December 1999 and functions largely as a major gambling den for mainland Chinese tourists, with whatever little pro-democracy activism there is – among its current population of a mere 667,000 – easily muzzled, away from media glare. The issue of Taiwan will be discussed briefly infra. 
In order to frame the rules or the constitutional framework under which the post-handover Hong Kong was to function, a Basic Law Drafting Committee was set up in 1985, consisting mostly of officials from mainland China, assorted pro-Beijing figures in Hong Kong and a couple of pro-democracy ones.

 

Click here for the complete essay.

 

 

About the Author

N. Jayaram is an independent journalist currently based in Bangalore after having worked with the Press Trust of India news agency for 15 years, including as its Beijing correspondent (1988-94) and with Agence France-Presse news agency's Asia-Pacific operations in Hong Kong for 11 years until 2006, when he took time off to study human rights law (LLMHR) at the University of Hong Kong.  Since 2007 he has been editing and translating for NGOs and academic institutions, including the Hong Kong-based French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC).

 

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