In 2020, a national security law was implemented in Hong Kong, targeting the crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with external forces. In the eyes of many Hongkongers, this law was seen as a major encroachment on their rights, as supposedly guaranteed by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, but it is important to examine why this law was put into place, as well as its effects on society.
In 2018, a couple from Hong Kong took a trip to Taiwan, yet only one of them returned as Chan Tong-kai, the boyfriend, murdered his pregnant girlfriend. After returning to Hong Kong, Chan admitted to murder, but authorities could not press charges or extradite him as no provisions were in place at the time. In response to this situation, an extradition law was proposed that would allow Chan and others to face justice where the crimes were committed. This law seems to solve this issue, however, there was a concern that the law allowed for people to be extradited to not only Taiwan but also mainland China, some believing that the accused would not have a fair trial there. As a result of this, mass protests began to emerge in the summer of 2019.
These protests were peaceful at first and focused on opposition to the extradition law, but the movement became more radical soon after as calls for independence and more democracy grew. Violence broke out between protesters and police; these events are often framed as the police attacking the protesters, the protesters being the victims, but it is important to look at this through an objective lens. Protesters caused a multitude of civil disruptions, blocking roads, damaging infrastructure, and ultimately affecting the lives of many Hongkongers. On the other hand, police did use excessive force and could have handled the protests better. In the end, no matter the biases one has, it must be acknowledged that both sides had faults.
There were a couple of major outcomes of these protests. In some ways, the protesters succeeded in regard to their discontent with the extradition law, the bill eventually being withdrawn. Seeing their territory go ‘rogue,’ the Chinese government put into place the National Security Law to quell any possibility for something like this to happen again in the future. With this law being put into place, many people, around one hundred thousand, believing their rights were being infringed upon, left Hong Kong, immigrating to other countries such as the UK, Australia, and Canada. Within Hong Kong, free speech has been limited, but social order and stability have been re-established. Depending on one’s political view, this law could either be seen as a nail in the coffin for true democracy, or could be seen as a return to normalcy. In the end, it seems as if these protests almost did the opposite of what was intended; a strive for more democracy ultimately ended with a law that likely ended any hope for more autonomy, yet also brought back stability during a period plagued by uncertainty.