If 2019 was a year of relative success for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, 2020 has become a challenge.
On the back of last year’s social unrest, the negative consequences of Hong Kong’s fight is unfolding in the new decade.
Hong Kong was guaranteed 50 years of high autonomy from British handover in 1997, referenced as a ‘one country, two systems’ agreement with Beijing.
But last year saw a controversial extradition bill tabled, proposing some Hong Kong residents facing criminal charges would stand trial in the mainland. Under the ruling of the CCP, laws are unequivocally different in mainland China. After months of intense street protests by pro-democracy demonstrators, the bill was removed and the pro-democracy movement grew. But that bill is no comparison to the recent controversial approval of a national security law made by Beijing.
Although the bill has yet to pass, the law would criminalise secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign interference. This could clamp down on political challenges to China’s central government and worryingly, it would allow Beijing to bypass Hong Kong’s local laws, and even set up its own security institutions.
Critics have slammed Beijing’s decision to enact the bill, claiming it removes local freedoms and goes against an international agreement. Pro-democracy activists now believe it is the end of Hong Kong as we know it.
Avery Ng talks to the press outside West Kowloon Courthouse, Kowloon, Hong Kong May 18, 2020. Photo: Tommy Walker
“It is the beginning of the dark ages for Hong Kong,” said Avery Ng, activist and chairman of the League of Democrats, “With the new national security law in place, in a matter of weeks changes will be made.”
“Our levels of freedom of speech will go. The first wave of causalities will be leaders like us because we are not going to change what we believe.”
Activist Joshua Wong has been at the forefront of international relations seeking global assistance against Beijing’s attempts to crackdown on Hong Kong.
In an interview during the latest Hong Kong Tiananmen Square vigil, Wong insisted the priority was action against the CCP.
“In the short term, the most critical [priority] is to urge Beijing to stop the implementation of the evil law.”
Joshua Wong sits during Tiananmen Square vigil at Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, June 4, 2020. Photo: Tommy Walker
With the national security law about to pass by the end of the summer, clamping down on political gatherings against the central government could soon be illegal.
And yet despite months of hardship and fighting against the now-withdrawn extradition bill, which originally read Beijing would preside over rare cases, a recent revelation with similar implications has been announced for the new national security law.
China will have some jurisdiction over "extremely rare" national security cases in Hong Kong, the AFP reports.
"The central authorities should also reserve jurisdiction over some extremely rare cases when an offence takes place in Hong Kong and poses a serious threat to China's national security," said Deng Zhonghua, deputy head of China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.
Wilson Leung, a Hong Kong lawyer said it’s a “turbo-charged version of the extradition bill”.
“Instead of defendants being sent to the mainland, now the mainland legal system will come to Hong Kong.”
With this announcement, Beijing has finally got their wish, overseeing some judicial cases in Hong Kong.
As the authorities are already preparing for further changes in the city, the Secretary of Security John Lee has admitted he is building a new police unit to implement the new security law, who will work their operations in secret, adding further uncertainty.
Beijing Liaison Office, May 8, 2020. Photo: Tommy Walker
And whilst the national security bill was quickly approved, another controversial bill was recently made into law. Reportedly a direct order from Xi Jinping, it is now illegal to insult the 'March of the Volunteers,' China’s national anthem.
The law was made official in June and anyone breaking the law can face up to three years in jail.
Taking action swiftly whilst muting local dissent certainly is the strategy from the Beijing and Hong Kong governments moving forward. From June 4, 2019 to 29, May, 2020 there were 8,981 arrested protesters, according to the South China Morning Post. Out of these arrested, 80 percent are facing prosecution or are under investigation.
That’s a large chunk of protesters keen to take to the streets, but with charges, fines, and jail time looming, it's easy to understand decreasing demonstration numbers.
800,000 protesters march during a demonstration in Central, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong on December 8, 2019. Photo: Tommy Walker
This has undoubtedly subdued the sting out of the tail for intense clashes that were a weekly occurrence in the second half of 2019.
In the absence of regular frontline protesters, the attention has turned to the continued fractured relationship between the local press and Hong Kong Police Force.
Numerous complaints, including excessive force and brutality, have been made to the Hong Kong Journalist Association about police actions.
With COVID-19 numbers low, the police have also cited social distancing laws to reject applications for demonstrations.
Police march on Des Voeux Road, during street demonstrations in Central, Hong Kong, June 9, 2020. Photo: Tommy Walker
In the protests that have gone ahead, police wasted no time in making arrests. This has subdued the intense activity in Hong Kong, adding to the muted tone the government seeks.
Residents have always had the 2047 date hanging over their heads, not knowing what will happen to their beloved city.
But as democracy demonstrations started on the street with the Umbrella Movement in 2014, then exploded in 2019, this year has seen the pushback locals feared.
And there is no doubt that without major international intervention, Hong Kong will soon fall in line with the tightly controlled mainland Chinese cities, sooner than anticipated.
- Asia Media Centre