Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) - Protests
Mass protests had, in the past, convinced Beijing to alter its policies toward Hong Kong. In 2003, as many as half a million people showed up for a pro-democracy protest, prompting China to scrap proposed anti-subversion laws. In September, the Government withdrew from legislative consideration proposed national security legislation required by Article 23 of the Basic Law. The withdrawal followed a series of large protests, including a July 1 demonstration in which approximately 500,000 persons participated, and intense public debate about the impact of such legislation on civil liberties and fundamental freedoms. Article 23 called for the Government to draft and implement laws that criminalize subversion, secession, treason, sedition, and theft of state secrets, and to criminalize links with foreign political organizations that are harmful to national security.
During the year 2003, public demands also increased for the implementation of universal suffrage in the 2007 Chief Executive election and the 2008 Legislative Assembly election. In response, the Government announced that it would provide a timetable for public consultations by the end of the year. The Government's plan was to commence consultations early in 2004 and 2005 and enact necessary legislation in 2006. The pan-democrats pushed for direct election for the Chief Executive (CE) and the entire Legislative Council (LegCo) in 2012, although this was ruled out by the National People's Congress Standing Committee's (NPC/SC) 2007 decision. The Central government promised that direct elections for the Chief Executive may take place in 2017. They may take place for all Legislative Council seats in 2020.
In March 2012, in a process widely criticized as undemocratic, the 1,193-member CE Election Committee, dominated by pro-government electors and their allies, selected former Executive Council Convenor C.Y. Leung to be the SAR’s chief executive. The PRC’s State Council formally appointed him, and President Hu Jintao swore in Leung in July 2012. The September 2012 elections for a new 70-member LegCo were considered generally free and fair according to the standards established in the Basic Law. Of the 35 FC seats, 16 incumbents, all progovernment, returned uncontested. When combined with 35 GC seats, pro-PRC and pro-establishment candidates won 43 of 70 LegCo seats, while prodemocracy candidates won 27 seats.
Pan-democratic parties face a number of institutional challenges, which prevent them from securing a majority of the seats in the LegCo or having one of their members become CE. The voting process ensured probusiness representatives and government allies control a majority. In addition, the central government and its business supporters provide generous financial resources to parties that support the central government’s political agenda in the SAR, ensuring that these organizations would control the levers of government and senior positions.
In June 2014 the party issued a White Paper emphasizing its "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong, which it stressed did not enjoy "full autonomy." China promised to let all Hong Kong residents vote for their next leader in 2017. But it said candidates must be approved by a nomination committee. Pro-democracy advocates were incensed at plans for the election of Hong Kong's next chief executive - who was to be appointed by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee.
China's State Council, or cabinet, reiterated in a “white paper” on the “one-country, two-systems” formula that the city, despite its wide-ranging autonomy, comes under the control of China and has limits to its freedom. “The high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership,” the cabinet said in the official report. “There is no such thing called 'residual power'.”
Democracy activists want the nomination process to be open to everyone, in line with international standards. More than 780,000 votes were cast by 28 Jue 2014, the final day of an unofficial referendum on how Hong Kong's next leader should be chosen. The ballot was branded illegal by local and mainland Chinese authorities. The unofficial 10-day vote, organized by pro-democracy activists, was conducted partly online and partly at physical ballot boxes. Voters were given three options on how the next chief executive should be chosen. Each would allow voters to propose candidates for the top job, and all are therefore considered unacceptable by China and the Hong Kong government.
Beijing said it would fulfill its promise to allow the semi-autonomous territory to elect its leader in 2017, but insists only mainland-approved candidates can run. Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing's top official in Hong Kong, said any decision concerning the 2017 election would not be affected by the size of the protest or the referendum. On 01 July 2014 the HK GOvernment reiterated that political reform proposals should be strictly in accordance with the Basic Law and the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress's relevant interpretation and decisions. They should be practical and practicable, and must have the probability of gaining community support and securing passage by a two-thirds majority of lawmakers. Regarding the 'civic nomination' proposal, the Government believed such a proposal is unlikely to be adopted because it will bypass or undermine the substantive powers of the nominating committee to nominate candidates.
Organizers said over 500,000 people attended a protest on the 17th anniversary of the former British colony's return to Chinese governance. Police put the figure at just under 100,000. Police in Hong Kong arrested more than 500 protesters from an overnight sit-in early 02 July 2014 that followed a massive pro-democracy rally. Secretary for Security TK Lai told reporters the protest affected more than 30 bus and minibus routes, and Police arrested the protesters to restore order and traffic flow. The 351 men and 160 women were arrested for unauthorised assembly and obstructing Police. Lai commended Police for their restraint and professionalism in removing the protesters.
China's powerful Standing Committee ruled 31 August 2014 that candidates seeking to become Hong Kong's next leader must receive a majority vote from a "broadly representative" nominating committee. Activists said it’s stacked with supporters of China’s Community Party, essentially ruling out democracy supporters from appearing on the ballot for the 2017 election.
The central government is fully confident that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) can handle the Occupy Central movement according to law, a spokesperson with the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China's State Council said on 28 September 2014. The remarks came hours after some Hong Kongers launched the "illegal gathering" -- as the spokesperson termed -- of Occupy Central. The central government firmly opposes all illegal activities that could undermine rule of law and jeopardize "social tranquility," and it offers its strong backing to the HKSAR government in efforts to maintain Hong Kong's social stability and protect the personal and property safety of Hong Kong citizens, the spokesperson said.
The protests against the decision peaked in late September 2014 as China geared up to celebrate its National Day holiday, which started 01 October. The massive display of defiance against Beijing in Hong Kong was compared by some to the pro-democracy, 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that led to a brutal government crackdown. The Hong Kong government said it would not call on the People’s Liberation Army soldiers stationed in the city state to respond to the protests. There were concerns that if the situation continues to build a similar response could be used. Beijing could send in the People's Armed Police if Hong Kong authorities cannot control protesters.
Student leaders said 01 October 2014 taht Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying must step down by the end of the day 02 October or they will storm the buildings. Leung is seen as a liar, a divisive leader, an underground communist, and a chief executive who does Beijing's bidding, despite his many achievements. Raising the stakes in the standoff could trigger another round of confrontations between protesters and police, who are unlikely to allow government buildings to be illegally occupied. The warning came as tens of thousands of protesters massed for a fourth day Wednesday and continued to occupy three main areas of Hong Kong in an effort to push China to enact democratic reforms.
An editorial in the party's official People's Daily newspaper issued an ominous-sounding warning to protesters. "If this extreme minority of people insists on violating the rule of law and stirring up trouble, they will wind up suffering the consequences of their actions," the paper said in an unsigned staff commentary, an indicator of official policy. "'Occupy Central' will place obstacles in the path of the smooth development of a democratic system in Hong Kong," the paper said, warning of "unimaginable consequences" if the protests are allowed to continue. It said public nominations had been ruled out in the interest of "safeguarding national sovereignty, security, development and to maintain the long-term prospering and stability of Hong Kong."
Hong Kong's chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said 04 October 2014 that “all actions necessary” would be taken so that workers could return to their jobs on Monday 06 October. This announcement followed a second day of ugly confrontations between middle-aged men with connections to the Triad crime gangs that were involved in attacks on the mostly student protesters. City authorities used the gangs against the protesters to try to get them off the streets.
After more than a week of protests that paralyzed parts of Hong Kong, on 06 October 2014 student leaders established a framework with government officials to discuss their political reform demands. Demonstrators said they believe the reason Leung did not send out forces to clear the streets is because students met one of the leader’s two conditions for negotiations to begin: allowing civil servants back into the central government office complex.
On 09 October 2014 Hong Kong authorities canceled talks with pro-democracy protesters occupying parts of the city after they vowed to step up civil disobedience. The protest leaders said increased pressure was needed ahead of the talks to ensure progress toward direct elections, and urged supporters to continue occupying public spaces. The number of protesters had dwindled to just a few hundred, down from the tens of thousands that initially gathered at the protest sites that have been declared illegal by Hong Kong and Chinese authorities. Attempts to force Leung to resign may be bolstered by the recent emergence of media reports accusing the leader of taking $6.4 million in undisclosed payments from an Australian company while in office.
Police started removing barricades set up by the protesters on both sides of Hong Kong's harbor 13 October 2014. The move to dismantle blockades came as the student-led occupation of main roads in the heart of Hong Kong entered its third week. Police cleared barricades at demonstration sites, a move they said was aimed at freeing up roads blocked by the protests.
Hundreds of police used pepper spray and batons on 15 October 2014, and in some cases punched and tackled protesters to the ground, during clashes in the Admiralty district. A police statement said 45 people were arrested. It added that four officers also received injuries. Police battled the protestors with batons and pepper spray. The number of protesters had faded, however, renewed tensions between the demonstrators and Hong Kong police officers brought thousands back into the streets. Authorities said around 9,000 people have retaken the area by 18 October.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying stressed October 16, that Beijing would not abolish its decision to "vet candidates for the 2017 election". The protests in Hong Kong seemed for a time to have demonstrated the Asian standard in methods of fighting color revolutions. The protesters were defeated by attrition - they were given a chance to continue their protests and eventually become very unpopular in the city, with civil society becoming conditioned against them.
The government did not even try to take the protesters' demands seriously, knowing very well that their real aim was to paralyze the government. The Chinese government did not react to foreign calls "not to touch the courageous fighters of democracy." On the contrary, Beijing assumed a firm stance in relation to Hong Kong and demanded that the US not intervene in China's internal affairs.
Hong Kong's leader accused "foreign forces" of involvement in the Chinese territory's pro-democracy protests. During a TV interview October 19, 2014, Leung Chun-ying said the weekslong demonstrations are "not entirely a domestic movement." However, he declined to name the foreign countries or groups he believes are behind the protests. Leung's comments echo recent commentary in China's state-run media, which has accused the United States and other western countries of manipulating the protests.
A November 2014 University of Hong Kong poll indicated that 70 percent of protesters believed the pro-democracy demonstrations should continue, while 79 percent of people in Hong Kong who had not joined protests believed the protesters should go home.
On 12 November 2014 China’s President Xi Jinping called Hong Kong’s protests “illegal” and said that “law and order must be maintained.” His comments were the latest sign that Beijing’s patience with the demonstrations was diminishing. Among protesters, there was a belief that authorities could begin enforcing a court order to clear protest sites in the coming days.
Workers in Hong Kong began 18 November 2014 clearing barricades in a small area of the downtown occupied by pro-democracy protesters. The slow but calculated effort, backed by a court order, aimed to erode the area held by the demonstrators without provoking more dissent.
On 19 November 2014 police clashed with protesters who tried to force their way into the territory's legislature. Protesters used metal barricades to smash windows at the legislative council building. About 100 riot officers responded with pepper spray and batons. At least four protesters were arrested. Three police officers were injured in the clashes.
Hong Kong’s chief executive warned protesters 01 December 2014 not to return to the streets after they and police clashed outside government headquarters. The clashes occurred in central Hong Kong after hundreds of demonstrators stormed past police lines in a bid to occupy a major road in the Admiralty district. Hundreds of riot police armed with pepper spray and batons pushed back, injuring several protesters and arresting at least 18.
On 11 December 2014 authorities removed barricades and encampments from streets outside government offices in the port city, drawing to a close more than two months of pro-democracy protests.
On 18 June 2015 Hong Kong’s legislature voted down a controversial plan for electoral reform Thursday, after months of debate and mass protests over the city’s democratic future. Legislators vetoed the proposal for election reform, declaring that the Beijing-backed proposal for "universal suffrage" was actually “fake democracy.” In all, 28 legislators voted against the plan, eight voted in support and one abstained. Moments before, a group of pro-government legislators forfeited their votes by staging a last-minute walkout.
Despite the Hong Kong legislature's veto, Chinese government officials said there is no plan to revise their electoral reform plan. China’s state news service, Xinhua, released a cryptic statement that said the Chinese legislature’s decision on Hong Kong's electoral reforms last August would remain in force, despite the Hong Kong Legislative Council's veto of the universal suffrage motion.
On June 24, 2015 Hong Kong officials dismantled the last of the tent camps from last year's mass protests that unsuccessfully pushed for democratic reforms in the Chinese territory. Protesters put up little resistance as a crew of government officials moved in to clear the few tents, banners and other materials that remained at the outpost outside the territory's legislature.
Since the failure of the 2014 Occupy Central movement to secure fully democratic elections for Hong Kong, support has been growing for the idea of independence, especially among younger people. Democratic politicians won 29 out of 70 seats in the September 2016 LegCo [Legislative Council] elections.
A purge of lawmakers in Hong Kong could weaken pro-democratic voices in the city's legislature, leaving it entirely under Beijing's control, amid an ongoing row over the use of swearing-in ceremonies to make political statements. Two former members of the Legislative Council (LegCo), Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung, were stripped of their seats in November 2016 after losing a court case that argued their oaths of allegiance, taken on 12 October, were invalid. The standing committee of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), intervened with a ruling that only "solemn and sincere" oaths would be accepted from public office-holders.Thousands took to the streets to protest against the NPC's intervention, which lawyers and civil rights advocates said undermined judicial independence in the former British colony.
And on 09 December 2016, the city's chief executive Leung Chun-ying filed a second lawsuit seeking the disqualification of four other pro-democracy members of LegCo, alleging that their oaths were also "improperly delivered." The government was in disarray ahead of elections for the city's next chief executive in March 2017. Relations between LegCo and Leung's administration were strained to breaking point amid wider social tensions over the erosion of Hong Kong's traditional freedoms, which it was supposed to retain under the terms of the 1997 handover from Britain to China.
On 12 December 2016 pro-democracy groups made record gains on the Election Committee, which will decide the territory's new leader. Amid a high turnout they won more than 300 seats - about a quarter - though pro-Beijing groups still had a big majority. John Tsang, Hong Kong's finance minister resigned, a move seen as his first step toward staking a bid for the city's top job.handed his resignation in Monday, the government said. Rumors have been around for awhile that the would seek the office. The city's current leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, announced that he would not seek a second term, citing family reasons. U.S.-educated Tsang is Hong Kong's second-most-popular official, with an approval rating of 62 percent, while Leung had a disapproval rating of 71 percent.
On 26 March 2017 in Hong Kong, the electoral committee of nearly 1,200 people, stacked with Beijing loyalists, selected the city's chief executive for the next five years. The race was widely seen as a competition between China's preferred candidate, Carrie Lam, and the more popular John Tsang.
Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor won the election of the fifth-term chief executive of China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), vowing to lead Hong Kong forward in solidarity. The Electoral Affairs Commission of the Hong Kong SAR declared that Lam garnered 777 of 1,163 valid votes, followed by Tsang Chun-wah with 365 and Woo Kwok-hing with 21.
Between 2000 and 2017, Lam held various posts in the Hong Kong SAR government, including director of Social Welfare Department; permanent secretary for housing, planning and lands; director-general of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London, as well as permanent secretary for home affairs. She was appointed secretary for development in 2007. In 2012, she was appointed chief secretary for administration.
A candidate wins the election when he or she obtains more than 600 valid votes in any round of voting and will be appointed by the central government, according to Hong Kong's Basic Law and the Chief Executive Election Ordinance. After the appointment, the winner will take oath of office on July 1 and become the fifth-term chief executive.
Lam, 59, said in her speech to the press after winning the election that she is ready to begin a new chapter in the journey together with the Hong Kong people. "The work of uniting our society to move forward begins now," she said.
China's foreign minister said 30 July 2018 that his country remains committed to the "one country, two systems" governing framework in Hong Kong, despite growing concerns that Beijing is eroding the former British colony's civil liberties. Wang Yi told reporters following talks with his British counterpart, Jeremy Hunt, that China would continue to follow the system put in place when the city was turned over to Chinese rule in 1997. "Hong Kong affairs are the domestic affairs of China. We do not welcome nor do we accept other countries to interfere in China's domestic affairs," Wang said at a joint news conference. "But of course China will continue to support and will stay committed to one country, two systems," Wang said.
Officials in the Chinese capital, Beijing, and in Hong Kong issued a string of warnings after a journalists’ association broadcast a speech by an advocate for the city’s independence. The immediate censure by Chinese and Hong Kong officials hinted that city lawmakers may soon be pressed to pass a law against sedition and treason, which could stifle protest in the partially autonomous territory. On 14 August 2018 Andy Chan Ho-tin, convener of the Hong Kong National Party, told a crowd at Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, or FCC, that “if Hong Kong were to become truly democratic, Hong Kong’s sovereignty must rest with the people of Hong Kong. And there is only one way to achieve this: independence.”
Chan, who was banned from being a legislative candidate in 2016, denounced China as a worldwide threat to freedom. He also called on foreign governments, including the United States, to help Hong Kong. “China is, by nature, as an empire, a threat to all free peoples in the world,” Chan told the audience. “Simply saying you are pro-independence is somehow the same as committing treason. … There is, in other words, no longer freedom of speech in Hong Kong, but instead, the freedom to think and say whatever Peking (Beijing) wants us to. Hong Kong is no longer that much different from China, and the international community has to acknowledge that.”
The director of Beijing’s State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office hinted the city should deploy national security legislation to protect against threats to the Chinese nation. Hong Kong last considered such a security law in 2003, when a half million people poured into the streets in protest. The bill was later shelved. “The HKNP and people, including Chan, have plotted, organized and carried out activities with seditious intention. They want to break up the nation,” Zhang Xiaoming said.
China's foreign ministry in a statement "condemned" the correspondents' club for hosting Chan and said there is a "bottom line" for freedom of speech. It said any words or actions that attempted to split Hong Kong from China would be "punished in accordance with the law" and that the FCC was "not outside the law". The foreign ministry said "We urge the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club to take a good look at itself, correct mistakes, follow the laws of China and the Special Administrative Region with practical actions, and respect the feelings of the 1.4 billion Chinese people".
A court in Hong Kong on 02 December 2020 handed down jail terms of up to 13-and-a-half months to three prominent democracy activists for their role in a mass protest that laid siege to police headquarters on June 21, 2019 for several hours. Joshua Wong, 24, was handed a 13-and-a-half-month jail term by the West Kowloon Magistrate's Court, while fellow activists Agnes Chow, 23, and Ivan Lam, 26, were jailed for 10 months and seven months respectively. All three had earlier pleaded guilty to charges of "inciting others to take part in an illegal assembly," and "taking part in an illegal assembly," and their sentences were reduced in recognition of the guilty plea.
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