• Tahuhu Korero

Hong Kong: One Country, Two Systems - The Anti-Extradition Bill and Protests of 2019

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

The Historical Background

The public protests and the associated governmental reactions stemming from the Anti-Extradition Bill have highlighted the uneasy political balance in Hong Kong between supporters of Chinese rule and pro-democracy campaigners. The historical background of this conflict stems back to the date in which Hong Kong came back under Chinese rule after over 150 years of British governance.

The colony of Hong Kong was officially reverted back to Chinese sovereignty at midnight on June 30, 1997 [1]. Hong Kong became a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which granted a ‘high degree of autonomy’ except for foreign relations and defence matters [2]. The agreement also included Deng Xiaoping’s constitutional principle of ‘one country, two systems’. This referred to a unified China where the majority of the nation was governed by socialism, but separate Chinese regions (such as Hong Kong and Macau) retained their own independent economic, governmental, and administrative structures [3]. This arrangement is to last for 50 years, and the current political tension stems from the uncertainty of the future after 2047. Many native Hong Kong residents approached this policy with scepticism, believing that the sovereignty of their homeland was at stake [4]. The country was divided between supporters of China’s increasing influence and those that wanted a democratic system of governance.

The 2014 Protests

A predecessor of the current protests is the ‘Yellow Umbrella’ or the ‘Umbrella Movement’ of 2014. The Economist describes the campaign as a response to ‘new loyalty tests’ and selective pre-screenings for candidates running for the 2017 election for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive [5]. The pro-democracy advocates began protesting for more transparency during general elections, with the majority of supporters being university students who believed Chinese influence would cripple any chance for Hong Kong to gain political independence [6]. The movement was named for the use of umbrellas as passive resistance against the Hong Kong police’s use of pepper spray against the protestors, and the umbrella became a symbol for pro-democracy supporters. The movement is ultimately remembered as a ‘79-day occupation of the city demanding freer elections and greater political autonomy’, and was a step in the ladder leading to the current unrest today [7].

This movement became the ‘largest civil disobedience movement in the city’s history’ and led to nine pro-democratic leaders being convicted earlier this year of ‘rarely used colonial-era public nuisance charges’ [8]. The leaders of the protest came from across society, including a 75 year old Baptist minister, Rev Chu Yiu-Ming, law professor Benny Tai, politician Tanya Chan, and former student leaders Eason Chung and Tommy Cheung [9]. Amnesty International’s Hong Kong director Man-kei Tam said that the guilty verdicts were a ‘crushing blow for freedom of expression and peaceful protest in Hong Kong’, and other human rights groups have criticised the prosecution as ‘politically motivated’ for using “vague” public nuisance laws against protestors [10].

The Current Situation

The ‘man at the centre of the storm’ [11] is 20 year old Chan Tong-kai, and his actions are described as the ‘case that lit the fuse in Hong Kong’ [12]. Tong-kai, a Hong Kong national, admitted murdering and killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan before using her credit card to pay off his own bills and to purchase new clothing before catching a flight back home [13]. The problem arises because of an absence of a formal extradition agreement between Taiwan and Hong Kong: the Hong Kong police cannot charge Tong-kai for a murder committed in Taiwan.

The next escalating factor in the conflict was the so called ‘extradition bill’ proposed by the chief executive of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam. The bill granted extraditions on a ‘case-by-case’ basis to jurisdictions lacking a formal extradition agreement - such as Taiwan and mainland China [14]. The focus soon shifted from the murder trial of Tong-kai towards fears that this bill would be used politically.

These fears would grow into the unrest that is still ongoing in Hong Kong today. The world continues to watch as history plays out in the central stage of ‘one country’ between its ‘two systems’, a struggle that dates back to the date in which this principle was established.


Cecilia Liu is an undergraduate at the University of Auckland. All posts by contributing authors reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not necessarily represent the perspectives of the University of Auckland History Society.


[1] Steven Levine, ‘Hong Kong’s Return to China,’ Encyclopaedia Britannica, accessed 25 July 2019 from https://www.britannica.com/topic/reversion-to-Chinese-sovereignty-1020544

[2] Ibid.

[3] A.K, ‘What is China’s “one country, two systems” Policy?’, The Economist, accessed 27 July 2019 from https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2019/06/30/what-is-chinas-one-country-two-systems-policy

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Eli Meixler, ‘Joshua Wong, Hong Kong's Most Prominent Pro-Democracy Activist Has Been Jailed Again’, Time, accessed 29 July 2019 from https://time.com/5105498/joshua-wong-hong-kong-prison/

[7] Ibid.

[8] Lily Kuo, ‘Hong Kong ‘Umbrella Movement’: Nine Convicted Over Protests’, The Guardian, accessed 8 August 2019 from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/apr/09/hong-kong-umbrella-movement-protesters-guilty-over-pro-democracy-rallies-jail

[9] Ibid.

[10] ibid.

[11] Jasmine Siu, ‘’Body folded in suitcase’: gruesome details emerge of Hong Kong man’s killing of pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan’, South China Morning Post, accessed 8 August from https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-and-crime/article/3008099/sentence-man-who-killed-girlfriend-taiwan-sets

[12] Daniel Victor and Tiffany May, ‘The Murder Case That Lit the Fuse in Hong Kong’, The New York Times, accessed 8 August 2019 from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/15/world/asia/hong-kong-murder-taiwan-extradition.html

[13] Jasmine Siu

[14] Daniel Victor and Tiffany May

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