What HK riots mean for Filipinos
Our story begins in the middle of the 19th century. Victoria rules as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and, later, Empress of India, while the Qing Dynasty lords over China.
The strong demand for Chinese goods created an imbalance of trade with European nations with so much of their silver ending up in China as payment for those products. To correct this trade deficit, the British East India Company grew opium and exported it to China, resulting in a growing addiction to the drug for its people. The Qing Dynasty moved to stop the trade, confiscating huge amounts of opium from warehouses and foreign ships calling at seaports like Canton.
In retaliation, Great Britain sent a military force that defeated a much weaker Chinese navy in what was called the First Opium War (1839-1842). The Treaty of Nanking ended the war, with China forced to cede Hong Kong Island to Great Britain “in perpetuity.” It was the beginning of a “Century of Humiliation” for China.
For more than 150 years, Hong Kong remained a Crown colony under British rule.
Fast forward. In 1984, the United Kingdom agreed to transfer Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories, back to China on condition that for 50 years from 1997 to 2047, Hong Kong would be allowed to keep its capitalist economic system, currency, legal system and other administrative arrangements, while China would have control over defense and foreign affairs. The date set for the “handover” was July 1, 1997.
Hong Kong would be ruled under a miniconstitution known as the “Basic Law,” and would be considered a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China with the arrangement known as “One Country, Two Systems.” Nothing was spelled out as to what would happen after 2047.
A few months ago, huge demonstrations broke out in Hong Kong, protesting a proposed amendment to the extradition law known as the “Fugitive Offenders Ordinance” that would allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China for trial under the mainland Chinese legal system. Now on its 11th week, the demonstrations have disrupted the normally peaceful life that Hong Kong has been noted for, including stoppages in airport operations in one of the busiest air terminals in the world.
Last week, for the first time, teachers joined the protest rallies, and now the demands are not just for the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and the resignation of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s first female chief executive, but also for universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into police brutality in handling the demonstrations, and the release of detained protesters. So far, there seems to be no end in sight for the unrest that has caused much concern and instability not just in the local business community but also in international commercial relations with other nations.
What do the Hong Kong riots and demonstrations tell us?
First, the Chinese people in Hong Kong fear that their freedoms guaranteed under the transfer arrangements in 1997 are slowly being eroded by increasingly greater interference in their domestic affairs. Having lived under a democratic system left behind by the British, they dread to be under the justice system that now exists in Communist China.
Second, the Chinese people in Hong Kong are sending early warning signals to China that they will not be amenable to a “one country, one system” type of governance, and will fight to maintain the existing arrangement when the time comes. The older generations that joined the rallies explain their actions, saying they are doing it for their children and grandchildren, as well as for future generations.
Third, if Hong Kong residents are unhappy with the thought of living under the Communist Party in mainland China, Filipinos should be wary of attempts by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army to overthrow our system of government with all its flaws, deficiencies and shortcomings, and supplant it with a similar Communist Party-led administration in the country.
The first freedom to be abolished by the communists would be the freedom of the press. There would be no Philippine Daily Inquirer available, with its hard-hitting editorials against government incompetence and malfeasance. No public demonstrations would be allowed in protest against government policies.