Fifteen years ago today, Hong Kong ceased to be a British territory, the 99-year lease having expired, and was handed over to the People’s Republic of China, which tagged it as a Special Administrative Region. Under the agreement between Beijing and London:
Not just the current social and economic system in Hong Kong will remain unchanged, also the life-style and rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of demonstration of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief, inviolability of the home, the freedom to marry, the right to raise a family freely. Those will be ensured by law as well as the private property, ownership of enterprises, legitimate right of inheritance and foreign investment.
Geez. Where can we get some of that?
The agreement expires in 2047, and what happens after that is anyone’s guess, though it might look like the tumult in the streets of Hong Kong today. Juliana Liu reports for the BBC:
Elaine Mok, a demonstrator who took part with her extended family, told me she marches nearly every year in order to fight for justice and the rule of law, and to oppose mainland interference in Hong Kong affairs. They were there, she said, to remind their Chinese overlords that Hong Kong people want the right to vote, as promised when this city returned to mainland rule.
Most of the protesters were professionals like Ms Mok. Some families brought their young children. A broad cross-section of Hong Kong society gathered to agitate against one-party rule in China and to demand the right to universal suffrage, which people here increasingly believe is their natural birthright.
Hong Kong currently goes through a charade of selecting its Chief Executive by polling 1200 local businessmen and institutional officials. (By absolutely no coincidence, the new Chief Executive, CY Leung, took office today.) But it seems to me that the people of Hong Kong are taking the longer view by opposing the current one-party structure on the mainland: a different regime in Beijing might be more amenable to extending the freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong beyond the 50-year term of the handover agreement or, perhaps less likely, to extend them beyond Hong Kong to the rest of China. Certainly something is going to happen in China soon, as the population levels off and the economy continues to weaken.