In the hours following the first arrest under a controversial new law, Hong Kongers are protesting in the streets. Citizens of the unique city are railing against what they characterize as attempts by Beijing to curtail their freedoms. Hong Kong, which was a British colony until 1997, has enjoyed unique freedom even under Chinese governance.
However, in recent years, Beijing has begun to tighten the leash on the economic center. Hong Kong has seen numerous protests in recent years as the mainland has tried to exert its influence. Last year, an extradition bill incensed pro-democracy groups in the city. This led to widespread outcry and protesting that ended when China sent military troops to end the uprising.
The national security law outlaws any attempts to undermine the Chinese government. However, as noted by Robert Koepp, the founder of Geoeconomix, “China constantly uses national security as a reason for saying, ‘I don’t have to abide by any rules. I can arrest you without any need for explanation.’”
This has led to worry from Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates. Claudia Mo, a legislator in Hong Kong, noted “Beijing obviously thinks this is going to be a knockout blow for the Hong Kong democracy movement. […] This is the end of Hong Kong as we know it.”
International markets are now cautious, viewing the move as damaging to Hong Kong as an economic center. The region’s relative freedom from Beijing has led to its prosperity on the world stage. However, China’s moves make sense, from their own point of view.
Domestically, the prospect of bringing Hong Kong to heel is a popular one. China’s reputation at home has taken a beating thanks to the coronavirus. The year was already shaping up to be a rough one, financially, for the country. The sudden onset of COVID-19, however, crippled much of China’s manufacturing for the first half of the year.
This has led to public sentiment turning sour for the first time in years in China. With the international community focused on their own COVID-19 responses, however, China could have seen this moment as an opportunity to bring Hong Kong into the fold. Countries like the US, that might otherwise intervene, are too busy with their own problems at home to get involved.
As such, this move could make a certain type of sense. What’s more, in the 1990s, Hong Kong represented over a quarter of China’s economy. Now, however, the city is just under three percent. This could have been the cause for the shifting attitudes towards the coastal city.