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Hong Kong Had the Seeds of Democracy Sowed but Lacks the Tools to Reap Them

Hong Kong Had the Seeds of Democracy Sowed but Lacks the Tools to Reap Them

“So it was the Chinese who had to pay for the catastrophe that had befallen their country,” observed Neel Rattan Halder, the real and fictional character of Amitav Ghosh’ Ibis trilogy, while analyzing the infamous 1842 Treaty of Nanking based on which the island of Hong Kong was ceded in perpetuity to Great Britain. Later, in 1898, additional new territories on the mainland were leased for 99 years to the British Crown as part of what the Chinese still refer to as the “Unequal Treaties.”

A century later, Hong Kong and the new territories were handed over to the People’s Republic of China with a form of rule of law guaranteed by an independent Court of Final Appeal, but no democracy.

For the past 20 years, Hong Kong people have repeatedly fought for their rights. Yesterday again, nearly two million Hong Kongese took to the street to protest against a proposed new extradition law that would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China for trial.

This massive mobilization was the largest protest ever in a territory of only 7 million inhabitants. While the extradition law project was suspended by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam with hope to reduce public anger, Hong Kong’s population remains extremely concerned with the possible consequences of the law, which is only the latest manifestation of the extreme degradation of the human rights situation in the territory.