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Explainer: Since the handover in 1997, Hong Kong's politics have been rough

Image: Reuters Berita 24 English -  On July 1, Hong Kong will have been ruled by China for 25 years. In 1997, China got its financial centr...

Image: Reuters

Berita 24 English -  On July 1, Hong Kong will have been ruled by China for 25 years. In 1997, China got its financial centre back from Britain. Under the "one country, two systems" rule, China was promised a lot of freedom and independence.

Critics, including some governments in the West, say that China has broken these promises in the past few years by using a broad national security law. The claims are not true, say officials in Hong Kong and China.


Britain took Hong Kong away from China in three steps, starting with the Opium Wars in the middle of the 19th century. Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula have been given to China forever. In 1898, a 99-year lease was signed for the bigger, more rural New Territories and the islands near them.

Britain and China agreed in 1984 that China would take back Hong Kong at midnight on June 30, 1997. Later, the Basic Law was made, which is like a mini-constitution. It guarantees Hong Kong's capitalist way of life for 50 years, as well as a high degree of autonomy, an independent judiciary, and a lot of freedoms.

It also said that full democracy would be the goal in the long run.

Tensions rose, though, when Beijing tried to control Hong Kong more and dragged its feet on electoral reforms. This led to large-scale protests.

In 2003, more than 500,000 people took to the streets to protest a proposed security law that rights groups said would hurt people's basic rights. It was put away.

In June 2014, China released a policy document that made it clear that the city was China's territory and that China had the final say over it. In August, China's parliament said Hong Kong could vote directly for its leader in 2017, but only for candidates backed by a pro-Beijing vetting committee.

Democracy supporters in Hong Kong called this "fake," and on September 28, thousands of protesters crowded important roads, causing police to shoot tear gas.

The "Umbrella Revolution," which got its name from the fact that people used umbrellas to block police weapons, took over roads in three major districts for 79 days before police moved in and cleared them.

Beijing didn't give in to any of the protesters' demands, like letting everyone vote.

In 2019, a bill that would have let people accused of certain crimes be tried in China was opposed by a lot of people. Peaceful protests grew into a populist movement against China's dictatorship.


The implementation of a national security law (NSL) that could put people in prison for life for crimes like subversion was a turning point that made it harder for people in Hong Kong to speak out on political and civic issues.

Opposition leaders were arrested almost right away. Under the NSL, the government raided media outlets and civil society groups, which caused many of them to close. They also held key democratic politicians and activists without bail.

More than 2,000 people have been sent to jail because of crimes they committed during the 2019 protests. About 200 people have been arrested on national security charges. In one police raid, 47 Democrats who were holding an unofficial primary election were caught.

Since the NSL was put in place, Hong Kong's rankings for economic freedom, media freedom, and quality of life have all gone down.

China's parliament passed an election law in March 2021 to make sure that only "patriots" could run Hong Kong. In the biggest changes to Hong Kong's elections since 1997, the police were given the power to check out candidates and the number of directly elected seats was cut.

In the legislature, there are no Democrats who are in the opposition. Even though the West is critical, Beijing says the system is more democratic than it used to be.


After the 2019 protests, the government keeps saying that the national security law and changes to the voting system have brought back stability.

The city is still a financial centre, but political changes and some of the strictest COVID-19 rules in the world have caused money and people to leave.

On July 1, Chinese President Xi Jinping will swear in John Lee as the new city leader. Lee and three other important officials are being punished by the U.S. for breaking people's rights.

Some businesspeople and the government are still optimistic, saying that religion, cyberspace, and the law are still more free than in mainland China. However, critics say that basic rights will continue to be taken away because more security laws and policies are on the way.

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