What is happening between China and Hong Kong
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The decision of the Chinese National People's Congress to pass a new security law for Hong Kong highlights the special status of the former British crown colony within China. The political principles that have applied to Hong Kong since 1997 are a historical compromise that is probably unique in the world. Compliance with the agreement reached at the time will be a key issue for Hong Kong's future within China.
Historical legacy of the colonial era
China had to cede Hong Kong to Great Britain after the First Opium War (1839 to 1842). A lease agreement concluded in 1898 for further parts of Hong Kong territory was valid for 99 years. When the British overtook the Union Jack at Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor on the night of July 1, 1997, the entire crown colony finally passed to the People's Republic of China after more than 150 years. After difficult negotiations between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and China's leader Deng Xiaoping, China and Great Britain signed the "Joint Declaration" in 1984, which determined the future status of the city.
Formula for the coexistence of different systems
On the basis of this declaration, Hong Kong becomes part of the People's Republic of China in 1997. According to the formula “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong as a special administrative region retains its free market economy, its own currency, its own legal system, its own laws, a political system with democratic elements and guaranteed civil liberties such as freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.
There is a visible and controlled border with mainland China, which is primarily responsible for foreign and defense policy. The city is to retain this semi-autonomous special status for 50 years, i.e. until 2047.
Hong Kong's people insist on their guaranteed rights
In the first decade after the handover, this arrangement worked largely smoothly for both sides. Increasingly, however, young Hong Kong residents in particular are demanding more say, economic prospects and democratization, as the Hong Kong “Basic Law” promises to be a goal. For example, they are calling for the democratic election of the head of government or the head of government, which so far has not been determined directly by elections, but by an electoral body.
Since 2010, there have been repeated mass protests and street occupations that have attracted worldwide attention. Debates over a controversial extradition law 2019 and the current resolution of the Chinese National People's Congress on a new security law further exacerbate tensions and fuel fears about a possible dismantling of civil liberties and the guaranteed special status of Hong Kong as a whole.
The German government and the European Union demand respect for Hong Kong's autonomy
From the point of view of the German Federal Government, the principle of “one country, two systems” and the basic rights of Hong Kongers anchored in the Basic Law must be preserved, in particular the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. What is now necessary is prudence and de-escalating steps on both sides. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said of the current developments:
The principle of “one country, two systems” and the rule of law are ultimately the basis for the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong. The Security Act must not call these principles into question either. Freedom of expression and assembly as well as the democratic debate in Hong Kong must also be respected in the future.
In a statement by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on the deliberations on a new security law, the European Union also stressed the need to maintain Hong Kong's autonomy and called for respect for Hong Kong's rights and freedoms and a democratic debate on the legislative process. You can find the full statement here.
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