Explained: One country, two systems formula of China

Reading time: 6-8 minutes.

The city of Hong Kong, the hub of economic activities is undergoing a heavily disturbed phase. The citizens hit the roads to show their dissent to the act of Chinese Government in introducing the extradition bill allowing China to extradite any suspect of crime and fugitives from Hong Kong to Beijing in the form of silent processions which later emerged as huge protests resulting in several clashes between police and activists resulting in usage of petrol bombs by the police, who also started using live bullets.

With these frequent clashes an 18-year old boy was shot dead recently, incidentally when China was celebrating 70 years since its formation. While the Chinese Government is facing many international economic challenges, in the beginning China didn’t pay much heed to the Hong Kong protests, but later the flare of the protesters ensured that their voice echoed throughout the world.

Background of the issue:

The motto which the protesters have adopted is, “Five, Not one less!” which are,

  • Absolving the arrested protesters,
  • Independent inquiry into the accused police brutality
  • Universal adult suffrage
  • Non characterisation of protests as riots
  • Permanent withdrawal of the extradition bill

Historical background:

This geopolitical movement necessitates the understanding of its historical backdrop. Historically, Hong Kong was a British colony since the First Opium War, 1842 and then the British government signed the second convention of Peking, through which the Hong Kong and the surrounding islands were leased for 99 years to the British government with a promise that the islands would be returned back to China after the expiry of the lease term.

Accordingly, Hong Kong was handed back to China through in 1997. On 19th December, 1984 China and UK signed the Sino-British Joint declaration through which set the terms for the autonomy of Hong Kong. Since then, Hong Kong enjoyed a great degree of legal, political, judicial and economic autonomy.

The privileges includes own and independent judiciary for the city, A separate legal system, notably the right to freedom of speech and expression and freedom of assembly to the people of Hong Kong which the rest of the China was never granted. Basically, though China had agreed to respect the autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kongers, it had to exercise control over this capitalistic city of the Communist country.

It is frequently alleged that China often attempts to encroach and erode the autonomy of the city. There are few incidents of past which fuel these thoughts among Hong Kongers. In 2016-17, six Hong Kong legislators critical of Beijing’s rule was debarred.

The Hong Kong National Party which often criticized Beijing was outlawed in 2018. The city saw a very similar protest of less severity in 2014 itself called the Umbrella Revolution which lasted for 79 dayswhere the protests erupted demanding democratic electoral reforms and against the then increasing Chinese influence.

Spin out of events of protests:

The roots of the current unrest can be traced back to the Umbrella revolution as it imbibed radical thoughts among the citizens of Hong Kong against Beijing’s influence as well as it remains a situation reminding the world where the Chinese government failed to act and gain control.

And when in the early 2019, the Chinese government announced the introduction of the extradition bill, by which it can extradite persons whom it suspects to have committed a crime and fugitives from Hong Kong to mainland China, the youth of Hong Kong became vigilantly observant. They feared that this might increase the influence of Beijing over this coastal city and the Hong Kongers who are critical about the Beijing can be extradited as per the wishes of the Beijing government.

Though the major cause of the protest, the proposed extradition bill was withdrawn, the protests did not stop following the withdrawal of the bill, with protesters raising several other demands in lieu of the protests.

China’s stance:

People’s Republic of China has had a clear stand. It’s always one country. The Sovereign is fine with the semi-autonomous status of its financial hub and clearly ruled out the possibilities of it allowing Hong Kong to cede from its territory. To the protesters who are demanding complete democracy the Chinese President XI Jinping had responded stating that “any attempt to divide China would end in bodies smashed and bones ground to powder”..

Global reaction:

The Hong Kong movement garnered huge support from the global community, where protests and rallies supporting the pro-democracy movement have been recorded in the United Kingdom, France, The United States, Canada, Australia and many other countries. Another huge impact which the world community faces is that the protests have had a huge impact upon the economy of Hong Kong.

The financial hub officially entered into a recession in October. The city faces massive job losses; tourism has declined to a great extent. This hit in the city’s economy has a sharp impact upon the businesses worldwide. The chances of significant companies pulling out of Hong Kong and relocating their branches are increasing tremendously according to experts’ warning. This remains a huge concern for the international community as the city is in the brink of collapse.

US intervention:

After breaking silence, the US Senate had passed on a bill that supports pro-democracy protesters. The Human Rights and Democracy Act mandates an annual review to ensure id Hong Kong has enough autonomy. And the US has also threatened the Chinese and Hong Kong officials responsible for human rights violation in Hong Kong.

This had a great welcome from the protesters. Trump also signed another bill banning export to the Hong Kong police of crowd-control munitions, such as teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns. Over the past 17 months the world’s two largest economies have become embroiled in the most serious trade wars.

And the Chinese government is greatly offended by the US intervention, which it called prejudiced, arrogant and disturbing its sovereignty calling the movement an internal affair of the state. And this bitter relation between world’s most powerful countries is really a global concern which is yet to be unfolded.

Implications for India:

Very recently, India has struck down Article 370 of its Constitution which granted autonomy to one of its strategically important state Jammu & Kashmir, and though it didn’t result in considerable level of demonstrations and protests the People’s Republic of China was this move while almost all other countries including middle east Islamic countries supported the move and the support of US to this move is also notable.

And now Hong Kong a significant territory of China is protesting for its autonomy and     China has not gained the world community’s trust too. Since it has already lost the support of the US and its allies, it is left in the situation where it needs to establish its friendly relationship with India, one of the developing countries which was also achieved to some extent by President Xi’s visit to India for the second Indo-China Summit.

The Hong Kong Trade Development Council has also ensured that the bilateral trade between India and China will not be impacted by the Hong Kong Movement. So, it’s a complete favoring situation for India except the global recession due to the trade war between US and China.


The entire movement is a result of fear among the Hong Kongers about the probabilities of losing their rights and autonomy. This protest can be brought to an end by having rounds of conciliation talks between the government and the leaders representing the protesters.

And since the protest has already resulted in grave human rights violation it is time for the international community to intervene and the responsibility lies on the Chinese government to respect the ‘Right to Self-determination’ which has been given under Article 1 of both ICCPR and ICESCR.

Author: K. Ishwarya from School of Excellence in Law, Chennai.

Editor: Tamanna Gupta from RGNUL, Patiala.

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