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Hong Kong Demonstrations Highlight Governance Flaws

By Simon Henderson

23 July 2019

Hong Kong Demonstrations Highlight Governance Flaws

The massive protests against the extradition law in Hong Kong reveal how the Hong Kong government’s approach to policy making is plagued by a disconnect with the views of Hong Kong people, a refusal to countenance alternative views and political naiveté.

In advance of the bill being presented there was an almost complete lack of consultation with civil society. Carrie Lam, Chief Executive, under pressure from Beijing, insisted that it had to pass before Legislative Council broke for its July recess.

Following pressure from foreign governments, including the EU, civil society, the business sector and with public protests growing, the Administration made some concessions, reducing the scope of extraditable crimes and raising the bar on punishable crimes. However, it failed to address concerns about the lack of human rights safeguards for those extradited to the mainland.

Protests escalated as the government refused to back down with one million on the streets on 9 June and two million on 16 June. Under huge local and global pressure, Carrie Lam announced an indefinite suspension for the Bill.

The failure of the extradition proposals has revealed serious flaws in the governance system of Hong Kong. There is a lack of transparency, the government believes it knows best and there is limited accountability. Nonetheless, this is how the administration often operates, especially when a matter involves mainland interests.

Crises, such as that over the extradition proposals, are destined to keep repeating until democratic commitments are upheld and the public’s voice can be better reflected as laid down in the Joint Sino British Declaration and reflected in the Basic Law.

Once the current crisis blows over, and there is no sign of the protesters giving in,Beijing is likely to continue its pressure in integrating Hong Kong, pushing various economic, education, legal and other measures. But Hong Kong people have shown through the extradition crisis that they will strongly resist threats to their rights, especially when that is perceived as being directed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Calls for greater self-determination are likely to grow and with it what the CCP greatly fears, the extension of an increasingly distinct identity for Hong Kong.

Simon Henderson is an international human rights lawyer. He spent the last two years based in Hong Kong working at Justice Centre Hong Kong.