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The Hong Kong Riots- Could this be the end?

Published on: 25 July 2019

The most recent riots in Hong Kong in June and early July are scary in that they could threaten the existence of Hong Kong as the third largest financial centre in the world after New York and London.

In my days as the Vice President Asia for one of America’s largest banks, Hong Kong was a haven of productivity being the centre for trade in Asia and a city state where laws were based on ensuring the financial growth of Hong Kong.

I was based in Manila in the Philippines, which was less than a one-hour flight from Hong Kong, and as such I was in Hong Kong at least twice a month working with our office there and the local banks to expand our import/export trade related business.

It was a fascinating city to work in – you could buy and sell anything in the city and its growth was predicated on developing trade related business around Asia, but in also anticipating growth into and out of China which was growing at a hectic pace in the early 1980’s.

It was exciting to fly into an island airport whose main runways had the sea on each side and then it was necessary to be transported to the Star Ferry, which transported you from Mainland Kowloon on to the island.

I always stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which was a haven of peace on a vastly overcrowded island. Each morning I would take a taxi to the top of the island where there was a 3.2 mile track which I would run around before I had breakfast and then merge into the crowded streets to call on the numerous local and foreign banks.

Our business was totally export oriented. We were able to promise to collect dollar denominated export bills in New York within 48 hours of leaving Hong Kong.

In short, Hong Kong stood for speed of action and banking integrity. Hong Kong became a British colony in 1841 when China ceded the island to the British after the First Opium War. This war had erupted as a result of British traders smuggling opium in China.

‘Hong Kong was a haven of productivity being the centre for trade in Asia’

In 1997, Hong Kong was transferred back to China, under an agreement which provided ‘one country, two systems’ which enabled Hong Kong to keep its judicial independence from China, its own legislature, its own economic system and its own currency, the Hong Kong Dollar. Residents were also granted protection of certain human rights, including freedom of speech and assembly.

Foreign affairs and defence remained under Chinese control. While most Hong Kongers are ‘ethnic Chinese’ and Hong Kong is now seen as part of China, the majority of people there don’t identify as Chinese.

A recent survey by the University of Hong Kong showed that most people identify themselves as Hong Kongers – only 11 per cent would call themselves Chinese and 71 per cent of people say they do not feel proud to be seen as Chinese citizens.

The 1997 Handover Agreement supposedly guaranteed Hong Kong’s way of life would remain until at least 2047 when British interest in the former colony would legally lapse.

The riots over the past two months have been predicated on new legislation which has been brought before the Hong Kong parliament which would permit offenders to be sent to mainland China for trial.

On June 9th, it is estimated that over one million protesters marched on the Local Assembly creating clashes between protestors and the police.

The march was seen as a major rebuke for Hong Kong’s Leader, Mrs Carrie Lam, who has been pushing for much legislation which would allow for extradition of suspects accused of criminal wrong doing such as murder and rape.

However the protesters see this as the ‘thin edge of the wedge’ and believe that once extradition of any kind is put on the statute books, the floodgates will open.

In short Hong Kong’s judicial independence would cease, yet it is protected in law until 2047 when Hong Kong would eventually revert to being part of China.

Mrs Lam has come out to confirm that the extradition bill is ‘dead’ though it is noteworthy that she hasn’t totally withdrawn it from the legislative process.

Beijing have let her know that she will remain responsible for clearing up the mess.

It would be foolhardy to assume we have seen the last of the protests.

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