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Three Lessons from the Hong Kong Protests

Enormous protests this month in Hong Kong over a proposed extradition law have revealed the depth of citizens’ concern for their way of life, and of their anger at Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s gross mismanagement. Lam now seems unlikely to serve out her full term in office – but China also has lessons to learn from recent events.

LONDON – The massive protests in Hong Kong in recent weeks have demonstrated the depth of its citizens’ determination to uphold their democratic way of life – something they were supposedly guaranteed when the United Kingdom returned sovereignty over the city to China in 1997. Moreover, the protests hold three powerful lessons: for Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, for the demonstrators themselves, and for China’s rulers.

Over the past few years, the Chinese authorities have steadily increased their interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, gradually eroding the “one country, two systems” principle that was meant to ensure a “high degree of autonomy” for the city after 1997. The current crisis stems from China’s desire for a legal framework to return fugitives from the mainland who have allegedly used the city as a safe haven for ill-gotten wealth. In many respects, the extradition law introduced by Lam represented an extension of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign to Hong Kong, and was intended to avoid further incidents like Chinese security officers’ 2017 abduction of tycoon Xiao Jianhua from the city.

There is no evidence that China gave Lam detailed instructions on enacting the law. Instead, she seems to have taken it upon herself to introduce it. However, Lam exceeded her remit by making the proposed extradition law applicable not only to fugitive mainland Chinese, but also to all ordinary Hong Kong citizens, as well as foreigners temporarily residing in or visiting the city.

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