By Hugo Polanco

Hong Kong is a thriving metropolis in Southern China. It has enviable levels of development in almost every indexable category, from life expectancy to education, and is a leading financial and cultural center in Asia. Yet this past week has seen Hong Kong rise up in protest with up to 400,000 city residents marching through the streets in anger and frustration. This is the latest manifestation of the uncomfortable and rapidly fraying relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China, a relationship that was inaugurated fifteen years ago with handover of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China. The handover was a powerful symbol that China had come into its own, and that the last monument of capricious western imperialism was to wiped away from Chinese soil. In Hong Kong, this feeling was tempered by uncertainty for the future and fifteen years on this uncertainty still permeates the territory. The territory was handed over with the promise that China would preserve Hong Kong’s political and economic systems for 50 years. The protests suggest that Hong Kongers are not pleased with China’s upholding of this promise. For one they have a limited say in who runs their government, the Chief Executive or Hong Kong’s boss is elected by an election committee of 1,200 members. The election committee is composed of mixture of representatives from Hong Kong’s business community, religious community, and government representatives with the business sectors holding the bulk of the votes. The business sector in turn elects executives who protect their interests, meaning leaders that won’t rock the boat and upset the lucrative trade Hong Kong business leaders have with the Mainland.

 

Hong Kong has also been inundated with Mainlanders seeking to visit and live in the territory. While the mainlanders drop money into the Hong Kong economy, many of the Mainlanders are China’s nouveau-riche, billionaires and millionaires seeking the freedom and security that mainland China does not offer. However this group is driving up the prices of goods and housing to unbearable levels and are seen as being contemptuous of Hong Kong culture and customs. Compounding this friction is the fact that the recently elected Chief Executive ,Leung Chun-ying, violated housing restrictions. This scandal is especially damning because Leung was only selected because his chief rival Henry Tang was brought down by an identical scandal less than six months ago and because in cramped Hong Kong housing rights and space are near sacrosanct. The way forward for the embattled new leader is to try to buy goodwill with an expanded welfare and public housing program to ease the economic inequality and crushing price rises. Even Hu Jintao recommended this course of action as he visited the territory to inaugurate Leung. However the swelling crowds outside were not only calling for economic remedies, they were calling for democracy and for change in China itself. Now fifteen years after that proud day when China took control over its long lost territory from the British, the old colonial flag is being flown again by the citizens of Hong Kong. This time it is not being flown in deference to foreign occupier, but as an act of defiance and frustration in the inability of their compatriots both inside and outside the territory to just let them rule themselves. 

This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.

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