The Full Story: Hong Kong

Since early 2019, massive pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have challenged China's grip on the prosperous island nation.  Now, in the midst of a global pandemic which diverted international attention and put mass-demonstrations on hold, the situation remains unpredictable.

Newspaper tycoon Jimmy Lai is arrested at his office on August 10th under Hong Kong's controversial new state security law.  Photo courtesy of the Associated Press.

With a comprehensive timeline of events, we hope to shed some light on how the conflict in Hong Kong has developed recently, where the situation now stands, and where it may be headed next.

May

After gaining control over its domestic COVID-19 outbreaks, China sought to aggressively reassert itself abroad, starting in Hong Kong with the proposal of new, wide-reaching national security legislation.  When hundreds took to the streets on May 24th to protest the proposal, Police fired on them with tear gas.  

Two days later on the 26th Hong Kong's chief executive sought to reassure those fearing that the law would imperil Hong Kong's autonomy.  Yet, by the very next day, the US had announced that it would no longer regard the island nation as autonomous.  The legislation was also criticized by the UK, who vowed to expand Hong Kongers' visa rights if such a law were implemented.

June

On the 31st anniversary of China's actions in Tiananmen square, fueled by what they saw as China's continued anti-democratic actions, thousands defied the law in order to gather publicly in Hong Kong to hold vigil, at which many were arrested.  Only two weeks later, on the 18th, it was announced that China's national legislature had passed its first draft of the security law.

A week later on the 25th the US Senate agreed unanimously to a series of sanctions on Chinese businesses and officials who they deemed were actively destroying Hong Kong's autonomy.

Undeterred, China began its review of the national security law, which it promptly passed a few days later on the 29th.  In response, the US swiftly announced a hold on defense exports to Hong Kong, and some in the UK argued that China had now breached its 1997 commitment to respecting Hong Kong's autonomy.

July

Immediately after it was passed at the start of July, China’s new security law was decried by the US and UK. However, as both countries remain in the throes of their respective coronavirus crises, their ability to pursue sustained, aggressive foreign policy objectives may be limited.

Considering China’s leverage as a chief exporter of PPE and other critical medical supplies such as COVID-19 test kits, some politicians may be cautious of engaging in direct, overt conflict with China over the question of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Instead, some countries may opt for a more reserved stance, following the EU in seeking a “dialogue” with China. Ultimately, the future of Hong Kong remains unclear, and foreign commitments to the cause of the island’s autonomy will surely be tested.

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