Anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, visit of Xi Jinping, swearing in of John Lee

Since coming to power, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has waged an ideological war against the influence of “Western values” such as constitutional democracy, freedom of the press, judicial independence and universal human rights – notions that have long been dear to Hong Kong and were an integral part of its identity.

The city’s pursuit of full democracy, namely the eventual election of its leader by universal suffrage – a goal enshrined in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law – is viewed with particular suspicion by Beijing, which fears that a freely elected leader poses a challenge to his authority.

Umbrella Movement: In 2014, thousands of young protesters occupied major roads in the city’s financial center to demand “true universal suffrage” – rejecting a proposal by China’s parliament to have candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing committee beforehand.

The peaceful protests, known as the “Umbrella Movement”, ended after 79 days, with none of their demands met.

Since then, Beijing has sought to exert more control over Hong Kong. During his first visit to the city as a Chinese leader in 2017, Xi warned that any effort to “challenge the power” of the central government was “absolutely impermissible”.

To not have enough time: Beijing’s tightening grip has only intensified discontent in the city, especially among its younger generation – many of whom fear they will run out of time to fight for democracy before the 2047 deadline for how many time things would theoretically be allowed to stay the same in the semi-autonomous city.

Some tried to push for change by joining the city’s legislature, but that too failed under mounting pressure from Beijing. A slew of pro-democracy lawmakers have been disqualified over a swearing-in controversy, while other candidates have been banned from standing for election.

2019 events: Longstanding tensions finally erupted in 2019. Over the summer, peaceful marches against a bill that would allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China quickly snowballed into sometimes violent protests against Beijing, plunging the city into months of social unrest and its most tumultuous period since the handover.

National Security Act: On June 30, 2020, Beijing bypassed the Hong Kong legislature to impose a national security law on the city, which critics say has been used to crush its opposition movement, overhaul its electoral system, silence its outspoken media and cripple its once vibrant civil society. The Hong Kong government has repeatedly defended the law, saying it restored order to the city after the 2019 protests.

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