It also greatly expands police powers for scrutiny of citizens. The law has been widely critiqued as being a move for greater “mainlandization” of Hong Kong. However, what many have failed to realize is that China’s recent forcible integration of Hong Kong is only a piece of China’s great puzzle.
The erosion of Hong Kong’s independence comes from a meticulously worked plan to covertly undermine the autonomy of the region and aggressively assimilate it into mainland China through a series of maneuvers.
Curbing Judicial Independence
Hong Kong’s Bar Association has long held concerns over Beijing’s “mainlandization” of its judicial system. China is attempting to undermine Hong Kong’s judiciary by delivering interpretations of the region’s Basic Law through its top legislative body – the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC). These interpretations have been labelled as “nothing less than amendments to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution” and have been carried out in the most “brutal and abrupt manner”.
China’s most severe interventions into Hong Kong’s judicial system involved amendments to the right of abode for Chinese citizens with parents in Hong Kong, the chief executive’s term of office, and the granting of diplomatic immunity to states which heavily benefited China.
These assaults on Hong Kong’s Basic Law have left judges feeling “trapped”; one veteran judge of Hong Kong – under both British and Chinese rule – commented that “if [the NPCSC] interpret too frequently, the risk is they will leave us nothing left on which to rule.”
Beijing officials have also looked to carefully eradicate any “anti-Chinese” political candidates from running in Hong Kong’s elections by staging political screening processes. After conceding universal suffrage to Hong Kong in 2017, the NPCSC cleverly included a caveat which meant that successful political candidates would have to be approved by a nominating committee before being eligible to run for public elections.
The NPCSC’s decision sparked mass protests in which many claimed the island was a “fake democracy” and did not possess genuine universal suffrage. The effect of this “mainlandization” maneuver was best illustrated through the blocking of Agnes Chow’s candidacy campaign in 2018 due to her party’s advocacy of self-determination for Hong Kong. The decision was described as showing “that the government has the right to judge one’s political beliefs based on its own judgement, and not on facts or evidence presented by the prospective candidate.”
Chinese “mainlandization” is nowhere more pertinent than in the institutional erosion of the local language. Before the 1997 handover, the majority of local schools primarily taught in English and Cantonese; Mandarin, on the other hand, was not a part of the core curriculum until 1998. Since then, Chinese authorities have demanded greater use of Mandarin in both administrative and educational institutions. This emphasis on Mandarin as a common language is used as a strategy to dilute Hong Kong’s independent cultural identity. Claudia Mo, a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council, commented that “if you want to kill a city, you kill its language.”
China’s officials are doing just that.
Whilst officially, the Government encourages students to become bi-literate in Chinese and English and trilingual in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, the story is behind the scenes is very different. Reports of officials “bribing” schools to make the switch from Cantonese to Mandarin as the medium of instruction have even been echoed at senior positions in Hong Kong’s Universities. To make matters worse, in May 2018, The Education Bureau of Hong
Kong degraded the local language of Cantonese to a dialect, even though the majority of the population speak Cantonese as their first language.
The promotion of Mandarin and Chinese ideals over the local way of life has raised some serious concerns amongst Hong Kong residents for the future of the island and its independent culture.