We were part of a National Newspaper Association group study trip led by former Nebraska Secretary of State and Nebraska Press Association executive Allen Beermann in July 1997. The trip coincided with the Handover, also called the Return of Hong Kong from British rule to mainland China, the Republic of China or ROC, July 1, 1997.
People were partying in the streets the night before as they were in a celebratory mood thinking the change would be a good thing for them. It was nicknamed the “Hangover” because of all the drinking and partying going on. Perhaps there were a few who may have expected the worse with the possibility of Chinese troops showing up in the streets the next day.
Hong Kong residents were living a life of comparative freedom similar to what we enjoy today in America. It was a bustling trade center, the busiest harbor in that part of the world. There was no military presence like there was on mainland China. The event marked the end of 156 years of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, which had a population of 6.5 million in 1997.
Lately, things are beginning to unravel in Hong Kong as the result of a controversial extradition bill passed by the Chinese government. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents have taken to the streets and stormed parliament on July 1 and continue to gather and protest.
The government said the bill would plug legal “loopholes” that prevented it from extraditing criminals to certain countries. Critics of the measure said those in Hong Kong will be subject to China’s deeply flawed justice system. The bill was suspended, but not withdrawn, after a number of large protests. Demonstrators want it to be scrapped completely and are demanding an investigation into alleged police brutality.
It’s not surprising that Hong Kong residents do not want to be sent to mainland China to be judged for crimes they may be accused of committing in Hong Kong, and perhaps never being allowed to return again. Hong Kong has a separate justice system compared to what they would be subject to on mainland China. It is part of the “one country, two systems” arrangement that guarantees Hong Kong a certain level of autonomy.
After over a century and a half of living in relative freedom guaranteed by a judicial system that the people could count on, Hong Kong is not about to submit itself to the whims of the government on mainland China. When free people believe they are threatened by tyranny, they are bound to react, and that is what is happening in Hong Kong. It just took a little over 20 years for things to start unraveling and for the ROC true colors to come out.
We hope this situation can be peacefully resolved and that no lives are lost as protests continue to be held. The Chinese government should realize and appreciate what a jewel of economic success it was handled in the British Handover of July 1, 1997.
To begin meddling in the lives of the people of Hong Kong would be a travesty that could lead to big economic and humanitarian problems for the mainland Chinese government. What is going on in Hong Kong today should make us ever more appreciative of the freedoms we take for granted in our country today.