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Hong Kong protests. Sisci (sinologist): “The problem is not the law but the lack of trust”

One million people took to the streets of Hong Kong protesting the extradition of criminal suspects to China. Francesco Sisci, sinologist: “The people of Hong Kong fear that with this amendment Beijing could easily request the extradition - on more or less fabricated charges - of political dissidents living in Hong Kong. The problem, therefore, is not the law itself. The problem is the degree of public confidence in China.”

One million people took to the streets of Hong Kong protesting the extradition of criminal suspects to China. Francesco Sisci, sinologist: “The people of Hong Kong fear that with this amendment Beijing could easily request the extradition – on more or less fabricated charges – of political dissidents living in Hong Kong. The problem, therefore, is not the law itself. The problem is the degree of public confidence in China.”

“It is feared that this law could facilitate the extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to China. While extradition is a civilised and fair matter, the problem is trust, or rather Hong Kong’s current, escalating feeling of mistrust with regard to China.” Francesco Sisci, Italian leading sinologist and expert in China, explains what drove a million people to take to the streets to protest a bill presented in Beijing, envisaging the forced extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, where the trials would be held. “The people of Hong Kong fear that with this amendment Beijing could easily request the extradition – on more or less fabricated allegations – of political dissidents living in Hong Kong. They are afraid first of all of China per se and because there have been cases of abductions of writers brought from Hong Kong to China in dubious circumstances.”

One million people is a huge number…  

Hong Kong has a population of 7-8 million. It can be said that the whole city has protested. It means that people are afraid, and that’s a fact.

How will Beijing react to the protest?

Taking a step back shows that China does not control the situation. If, on the other hand, China keeps insisting, then the Hong Kong issue is due to become an international affair. The protests in Hong Kong made the headlines all over the world. If China insists, it means that it wants to subjugate Hong Kong and send a strong message to the world.

What is China afraid of?

China fears that in this situation of increasing tension Hong Kong may act as a revolutionary platform to subvert its ruling power.

It would like to extinguish all potential flames that risk flaring up in its territory. But such a harsh and direct course of action simply does not work; on the contrary, it would intensify the fires and multiply the protests. All this is happening at a time of soaring tensions with the United States, while trade negotiations are underway. All of these issues could flare up one after the other and in the coming months we could witness a dramatic increase in international tensions over China.

What ‘s the situation in Hong Kong today?

In 1997, Hong Kong was restored to Chinese sovereignty and for a 50-year period, i.e. until 2047, China pledged to honour the policy of “one Country, two systems” enshrined in the agreement with Hong Kong. The issue concerns the “two systems.” Accordingly, Hong Kong is entitled to have its own laws, and to enjoy a high degree of freedom and autonomy. If, however, this amendment on extradition is introduced, the people of Hong Kong fear it would jeopardize the ‘two systems.’

 Until now, people were free to criticize, to say what they wanted about China. If this extradition law passes tomorrow, what will the people of Hong Kong be allowed to do or not do?

People are saying that this amendment changes the very nature of Hong Kong. At the same time, China does not want Hong Kong to spark off a revolt against China with the pretext of “one country, two systems.”

At this point how much room to manoeuvre does China have?  

It has two options. The first is to take a backwards step, which would calm down the situation.  But this option has a cost. China, or those in China who have responsibility for Hong Kong, could be exposed to hash internal criticism. Taking a step backwards could mean losing face, showing weakness. The other option is for the Chinese Government not to back down and to continue to impose this amendment. In this case, external tensions around China would mount, and it would be seen as a blatantly arrogant system that ignores the will of the people.

Is there a third way out?

The problem at this point is that China cannot fail to admit that things went wrong in Hong Kong and it must bear the responsibility. By taking a step backwards, China shows the world that it is being reasonable. But I don’t know if it will succeed. We must bear in mind that Hong Kong is only the tip of the iceberg of a larger problem, which involves structural and political reforms. China should start to address this problem. But it also fears unpredictable outcomes once the reforms process is launched. It is indeed a risk, but

political reforms need to be addressed. The country can not proceed in these conditions if it intends to interact with the rest of the world.

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