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Asia Minute: 25 years later, Hong Kong’s 'Basic Law' faces complications

APTOPIX China Hong Kong Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Hong Kong in Beijing, Friday, July 1, 2022
Mark Schiefelbein/AP
A woman wearing a face mask rides a bicycle past a large television screen at a shopping center displaying Chinese state television news coverage of Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Hong Kong in Beijing, Friday, July 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Friday is the 25th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China. Chinese President Xi Jinping has marked the occasion with his first trip outside mainland China since the start of the pandemic. But as that anniversary is marked, the city is a very different place than what was promised 25 years ago.

You can start with the Basic Law — the blueprint for what’s often called “One country, two systems.”

That’s the guiding document for the transition of Hong Kong from a British colony to a city in the People’s Republic of China.

The law was adopted by China’s National People’s Congress in 1990 — and on July 1, 1997, it replaced Hong Kong’s colonial constitution.

It includes the hybrid approach that makes Hong Kong a “Special Administrative Region” of China.

Freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed — so is an independent judiciary.

Another one of the legal promises is that “Hong Kong’s previous capitalist system and lifestyle shall remain unchanged for 50 years.”

But halfway through the lifespan of the Basic Law, critics say it is no longer the guiding light of Hong Kong — and 2020’s security law has been pushed to the center of attention.

Among other measures, that law makes it a crime to undermine the power or authority of the central government — a very broad and fairly vague charge.

That’s been used to arrest people from pro-democracy activists to the publisher of the news outlet Apple Daily, Jimmy Lai.

Increasingly, other policies have moved closer to those of the Beijing government — from political expression to positions on COVID quarantines and travel restrictions.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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