Hong Kong Explained
Commonly listed among the most visited cities in the world, Hong Kong consists of a mountainous terrain and subtropical monsoon climate. It is an important hub in East Asia, with global connections to many of the world’s cities. However, due to its long colonial history, there remains a little uncertainty regarding Hong Kong’s ownership. Is Hong Kong part of China? Is it part of Britain? Or is it a sovereign state?
The status of Hong Kong is complex. Beijing is responsible for appointing the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. However, Hong Kong acts like an independent country in many ways. In this post, we’ll explore the history of Hong Kong, and will help clarify just what exactly Hong Kong is.
A Short Colonial History
Humans had long lived in the area that is now Hong Kong when the region was first incorporated into China during the Qin Dynasty in 214 BCE. Hong Kong would remain largely under Chinese rule until 1841.
In January of 1841, the Qing Dynasty was defeated in the First Opium War, and the Chinese government ceded Hong Kong Island in perpetuity to the British Crown. Following the Second Opium War in 1860, more territory around Hong Kong was occupied by Britain. Finally, in 1898, a 99-year lease of additional land was granted to Britain, the last territorial change for their colony.
Hong Kong was occupied by Japan during World War II, as most British troops were tied down fighting Germany in Europe. Following the war, Britain was quick to regain control of Hong Kong. However, Britain’s failure to secure Hong Kong during the war diminished its reputation in the region.
Hong Kong’s population recovered quickly after the war though, as a wave of skilled migrants from the Republic of China (ROC) sought refuge from the Chinese Civil War in a neutral territory. Hong Kong experienced quick post-war industrialization, fueled by this wave of migrants and booming textile and manufacturing industries.
When the People’s Republic of China (PRC) took over China’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 1971, Britain sought clarity on the future of their colony. Diplomatic negotiations with China led to the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. Under this agreement, Britain would transfer the entirety of Hong Kong to China at the end of the 99-year lease, which expired in 1997.
The Hong Kong Handover
Following the Sino-British Joint Declaration, there was growing concern that China would implement authoritarian control and bring an end to civil liberties in Hong Kong once the colony was returned. A negotiation between the two governments led to the forming of the Basic Law: a mini-constitution for Hong Kong. Supporting its capitalist way of life, the document noted the following in regards to the city:
- Its capitalist system will remain unchanged for 50 years.
- Freedom of speech, freedom of press, right to protest, and other democratic ideals will be protected.
- Its currency, legal system, and parliamentary system will be preserved.
As a way to re-claim the former colony, leading up to the transfer, China declared Hong Kong a special administrative region (SAR). China would govern Hong Kong in foreign affairs and national defense. However, SARs, like Hong Kong, would exercise their own local administrations under China’s “One Country, Two Systems” principle.
“The Handover” of Hong Kong from Britain to China took place on July 1st, 1997. This landmark event marked the end of British administration in Hong Kong, and is sometimes considered the end of the British Empire.
Is Hong Kong Part of China Today?
Yes! Hong Kong is still a special administrative region of the PRC. But under that “One Country, Two Systems” principle, Hong Kong retains a great deal of autonomy.
Hong Kong has its own anthem, flag, passports, legal system, parliamentary system, and currency. In fact, the Hong Kong Dollar is the only legal form of currency in Hong Kong. Chinese mainlanders need a visa to live, work, and visit Hong Kong, and Hong Kong and China share a full international border. More than that, the city has two official languages: Chinese (Cantonese) and English, with little use of Mandarin among residents.
Since Hong Kong has developed a separate cultural, legal, and political identity from the majority of China, the belief that it would be better off on its own is becoming an increasingly popular view in Hong Kong, especially among younger generations.
As the PRC challenges the “One Country, Two Systems” policy with increasing levels of press censorship and intervention in Hong Kong’s educational and political institutions, the future of Hong Kong remains uncertain. For now, Hong Kong remains a part of China. However, if history has taught us anything, it’s that borders and rulers can quickly change.