CRF Blog

Democracy in Hong Kong

by Bill Hayes

Backgrounders from the Council on Foreign Relations are primers on pressing world issues. They usually include histories, summaries, images, graphs, video, and links to additional resources.

A recent Backgrounder was on Democracy in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with certain political and economic freedoms based on the notion of “one country, two systems.” The former British colony is a global financial capital that has thrived off its proximity to China, but in recent years many in Hong Kong have become frustrated by growing economic disparities in the city and weary of delays in democratic reform.

Democracy activists in Hong Kong usually rally on the anniversaries of the 1997 handover to China and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, but protests in the fall of 2014 reached record levels in what was dubbed the “Umbrella Movement.” Experts say that Beijing views these demonstrations and the increasing popularity of pro-democracy parties as a direct challenge to its legitimacy, and fears a political compromise could have dangerous implications for other regions like Taiwan or Tibet.

Hong Kong is an SAR of China that is largely free to manage its own affairs based on “one country, two systems,” a national unification policy developed by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s. The concept was intended to facilitate the reintegration of Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao with sovereign China while preserving their unique political and economic systems. After more than a century and a half of colonial rule, the British government returned Hong Kong in 1997. (Qing Dynasty leaders ceded Hong Kong Island to the British Crown in 1842 after China’s defeat in the First Opium War.) Portugal returned Macao in 1999, and Taiwan remains independent. [more]