China’s Hong Kong Dilemma

Is the One Country, Two Systems promise to preserve the city’s autonomy waning?

On the sweltering night of Aug. 5, thousands of residents gathered near Hong Kong’s main government complex for an event billed as the city’s first pro-independence rally. Chan Ho-tin, a 25-year-old founder of the newly formed Hong Kong National Party and organizer of the event, spoke of a “quiet revolution” with independence supporters “infiltrating” government and the ranks of the police force. Edward Leung of the Hong Kong Indigenous Party drew cheers with a fiery declaration that “Hong Kong’s sovereignty doesn’t belong to Xi Jinping, the Communist Party, the Chinese, or local governments. … Sovereignty always belongs to the people.”

Only a few years ago, suggesting Hong Kong might secede from China would get you dismissed as a crackpot. More than 90 percent of this city’s 7 million residents are ethnic Chinese, and millions are either the children or grandchildren of mainland immigrants—if not mainland-born themselves. Hong Kong relies on China for 70 percent of its water, most of its food, and about half of its trade. The city’s finance, shipping, property, retail, and tourism sectors depend heavily on the mainland. And then there are those 6,000 People’s Liberation Army troops garrisoned throughout the city.

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