For those of us who love democracy, the last decade has been depressing. We are witnessing the demise of democratic institutions around the world. In Europe far right, authoritarian governments have sprung up in Poland, Hungary, and Italy. Even Germany and France have seen a resurgence of the far right in their politics. In the US, the Trump Administration continually challenges the rule of law and democratic norms. Wealthy corporations and individuals increasingly dictate our national policies at the expense of the citizenry. There seems to be nothing stopping the trend. And then there are the Hong Kong protesters, where millions have taken to the streets against a Chinese juggernaut, in order to defend their democracy.
The complex history of Hong Kong explains its current crisis with China. Hong Kong was a British colony since 1841. The 156 year British rule ended in 1997 when the prosperous colony was turned over to China. British Hong Kong followed a different trajectory than mainland Communist China. Hong Kong became a capitalist economy and a multicultural, international community. As importantly, Hong Kong’s system of government mirrors the British model with free elections, emphasis on human rights, free speech, and the rule of law. The 1997 handover agreement was supposed to recognize these differences and give Hong Kong social and political autonomy for 50 years through a “one country, two systems” policy.