Domestic drivers of China’s policy toward Hong Kong

Hong Kong and China share a complex and difficult relationship which is significantly marked by Chinese oppressive measures and resulting suspicions of Hong Kongers about their future. China has constantly used reunification rhetoric for Hong Kong and Taiwan and considers them as ‘inalienable parts of mainland China which should not have been separated’. The re-unification has become a demand of current Chinese nationalism.

Hong Kong is currently the victim of this extreme nationalism. It first came under China in 3rd century B.C and remained its part for almost 2,000 years. However, this is not enough to understand the present situation. A significant turning point came in the relation during the Opium wars between Great Britain and China where later lost the war and slowly ceded a part of its territory, i.e. Hong Kong to former on a 99 years lease.

Fast moving forward, Hong Kong returned to Chinese control on July 1,1997. However, there is more to the issue. Hong Kong provided a lucrative trade port to Great Britain so they enjoyed the fruits of economy but left its political system fairly open. Hong Kong turned into a democracy with a very vibrant political culture. This was under threat after its assimilation into China.

To deal with this issue Britain had signed an agreement with China in 1984 that China will allow Hong Kong to govern itself for 50 years. This will apply on form of government, press freedom, economy and legislature. Hence, Hong Kong enjoys certain political freedoms that are unknown in mainland China. Although there is a lot of ambiguity in that agreement regarding the standard of democracy and process of re-integration with China.

Conversely, China has not been able to tolerate an autonomous region with political freedoms and is trying to curb these liberties. At present, a lot is at stake in Hong Kong as this issue also represents a flashpoint between democracy and authoritarianism as competing models of governance.

Therefore, Xi Jing Ping has taken extreme measures to engulf Hong Kong. ‘Domestic pressure’ on Xi Jing Ping other than his general assertive and aggressive posture seems significant driver of China’s Hong Kong policy.

Impacts on Domestic politics of China:

Chinese leadership is taking so many frustrated steps in haste for reunification of Hong Kong with mainland China and is willing to do anything possible. The issue of Hong Kong is important for domestic politics of China in mainly these two aspects.

  1. Chinese communist party has rallied and mobilized Chinese people around the issue of reunification. This issue is of significant importance since 1970’s and has turned into a Nationalistic issue. A lot is at stake for Chinese government and well as Xi Jing Ping himself in Hong Kong.

Failure or difficulty in doing so can have shift in public opinion for Chinese communist party. The consequences can be severe for Xi Jing Ping and his position in the party.

  • Living alongside a city with vibrant political culture with majestic economy can also impact domestic politics of China in certain ways. A lot of Chinese communist party cadres are sent for training in Hong Kong and familiarize themselves with rules of international commerce. Their exposure to political, artistic freedoms can impact their thinking. This is also something to fear for communist part leadership as they well know the effect of allowing sudden freedoms and as they unfolded with Soviet Union.

Moreover, China views reunification of Hong Kong as a step closer to reunification of Taiwan.

China’s negative handling of situation

Although, China is very enthusiastic about its reunification with Hong Kong, this will only happen overtime with the integration of their political  and economic system. It has to wait till 2047 for complete re-unification, at least. This, however, has not stopped China from trying to control the politics in Hong Kong.  China has been exerting a significant influence on Hong Kong through the loyalists of communist party. The chief executive of Hong Kong is currently elected by 1,200 members election committee which is mostly pro-Beijing. The legislative council is also dominated by pro-Beijing lawmakers because not all members are elected by Hong Kong voters.

There have been significant protests in Hong Kong on repressive measures of China. Umbrella revolution in 2014, literally started against Chinese attempt to control the political system of Hong Kong. Protestors demanded that there should be change in the election procedure of Chief executive. However, China did not pay heed to the demands of protestors and the revolution failed.

In 2014, a bookseller and a teacher disappeared. Suspicions are that there is Chinese involvement in this. The later was found in Chinese custody later on in mainland China. Political activists and opponents live continuously under threat and face forced disappearances.

In 2019, China passed an extradition bill. This bill aimed at allowing China the submission of alleged criminals in mainland China and adjudicating them there. Critics blame that the true purpose of this bill was allegedly to curb dissent and detain journalists, political activists etcetera. Moreover, this will also jeopardize the due process of law. Resultantly, Bill instigated widespread anger and massive protests. Protesters demanded withdrawal of bill and extending the franchise of democracy as well to universal suffrage. The investigation of police brutality on protestors was also a part of demand.

On 30th of June 2020, when world was busy in fighting covid-19, China went beyond extradition bill and passed a new controversial national security law for Hong Kong. Although, this law was termed as ‘essential’ to restore order after protests by Chinese officials. The national security law is very ambiguous in nature and treason, national security, secessionist tendencies etcetera and literally be interpreted anything by China. It is feared that this will also use to punish the opponents of Beijing and officially end to autonomy exercised by Hong Kong.


To conclude, China has been using oppression, police brutality and various other measures to handle Hong Kong issue. It has damaged democracy and has converted popular rule into rule of officials. However, in my opinion, these measure will only make the people of Hong Kong distant from mainland China simultaneously  jeopardizing its economy. Suspicions and fears of Hong Kongers on their future after 2047 will only increase diminishing prospects of smooth re-unification.

Ayesha Amjad
Ayesha Amjad
Student of International Relations in National Defense University (NDU), Pakistan.