2019-10-08afr.com

"We are a lot more determined because this time we are not pursuing something we don't have. We are stopping something we already have -- the rule of law -- from being taken away. This is very different. It's so much more concrete. It's so much more real when you're threatened with something you have being taken away."

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For more than 10 years after the handover, China lived up to its word and Hong Kong enjoyed a high degree of autonomy. But after President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, the Communist Party increased its control of the city. Having promised to bring in universal suffrage by the 2017 elections, in 2014 Beijing revealed a significant caveat -- everyone would be given the vote but Beijing would first vet the candidates. This triggered the start of the Umbrella Movement.

A year later, five Hong Kong booksellers specialising in gossipy reads about China's political elite disappeared and emerged later in detention on the mainland. A billionaire businessman was also "escorted" back across the border to help Chinese authorities with a corruption case, compounding fears about the ability of mainland security agents to operate freely in the city.

In late 2016 and early 2017, six pro-democracy lawmakers were stripped of their seats for failing to take their oaths properly. Meanwhile, leaders of the Umbrella Movement were jailed for their involvement. And last year, the Hong Kong government declined to renew a journalist visa for Financial Times Asia news editor Victor Mallet, who was acting head of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents' Club when it hosted a talk by an independence advocate.

Chan says the extradition bill was the last straw. "That really raised alarm bells," she says. "Until then, people felt safe in their own beds in Hong Kong but if the extradition proposals were passed, you could be subjected to extradition probably on some trumped-up charge, sent across the border and then maybe you just disappear.

"All these issues, one on top of the other, impresses upon people here what is happening to `one country, two systems'. In their eyes, it has become `one country, one-and-a-half systems' and if this deterioration continues, very soon it will become `one country, one system'."



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