By Mike Jarvis
It’s one of the striking images of the ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong.
A group of protestors had stormed the Hong Kong legislature and installed a British colonial flag over the emblem of China-ruled Hong Kong.
The significance of that on the 22nd anniversary date of Britain handing back the territory to Chinese rule would not have gone unnoticed.
Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1842 by China when Britain defeated it in the First Opium War. It was returned to Chinese rule on July 1st 1997.
However, despite the striking visual impact of protestors covering the Hong Kong city emblem with a flag of the former colonial ruler Britain, and while several were seen waving British flags, there was no immediate suggestion of a demand to return to British rule.
On the same day, there was also a pro-China march and functions elsewhere in the city celebrating Hong Kong-China ties.
But Monday’s storming of the Hong Kong legislative assembly hall on the 22nd anniversary of the territory’s return under the Chinese flag coincided with wider ongoing demonstrations against a proposed extradition law between Hong and Beijing.
Pro-democracy demonstrators are demanding that a controversial bill that would allow extraditions from Hong Kong to China should be scrapped.
Some protestors have raised fears about China’s legal system and have also voiced concerns about the direction Hong Kong could be headed when its 50 year period of autonomy agreed with Britain in 1997 comes to an end in 2047.
Although back under Chinese authority, Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading economies, continues to function largely with a legal system put in place during its period of British rule.
Campaigners say the proposed extradition law violates that principle and there have been a series of mass demonstrations against it since earlier this year.
The Hong Kong government has bowed to pressure and says it will suspend the proposed legislation indefinitely.
That doesn’t go far enough for campaigners who want it scrapped altogether and are also demanding the resignation of current leader, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Elected for a five-year term in 2017 she is regarded as a favourite of the Chinese government but is an unpopular figure in Hong Kong.
It’s left to be seen if either will happen.
On paper, Hong Kong has local autonomy as a Special Administrative Region of China, but observers point out that China wields considerable influence behind the scenes.
While Hong Kong police have been criticised in some circles for being heavy-handed against demonstrators, especially during this week’s incident, they have been equally chastised for allowing demonstrators to break into and ransack the legislative hall.
Since March this year, millions of people have taken part in the demonstrations against the planned extradition law with hundreds of thousands turning up at individual events.
On one occasion last month it’s estimated that around two million people participated in a march described as relatively peaceful.
There are no signs of the demonstrations ending any time soon.