When the U.K. handed Hong Kong over to China on July 1, 1997, the city was one of Asia’s freest and most open. Now it is a repressive police state. What went wrong?
For the first few years after the handover, Beijing behaved—at least on the surface—reasonably well. When I left in 2002, I was cautiously optimistic that the “one country, two systems” principle would persist. Only over the past decade did it begin to become apparent that Beijing’s iron grip was tightening. After the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests demanding universal suffrage, freedoms began to erode visibly. Protests in 2019 were met with shocking police brutality. The final straw was the imposition of the draconian National Security Law two years ago, which eradicated any remaining liberties and landed former legislators, journalists, trade unionists and civil-society activists in jail.