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Why Does Hong Kong Have Its Own Olympic Team? If You're Confused, You're Not Alone

The 2018 Winter Olympics have finally arrived, and the opening ceremony on Feb. 9 is as beautiful as ever. And an important moment during the opening performance is (as usual) the traditional Parade of Nations. Members of each country's Olympic team march into the main Olympic stadium, officially marking the beginning of the games. Seeing just how many nations are represented every year is truly a spectacle, and there are some countries you may not know anything about. One country that is often surprising to hear during the parade is Hong Kong. Besides, why does Hong Kong have their own Olympic team? Isn't it a part of China?

If you're confused about this don't worry — your confusion is warranted. Hong Kong has been under the rule of many different nations over the course of its history, so knowing if the country is actually independent or not is common. According to the CIA World Factbook, the territory that comprises Hong Kong was under Chinese dynastic rule until it was occupied by the United Kingdom in 1841.

Hong Kong then remained under British control until the breakout of World War II, when Japan occupied the region in 1941. Japan relinquished control of Hong Kong in 1945 after they were defeated by the United States.

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Then, the UK took back control of Hong Kong up until 1984, when the country signed an agreement on Dec. 19 that would eventually return the territory back to China. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong officially returned to back to China and became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.

In the agreement that was signed between the two nations, China declared that it would treat the territory under a "one country, two systems" policy. What does that mean exactly? Essentially, China exercises their sovereignty over Hong Kong without disturbing the way of life that they were used to while under British rule. In other words, Hong Kong can continue to operate under their capitalist government while China remains under communist rule.

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So even though Hong Kong technically is a part of China, the "Basic Law" that the Chinese government agreed to with the UK allows the territory to represent themselves as a separate autonomous entity at sporting events (such as the Olympics). It also allows for Hong Kong to have its own currency and legal system. But although it is represented as separate from China and by all accounts looks like it is its own country, at the end of the day it's not. China still exerts some control over Hong Kong, namely by electing a handful of officials to their government.

Although Hong Kong enjoys the ability to represent themselves and their own identity as a territory apart from China, the Chinese presence in Hong Kong's way of life has been a cause for worry for the people living there. Anson Chan, a high official in the Hong Kong government, told the New York Times. "More and more, there is a sense of futility. We have this enormous giant [China] at our doorstep, and the rest of the world does not seem to question whatever the enormous giant does." So even though Hong Kong does have their own government, they don't exactly have full control of that government.

Despite the fact that Hong Kong gets their own delegation at the Winter Olympics and enjoys some form of autonomy, there is still a looming presence from China that is felt among its people. But at least the Olympics are a chance for Hong Kong to show the world that their people are, in fact, their own entity.