Date
6 December 2016
The Communist Party only embraced the idea of giving Hong Kong "a high degree of autonomy" as an act of expediency at a time when it wanted to ensure a smooth transition from British to Chinese rule. Photo: HKEJ
The Communist Party only embraced the idea of giving Hong Kong "a high degree of autonomy" as an act of expediency at a time when it wanted to ensure a smooth transition from British to Chinese rule. Photo: HKEJ

How did we miss the warning tremors from Beijing?

Maybe we should all have been paying more attention to events in Beijing, if so, how could we not have noticed the coming onslaught on dissent, freedom of expression and, indeed, the rule of law?

The two numbskulls from Youngspiration may well have accelerated the process and given the government an ideal excuse to step up its activities but it should have been obvious that China’s most hardline administration since the demise of the Gang of Four, was highly likely to turn its attention on Hong Kong, sooner or later.

Forget all the nonsense about Xi Jinping being in any sense a reformer. He has authoritarianism built into his very DNA and there is no shortage of evidence to back up this contention.

Where to start? A good place would be the crackdown on all the usual suspects who have previously dared raise their heads to challenge the authorities, or should we be looking at the fate of the lawyers who were courageous enough to defend them?

Then there’s the much more determined crackdown in potentially troublesome places like Tibet and Xinjiang where naked force has been on display for all to see.

Where force has not been deployed the more subtle but maybe more lasting suppression of local religion, culture and language has accelerated.

The villages where people stood up to local Communist Party tyrants have found that there is a massive price to pay for their audacity.

Previous regimes showed a markedly greater degree of tolerance towards rural dissent but the Xi regime believes that this was a mistake.

Meanwhile, all vestiges of freedom of expression, even of the mildest kind, have been met with strict reminders from the center that following the party line is the only line to follow.

Much hilarity has surrounded the new edict reminding the people to address cadres as “comrades” but, as ever, use of language, especially of the kind that is imbued with ideology, reflects underlying conditions.

In this case the party wants what George Orwell mockingly described as “newspeak” to emphasize the old ways of party discipline and adherence.

Perhaps the only surprise is that it took the party so long to focus attention on Hong Kong.

But that focus has now clearly emerged and the beginnings of the crackdown on dissent are well underway with far more to come.

As ever the “party of the people” distrusts the people and when they fail to behave in ways that are not considered to be acceptable, there are dark mutterings of “foreign meddling”.

This, of course, was the line taken by Leung Chun-ying, who has still to deliver his “irrefutable proof” of the role foreign forces played in the Umbrella Movement.

This is just one part of the narrative. By the day we see that every time dissident voices are raised the paid-for-play patriots are quick to respond with accusations of foreign meddling.

They may even believe that overseas countries have nothing better to do than get involved in Hong Kong affairs because the Communist Party is nothing if not paranoid.

Like its former Soviet counterpart, it is obsessed by fears of plots and succession, and in Hong Kong, China’s most international city, these obsessions are being revived with a vengeance.

The Communist Party only embraced the idea of giving the Hong Kong SAR “a high degree of autonomy” as an act of expediency at a time when it wanted to ensure a smooth transition from British to Chinese rule.

Unlike the promises of autonomy made to the people of Tibet, the promises relating to Hong Kong were made under the dazzling glare of the international spotlight, so greater care was taken and more lavish promises were furnished.

The party is pragmatic in these matters, knowing full well that the international spotlight dims overtime and that promises can later be “re-interpreted”: a word that has increasing resonance in Hong Kong these days.

The party is happy to have a willing and enthusiastic local enforcer in the shape of Leung Chun-ying. He is the classic kind of Communist stooge who tries to get one step ahead of his bosses, second guessing what they might want and proceeding to do it with relish.

In the old days these people were known as the “101 percenters”. But, make no mistake; even if (and this increasingly seems unlikely) he is not given the nod to serve a second term, his successor will be no less amenable to following the hardline orders from Beijing.

What does this mean in practice? First up will be a further purge of the legislature.

Then will come the use of law to pursue dissidents; as in Singapore a more compliant judiciary will set about imposing crippling fines to ensure that dissidents are bankrupted and sent to jail.

Another attempt to introduce draconian anti-subversion legislation is now only a matter of time, as is a far more determined effort to get schools to work on the political indoctrination of their students.

Both of these measures were defeated by the public in the past but the new order is far less likely to succumb without a fight.

The damage that will be done to Hong Kong’s standing and ability to operate as an international business center will be far reaching but politics trumps everything else in the world of a hardline Communist Party.

If Comrades Lenin and Mao were alive today, they would be so proud.

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AC/CG

Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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