5 December 2019
Beijing, through the SAR government, has stepped up efforts to further integrate Hong Kong into the mainland. Photo: AFP
Beijing, through the SAR government, has stepped up efforts to further integrate Hong Kong into the mainland. Photo: AFP

Goodbye and hello

Looking back, 2017 has been a year of change.

As the special administrative region celebrated the 20th anniversary of our return to Chinese sovereignty, Beijing stepped up its efforts to eliminate our unique character, which means repressing our freedoms and turning us into an acquiescent Chinese territory under the rule of the Communist Party.

The most recent example of this is the co-location arrangement for the cross-border Express Rail Link, which has been approved by China’s parliament amid protests that it violates the Basic Law.

Although the pan-democrats, in opposing the scheme, warned that it would be the most serious violation of the One Country, Two Systems policy since the 1997 handover, most Hongkongers failed to see anything ominous or threatening about the arrangement. Their reasoning is that since we are now under China, there is no point in opposing the central government’s policy directions. After all, their preoccupation is how to make more money in stocks and property.

This mindset represents a clear victory for the authorities and the pro-establishment camp. Hongkongers still care about the core values of our community, such as freedom of expression, rule of law, judicial independence and government transparency.

But for them, there is no sense in challenging Beijing’s bottom line, and what is more important is to maintain harmony in society.

Beijing is aware of this. In fact, it chose Carrie Lam to replace Leung Chun-ying because the latter’s style of governance had only brought strife and division in the community. As it turns out, Lam is doing her job of implementing the central government’s policies in Hong Kong in the first six months of her term, and earning good ratings in popularity surveys as well.

Lam did give Hong Kong people a respite from the political struggles of the past five years under CY Leung’s administration, paving the way for a harmonious society that Beijing and Hong Kong people want.

A survey by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong said that people’s net satisfaction with Hong Kong’s development has increased significantly by 32 percentage points to positive 3 percentage points. At the individual level, 56 percent said they lived a happy life this year, while 20 percent said they were not happy, giving a net happiness value of positive 36 percentage points.

In 2018, the SAR government will be working at full throttle to connect Hong Kong to the mainland economy and way of life. Part of the economic game plan is the opening and commercial operation of the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge and the Express Rail Link, which will provide more physical infrastructure to facilitate the movement of people and goods between the city and the mainland.

Beijing’s Greater Bay Area plan will also play a key role in the further integration Hong Kong and Macau into the mainland. Under Lam’s administration, our city’s development will be inextricably linked to the mainland’s economic policies and growth plans.

From a political perspective, Hong Kong may have lost the chance to go forward with democratic reforms after the city rejected the universal suffrage plan suggested by Beijing in 2014.

It appears that Hongkongers have lost the drive to push such an agenda amid efforts by the authorities to marginalize the democrats in the district and legislative councils.

The disqualification cases against pan-democratic lawmakers last year showed that the government has the power to defang the opposition and pursue its policies. Given such a situation, political reform is not expected to go forward until the opposition is effectively neutralized.

For ordinary Hongkongers, the situation does not raise much concern. They will pay closer attention to how the Lam administration’s housing policy will affect home prices, which have been skyrocketing over the past few years amid the lack of supply and influx of capital from across the border.

A handful of rich people are making a killing in the property market. Any substantial rise in the supply of new homes or a cap on overseas investment in the local property market would work against the interest of these elites.

Meanwhile, the influx of mainland capital into the Hong Kong stock market is welcome news for local investors, who will surely profit from rising share prices. They are also salivating as they await the initial public offerings of some big mainland companies such as Xiaomi Corp. next year.

And so goodbye, 2017. Welcome, 2018!

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EJ Insight writer