22 October 2019
China is likely to step up efforts to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, putting pressure on the local government to come down hard on any group or individual perceived to be questioning Beijing’s authority, observers say. Photo: Bloomberg
China is likely to step up efforts to tighten its grip on Hong Kong, putting pressure on the local government to come down hard on any group or individual perceived to be questioning Beijing’s authority, observers say. Photo: Bloomberg

What 2019 may have in store for us

During his 27-year-reign in China, Mao Zedong set a non-trespassable red line in relation to political affairs in the mainland, i.e. the ruling party and the nation must never “change color”, and the supreme status of the Communist Party of China (CPC) must stay permanent, historian A. H. Y. Lin has noted.

Lin pointed out that in the post-Mao era, no Beijing leader has ever abandoned that bottom line.

Coming to Hong Kong, ever since the handover, even an average Hongkonger who doesn’t have much knowledge about the mainland can tell that Beijing has been increasingly holding on to that line.

In particular, Hong Kong independence and self-determination have been considered as a red line that must not be reached, indicating that there is absolutely no room for bargaining for the CPC when it comes to its governing power and the nation’s territorial integrity.

And given the current volatility in international politics, we can expect Beijing to further tighten its grip on that red line in the new year.

The first controversial issue which the people of Hong Kong are going to face in 2019 would be the local legislation of the national anthem law.

Even though the full details of the proposed bill won’t be made public until it is submitted to the Legislative Council for scrutiny later this month, based on the existing information provided by our officials earlier and the remarks made by certain lawmakers, it is clear that any action that is deemed derogatory towards the national anthem will be banned.

Meanwhile, the bill is also going to stipulate that the national anthem must be played on certain specific occasions such as oath-taking ceremonies of principal government officials, and members of the judiciary and the legislature, so as to highlight the significance of “one country”.

Some in the government have stressed that the enactment of the national anthem bill is intended to promote public understanding and respect for the national anthem rather than punish anyone.

However, the problem is, while Hong Kong and the mainland adopt a rather different set of standards on freedom of expression, cross-border relations have changed drastically since the provisional legislature in the city passed the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance more than 20 years ago.

Given that, there is a growing concern among society that the enforcement of the national anthem law in Hong Kong may give rise to a new round of controversies.

Apart from the national anthem law, another focus of public attention in 2019 has got to be the District Council election scheduled for November this year.

For decades, the DC election has remained a fierce competition among major political parties for seats and district resources.

Yet in recent years, political elections on different levels in the city, including the DC race, have taken on a new meaning: a tool to screen candidates for their allegiance to “one country”.

As a number of pro-democracy candidates were barred from running in the Legco by-polls and the Rural Representative Election last year, it has clearly shown that political figures who either advocate or seemingly advocate Hong Kong independence, or who didn’t object to separatist acts committed by others, are no longer tolerated in the local political establishment.

One might still remember that the DC election back in 2015 saw the debut of quite a number of young and rookie candidates who had taken part in the Occupy movement, and some of whom were even elected into office.

Nevertheless, three years on, there is now a huge question mark hanging over as to how many candidates of such kind can get through to the DC race this year.

In 2018, several individuals and members of some foreign organizations were denied entry to the city by the Immigration Department on grounds of their political views and beliefs, and I believe similar actions will also take place again this year.

The authorities might also devise new measures to escalate their ban on pro-independence activities in Hong Kong.

If we try to make a projection of what 2019 may have in store for Hong Kong using the mainland’s logic and paradigm, we might find that Beijing is likely to further tighten its grip on the special administrative region this year.

How we should live with that and what we can do would be the tough questions that every citizen in Hong Kong will have to face.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 29

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist