An independent Hong Kong? Stop dreaming

April 14, 2016 09:18
If China is no longer an authoritarian one-party state in 2047, the push for Hong Kong to become independent from a communist regime becomes moot. But if China is still a one-party communist state then, independence is totally out of the question. Photo:

What will Hong Kong be like in the year 2025? The locally produced Cantonese movie Ten Years gives us an imagined glimpse.

It visualizes Hong Kong in 2025 being under the totalitarian thumb of communist China.

Putonghua is imposed on the population, the People’s Liberation Army crushes protests, Youth Guards that resemble Red Guards are deployed to harass localists and Beijing’s Liaison Office foments fake terrorism to justify enactment of national security laws.

Bearing in mind that 2025 is just nine years away, is it really possible that the central government can impose such great political change on Hong Kong in so short a time?

Anything is possible, as the saying goes. Judging from what the makers of Ten Years said about the movie, it is apparent they did not consider the movie to be far-fetched fiction meant purely for entertainment.

The makers seemed to believe to a certain extent that a future Hong Kong could indeed be under the totalitarian thumb of communist China.

The movie, influenced by and made after the so-called Umbrella Movement, was a hit among those who took part in the movement.

This belief among many young people of a bleak and undemocratic future is rooted in the central government’s hardline attitude towards so-called genuine democracy for Hong Kong.

As the old saying goes, a week is a long time in politics.

That means nine years is an eternity in politics terms. Anything can happen. But what political future is in store for us will be influenced very much by how Hong Kong people want Hong Kong to fit in as a part of China.

I do not believe that the central government will, for no reason, turn Hong Kong into what is depicted in the movie Ten Years.

What can Beijing possibly hope to gain by imposing Putonghua here, restricting freedoms, and using the PLA to crush protests just for the sake of it?

It did not use the PLA even during the 79-day Occupy movement and during the Mong Kok riots. On the contrary, Beijing risks losing a lot by doing what is depicted in the movie.

This doesn’t mean Beijing will never use its iron fist on Hong Kong but I believe it will do so only as a last resort when it feels it has no other choice.

As we all know, the central government is obsessed with national security. It will do whatever is necessary to protect national security even if the methods it uses draw international condemnation.

We can see that in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Beijing often suspects the bogeyman of foreign interference in Hong Kong to undermine the nation even when there is none.

If a time ever comes when Beijing is fully convinced that national security is under threat by certain forces in Hong Kong, it will use its iron fist to deal with the threat even if that means damaging the foundations necessary for international confidence in Hong Kong.

National security always comes first for the central government.

Beijing is keenly aware that international confidence in Hong Kong is based on our civil rights, core values, rule of law, independent judiciary, free media, freedom of information and corrupt-free society. This is what separates us from the rest of China.

It is these core values to which Hong Kong owes its success as an Asian financial center and its status as an international city where numerous multi-national corporations have their Asian headquarters.

Take away these core values and Hong Kong’s status will disappear overnight. If Beijing were to impose the harsh measures depicted in the movie, Hong Kong’s role as an Asian financial hub and international city will be wiped out.

Hong Kong used to be the only goose that laid the golden eggs for a backward China. Now, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Shanghai are also laying golden eggs but Hong Kong’s eggs still remain the best.

That’s why Beijing will think thrice before using its iron fist on us.

The problem with the movie Ten Years is that it visualizes the future with its mindset stuck in the present.

Mao Zedong’s China was not Deng Xiaoping’s China. Deng Xiaoping’s China was not Xi Jinping’s China.

What will be the China of Xi Jingping’s successor?

China in 2025 could be even politically harsher than now or it could be less so. No one knows. But Ten Years depicts a future China to be exactly like the harsh regime it is now which will impose authoritarian rule in Hong Kong.

In fact, anything can happen between now and 2025, let alone between now and 2047 when the 50 years of no change under the 1997 agreement between China and Britain ends.

It is not unthinkable that the combination of the digital age, growing wealth, social media and increased capitalism will force future mainland leaders to become less authoritarian in governing the country.

It is not inconceivable that by 2047 China’s one-party state is communist only in name or even that it is no longer a one-party state.

If the disintegration of the Soviet Union with the fall of the Berlin Wall can happen, a democratic China can also happen by 2047, which is still 31 years away.

Some Hong Kong people, including student groups, have recently said society should start discussing what kind of Hong Kong we should have when the 50 years of one country, two systems end in 2047.

Student groups want Hong Kong to be an independent city-state in 2047. Those calling for a public discussion to start now on the status of Hong Kong in 2047 are either not using their heads or have their heads buried in a cloud.

The central government has not even started focusing on who should be Hong Kong’s next chief executive when Leung Chun-ying’s first term ends next year.

The country faces so many pressing issues that need immediate attention. Why would leaders want to consider dealing with an issue that won’t arise for many years to come?

As far as mainland leaders are concerned, one country, two systems under the Basic Law is still working well and does not need immediate attention.

Those who say it is entirely up to Hong Kong people to decide what happens to Hong Kong in 2047, as some students have said, not only have their heads buried in a cloud, they are dreaming.

They were not born in the 1980s when Britain and China negotiated the future of Hong Kong and so may not even know about what was then called the “three-legged stool”.

Hong Kong legislators wanted Hong Kong to have a say in the British-China handover talks but Beijing firmly rejected a “three-legged stool” that included Hong Kong in the negotiations. It insisted the future of Hong Kong was a matter between China and Britain only.

Aside from national security, reunification is as equally important to China. That’s why it never shies from hinting it will even go to war to make sure Taiwan sticks to the one-China policy.

If it is willing to go to war to preserve the one-China policy, why would it allow Hong Kong people to decide on their own if they want independence in 2047 after having undergone such difficult negotiations with Britain to regain sovereignty over Hong Kong on the condition that there is one country, two systems?

It makes no logical sense.

Those who understand politics understand the importance of timing.

There is a good time to do something and a bad time. What may seem impossible at one time can become possible at another time.

It would have been impossible for Donald Trump to have become the Republican Party’s top US presidential candidate four years ago when Barack Obama was running for a second term.

But it has become possible now. It is the worst timing for students and others to talk about independence, self-rule, or merely more autonomy now when mainland leaders have grown even more distrustful of Hong Kong after the Occupy movement and the Mong Kok riots.

How can any sensible thinking person expect the central government to engage in a public discussion about Hong Kong’s status in 2047, including the status of independence, when Beijing has rejected even so-called true democracy that would allow a free choice of candidates to run in chief executive elections?

No one can even guess what Hong Kong or mainland China will be like in 2047. But if China is still a one-party communist state, then independence is totally out of the question. Mainland leaders would never even consider it.

But if China is no longer an authoritarian one-party state in 2047, then the push for Hong Kong to become independent from a communist regime becomes moot.

This article appeared in Chinese in the April 2016 issue of Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly. (Android, iOS)

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.