End of Hong Kong as we know it

July 02, 2020 06:00
Photo: RTHK

On a stormy morning on July 1 1997 I awoke with a heavy heart mixed with hope. Just hours earlier, at the stroke of midnight, the city where I was born had passed from colonial to communist rule. Dark skies from a black rainstorm warning added to my gloom. It felt like a bad omen on that first day of reunification.

Yet my fear of the future was tempered with hope that Hong Kong’s new communist masters would rule in the same hands-off way as the British colonialists, keeping their promise to preserve our free way of life for at least 50 years. They did at first. Then the tightening started.

Tuesday evening, June 30 2020, I went to bed with a sense of foreboding. How can there be hope when, in one fell swoop, Beijing altered the DNA of Hong Kong with a national security law that makes a mockery of one country, two systems?

No sugar-coating by Beijing and its local proxies can hide the truth Hong Kong changed forever when the new law, imposed on us without consultation, took effect Tuesday evening. It marked the beginning of the end of one country, two systems as seen through the eyes of many Hong Kong people. The promised 50 years of no change with a high degree of autonomy reached a dead end after just 23 years.

Surreal is the only way to describe the past few weeks. Top officials, from Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah to Security Secretary John Lee Ka-chiu, along with Beijing loyalists, repeatedly urged us to embrace the law even though none had seen it.

They had to rely on China’s state media for broad areas of the law after the National People’s Congress first discussed it. They were kept in the dark about details even when the NPC rubber-stamped the law Tuesday morning. If I were Lam I would be embarrassed. How can Beijing not even trust the chief executive with details of a security law tailor made for Hong Kong?

Yet Hongkongers were bombarded with government TV and radio propaganda ads – paid for by taxpayers – claiming the security law strengthens rather than erodes one country, two systems. Under what logic is one country, two systems strengthened when neither Hongkongers nor the Legislative Council had any say in the law?

Surely, one country, two systems is weakened rather than strengthened when Beijing doesn’t provide Hongkongers with details of a law that affects them even after it is promulgated and added to the Basic Law. Lam took this mockery further with a Tuesday evening statement welcoming the law without providing details. I never imagined the day would come when a law takes effect in Hong Kong before its details are known.

As chief executive, Lam is supposed to serve two masters – Hong Kong people who pay her HK$400,000-plus a month salary, and Beijing. It is now clear she is just a highly-paid Beijing spokesperson. She has abdicated her role as a leader who reflects the voice of Hong Kong people to Beijing.

Every country, including China, has a right to national security laws. Beijing loyalists point to the tough US Patriot Act. I was in the US during the passage of that law. Congress hastily passed it after terrorists crashed planes into New York buildings. How can that be compared to the NPC’s hasty passing of the national security law aimed at independence advocates or so-called collusion with foreign forces?

Does anyone seriously believe a few young people advocating independence or waving American flags are a threat to China, a superpower? In the US, even mainland students can wave the Chinese flag at graduation ceremonies, or disrespect the national anthem. It’s called freedom. Most Hongkongers reject independence. All they want is genuine democracy as promised in the Basic Law.

Genuine democracy is now a fool’s dream. The reality is Beijing will make sure – through disqualification or other means – that opposition candidates won’t win a majority of seats in September’s Legco elections.

In my previous column I said Hong Kong’s freedoms will be tested by whether the police will ban yesterday’s annual July 1 protest. It did, despite easing of social distancing rules.

Say goodbye to legal protests. Even when social distancing rules are lifted, the police will ban protests with the excuse they may turn violent. Western media like to headline the death of Hong Kong. That’s inaccurate. Cities don’t die. They exist in a different form. The accurate description should be it’s the end of Hong Kong as we know it.

Beijing loyalists like to say the national security law is the second reunification because the first one in 1997 didn’t instill patriotism. Reunification numbers mean nothing. True reunification can only come when it wins the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people. When will Beijing understand that?

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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.