A fictitious movie about HK under Beijing’s thumb becomes fact

July 30, 2020 06:00
Photo: Reuters

Fiction is becoming fact in Hong Kong. It was supposed to take ten years but has taken only five. When the Hong Kong-produced movie Ten Years came out in 2015, I found it entertaining but implausible. I watched it again on Netflix last week.

Watching it a second time five years later made me understand how naïve I was about communist China. Rather than far-fetched, Ten Years has turned out to be frighteningly real in many ways. The fictitious movie, comprising five short stories, foreshadowed Hong Kong as a dystopian city under the totalitarian thumb of communist China in the space of ten years – by 2025.

It portrayed a Hong Kong where Putonghua is imposed on the population, the People's Liberation Army is called to crush a protest, Youth Guards that resemble Red Guards are deployed to harass localists, and Beijing's Liaison Office foments fake terrorism to justify enacting a national security law.

No one expected the shoestring-budget movie with a far-fetched plot to win any prizes. But it did, winning Best Film in the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards. Beijing predictably banned not only the movie but live streaming of the awards ceremony.

It is now only 2020 but Beijing has already pre-empted the movie by imposing a national security law on Hong Kong which covers terrorism, subversion, secession, and colluding with foreign forces. The PLA didn't crush last year's often violent anti-government protests. It entrusted our police force to do it with a combination of tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons.

There are no Youth Guards here but localists – mostly young people who want to preserve Hong Kong's way of life with greater self-rule – are harassed through arrests and disqualification as election candidates.

Election officials ordered about a dozen opposition candidates for September's Legislative Council election to state their positions within 24 hours on the national security law, US sanctions, and even on how they would vote as legislators. These so-called returning officers have no right asking candidates how they would vote.

They are hand-picked government officials doubling as thought police with the power to decide who can run in elections. Read George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 to understand what thought police means. No free society lets the government decide who can be candidates. That power lies with the people. They decide which candidates deserve their vote.

Beijing's loyalists in Hong Kong love to disparage American democracy but know there is no way US President Donald Trump's administration can screen out candidates who run for Congress or against him.

Now it looks almost certain Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, acting as Beijing's proxy, will use the coronavirus outbreak as an excuse to cancel September's elections. Everyone knows the real reason is Beijing's fear the opposition will win by a landslide, like it did at last November's district council elections.

The national security law has made it a joke to describe Hong Kong as a free society. No free society would criminalize protest songs, waving protest posters, or just holding up blank sheets of paper as a protest. Yet police cited the security law to arrest and warn Hongkongers for doing that.

Meanwhile, Beijing has hit back at Britain's offer to give British National (Overseas) passport holders a path to permanent residency, by warning it may no longer recognize the BNO as a travel document.

Technically, airlines can be sued if they refuse boarding for BNO holders flying to destinations that recognize the passport. Airlines may also be sued if they deny boarding for BNO holders with Hong Kong permanent identity cards returning to the city.

The larger issue is not lawsuits but how Hong Kong can remain a financial center if it restricts freedom of travel for even its own citizens. A mainland law expert went as far as to say Beijing could terminate the permanent residency and Chinese nationality of Hongkongers with British citizenship.

If I were Carrie Lam, I would worry. Her husband and two sons have British citizenship. So do the families of many Hong Kong government officials and loyalists. They demand Hong Kong people to be loyal to the Communist Party of China yet their families hold foreign passports. I won't bother to explain what hypocrisy means.

Who would have guessed that today's Hong Kong is more dystopian in some ways than what was feared in the movie Ten Years. We now have an office for safeguarding national security under the new security law staffed by mainland secret police. While they will have to observe local laws, they will not be under Hong Kong jurisdiction while carrying out their duties.

Lam can handpick a pool of judges to handle national security law cases. And Beijing has the right to decide if suspects should be extradited to face the mainland's opaque justice system. The movie Ten Years about a dystopian Hong Kong is already outdated even though it is now only 2020. Let's not even think about what Hong Kong would be like in 2025.

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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.