This time is for real: The Hong Kong we know is dying

November 19, 2020 08:39
Photo: Reuters

Let us not mourn the dying of Hong Kong. Yes, the winds of change are blowing, but let us instead celebrate the heroes who fought and are still fighting to keep the Hong Kong we know alive. The two million Hongkongers who marched peacefully last year against the extradition bill are heroes.

When our undemocratically-elected leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ignored the voice of the people, some turned to violence. Police arrested over 10,000 mostly young people. Some have been jailed, others freed, but most are still awaiting their fate. Let’s hope judges have the grit to rule fairly despite pressure by Beijing forces.

I oppose violence to achieve a political goal. Gandhi won with peaceful protests. But unlike our leader, who once said some Hongkongers have no stake in society, I understand why young people used violence. They felt they had no choice after peaceful protests failed.

The months of violence that rocked the city were traumatic for Hongkongers. But it would not have happened if Lam withdrew the extradition bill after two million marched peacefully instead of waiting after violence erupted.

Are those who used violence heroes for risking jail to safeguard democratic values? Many Hong Kong people believe so. They also worship university student Chow Tsz-lok, who mysteriously died in a carpark during last year’s protests, believing he died for democracy. Such beliefs should be a wake-up call for our government to understand society needs a healing process.

As we watch Hong Kong morph into a city we no longer know, let’s not forget the 12 young Hongkongers captured at sea three months ago by mainland authorities while fleeing to Taiwan. They have disappeared into China’s opaque legal system.

It doesn’t matter that our chief executive insists they are criminals who must face mainland justice. What matters is we must stand with the parents of the 12 in demanding an open and fair trial.

Past predictions of Hong Kong’s death proved wrong for a simple reason. When Western media declared Hong Kong’s death, they meant the city would become a backwater under communist rule.

That was simplistic because Beijing adopted a hands-off policy after reunification, allowing Hong Kong to thrive as Asia’s financial hub. Many ridiculed Fortune Magazine’s 1995 “Death of Hong Kong” headline because it was unimaginable Beijing would one day systematically dismantle the democratic values that made the city so special.

But 23 years after reunification Beijing is doing exactly that. A clear signal of this systematic dismantling came just two days ago at a seminar to mark the 30th anniversary of the Basic Law. We were told patriotism is a legal requirement and that it transcends democracy and freedom. We were told our respected judicial system needs overhauling.

In today’s Hong Kong we already have a Beijing-imposed national security law with so many vague red lines that no one knows where free speech begins and ends. The police use the law as a convenient excuse to ban peaceful protests.

Beijing has re-written history by declaring Hong Kong never had separation of powers and that the liaison office has every right to comment on local issues. A journalist has been arrested for investigative reporting.

School textbooks are being revised to impose patriotism. Teachers have permanently lost their license for lessons deemed unpatriotic. Police have arrested opposition legislators for a scuffle in the Legislative Council but spared pro-Beijing legislators who also took part.

In yet the biggest blow to Hong Kong’s democratic values, our undemocratically-elected chief executive was instructed by Beijing to disqualify four opposition legislators, two of whom were democratically elected.

The two, Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and Kwok Ka-ki, received nearly 100,000 votes between them in the 2016 Legco election. But a chief executive undemocratically elected with 777 votes by an election committee of 1,200 expelled them.

After Lam disqualified the four on Beijing’s orders, all remaining opposition legislators resigned.

Now that all opposition members have resigned, we have a Legco with only pro-Beijing members who received far less votes than the opposition in 2016. This, in essence, means the legislature does not have a mandate from the people.

Yet they will rubber-stamp laws such as allowing loyalist Hongkongers in the Greater Bay Area to vote even though our election laws state only those ordinarily resident in Hong Kong can vote. Their aim is to create a new voter base which supports them.

It is heartbreaking to watch these supine surrogates obediently knife Hong Kong’s soul. They are Hongkongers too. Why are they so willing to change the DNA of their own home? Do they really believe in their hearts that killing off the opposition, dismantling the city’s core values, and making the judicial system more compliant is good for Hong Kong?

As I have said before, Hong Kong will not die in the way Fortune Magazine predicted. It will remain a thriving city. What will die is the Hong Kong we know.

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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.