MORE than 13 months after the introduction of the National Security Law, which brought an end to street protests, Hongkongers have more than “soul-searching” to do as they ponder their future under the stern watch of China amid tightening rules.
Hong Kong youth who were at the epicentre of the pro-democracy protests that erupted across the island for over a year, starting in 2019, have suddenly withdrawn from political discussions in the aftermath of the security law imposed by Beijing. They have escaped the intricacies of politics for the comfort of music, gaming, movies and trivial chats.
Even moderate adults who had joined a few of the protests – some of which drew up to two million people each time – have become muted in the wake of the security law. Sociopolitical divisions have gripped Hong Kong with people having to “choose sides” in “a treacherous situation”, according to one local pundit.
Cyril Ip is a 22-year-old journalist and activist, who took part in last week’s webinar on “The Future of Hong Kong & Division of China-US Lenses” organised by Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 national media in 20 Asian countries.
He said Hong Kong has “entered a new era of political sensitivity”.
“(While) some people are concerned about the future of Hong Kong, we also have to acknowledge that an equal number of people appreciate Beijing assuming control over the city. This opinion and diversity are rarely acknowledged,” he noted.
Keybros, two 21-year-old YouTubers, voiced guarded optimism for Hong Kong’s future and called for dialogue between different age groups and social backgrounds to work towards compromises that can reflect the “true crux” of the One Country Two System path, which they see as a “good balance between the West and the East”.
They believe Hong Kong youths need to be more open-minded, end their isolation and branch out to mainland China, South-East Asia and the world to broaden their minds.
The seven webinar panellists – all Hong Kong residents but whose views could be challenged by some as not representative of the majority of Hong Kong people – were unanimous in their opinion that China’s ownership of the city was not up for debate, and that any expectation that Hong Kong could exist as a self-sufficient region was “illogical”.
Dr Enze Han from the University of Hong Kong said people unable to adjust to the new environment have the choice of leaving the city, exercising for example their rights under the British National (Overseas) Visa.
“Hong Kong was a colony of the British and Britain has a responsibility towards its former subjects. So people who don’t think of themselves as Chinese, I can understand that and it’s legitimate. We can’t force people to identify with a country or people they are now. I think the open option for immigration is a good thing,” he added.
Ip added that those who don’t have the option to move away or move to countries they feel are more democratic would have to manoeuvre this and re-adjust. “Especially now that we have the security law, Hong Kong doesn’t have the space for people to discriminate based on nationality.”
Regina Ip, a pro-China member of the Executive Council and Legislative Council, argued that there were numerous instances when mainland China had extended a helping hand to Hong Kong, both pre- and post-1997. “It’s hard to find any plausible reason for their anger and antipathy for China.”
But she acknowledged that Hong Kong is overdue for a reset of policies. “I think we have reached a turning point.” The next government is expected to correct mistakes on education, economy, inequality, and on land and housing.
Hong Kong has for years been infamously one of the most expensive places to live in the world.
Education reform tops her priorities. Regina said China was very concerned about confusion regarding identity among Hong Kong’s youth.
“We need to reform to strengthen the China component. There will be opportunities for students to travel to China, to understand the nation as it is, its challenges and problems.
“The more radical-minded will be deterred, be reminded of legal consequences. Over time, the less radical ones, the ones who didn’t know what they were doing – like waving US or British flags – over time, they will come to grips with reality. It will take a while but the process is underway,” she asserted.
Cyril doesn’t think the youth are very open to conversation – “not even with fellow-youngsters having opposing views, let alone the authorities”. He said there was more that could be done to increase engagement and address their concerns in meaningful terms.
In his assessment, much of the failure could be blamed on the weak “decolonisation process” after 1997. “The authorities can’t escape responsibility. I think the main reason for the overwhelming anti-China feeling is the pro-colonial sentiment among the youth.”
Dr Richard Weixing Hu from the University of Macau reiterated that since Hong Kong’s return to China, there have been problems with the education system, which has led to disillusionment among the young people about their “belonging”.
“It’s not a sovereign city, but basically a financial centre or economic entity,” he said. He added that the future of Hong Kong lies in integration with the Greater Bay Areas.
Dr Allan Zeman, chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Group, who has lived in Hong Kong for more than 50 years and has obtained Chinese citizenship, firmly believes that the passage of the National Security Law is better than having to send the People’s Liberation Army into Hong Kong to quell the violent protests. “One hundred and twenty out of 200 countries have security laws, you must have guidance on how to lead your life. This is the real 1997.”
But he doesn’t see Hong Kong becoming another “province of China”. It will continue to be an international city with an independent judiciary and a common law system. “Things will change; One Country first and then Two Systems, not as in the past when some people thought it was two systems first and then one country.”
Christopher Williams, founding partner at Howse Williams law firm, said Hong Kong people were pragmatic and would resolve the issues. Opportunities for the city abound, ranging from integration into the Greater Bay Area to deepening business ties with South-East Asia, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and as a gateway to mainland China.
He highlighted the need to deal with the increasing wealth disparity and restrictive social mobility. “We must reignite the feeling of passion for Hong Kong. We must maintain a laissez-faire approach and adapt to encourage investment.”
Asked what would be his advice to investors or companies wanting to come to Hong Kong, he said, “Naturally, you are coming to a country where you have to abide by the laws whether or not you agree with them. So when people are coming to HK, they need to be aware of the cultural sensitivity and be open-minded, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues, and take into account everybody else’s views on these things, and accept the rules and abide by them.” – Asia News Network
Pana Janviroj is the executive editor of the Asia News Network.