What is the golden or, perhaps more accurately, the tattered thread linking a host of recent developments designed to force Hong Kong people to move closer in line to the Mainland?

In three words it can be summed by the old slogan of imperial China – tremble and obey. Plans are being laid for legislation to punish those who fail to show respect for the national anthem. Even more sweeping legislation is in the wings to deal with subversion in the SAR.

china flag education national basic law eddie ng
File photo: GovHK.

Then there are plans for greatly enhanced indoctrination of school children and there is every indication that the administration is far more prepared to use the law to silence critics.

None of this is new but it is coming together in an ominous manner and there is no coincidence that it is happening hot on the heels of the 19th Communist Party Congress which consolidated the concentration of power in the hands of Xi Jinping and heavily signaled that the smallest tremor of dissidence was not to be tolerated.

The usual suspects in Hong Kong avidly study the signals coming from the North and scramble to ensure that their master’s wishes are fulfilled. In the case of the national anthem law the sycophants (or 101 percenters as they used to known in the bad old Soviet days) went that extra mile and tried to suggest that its provisions could be made retrospective.

Only after they realized the full extent of how retrospectivity undermined the essential basis of Hong Kong’s legal system that they took a step back while still insisting that the law should be made as wide ranging as possible.

Meanwhile an avid group of redder than red demonstrators gather daily outside the court where former police officer Frankly Chu is on trial for occasioning actual bodily harm during the Umbrella protests. Inside the court Chu’s lawyers are trying to present a case that no assault took place, while the people outside are saying that the police are entitled to assault protestors who challenge the authority of the government.

hong kong china flag liaoning
Photo: Carrie Lam, via Facebook.

Fortunately this bunch of extremists is small in number but they have powerful backers and they reflect a growing mood of intolerance. This mood has led to demands for pro-democracy professors to be sacked, for the public broadcaster RTHK to be brought to heel for insufficiently acting as a government propaganda machine and, repeatedly, pro-democracy figures find themselves banned from speaking at public events.

All this will pale in comparison when plans for a sweeping anti-subversion law are unveiled, because this is the chosen tool used by authoritarian states to clamp down on dissident voices. Usually they favour making the definition of subversion as wide as possible and ensure that heavy penalties are in place to deter dissidents and frighten others from contemplating opposition.

However, the key to all this is seen more vividly in the enemies of democracy’s obsession over the lack of indoctrination of school children. They are like the Jesuits of old who famously believed in the concept of  “give me a child for the first seven years and I will give you the man”. In other words, indoctrinate the very young and, so they believe, they can be moulded for life.

The dark ghost of former Chief Executive CY Leung recently came to haunt us again when he popped up to opine that young people have an incorrect understanding of the country, and launched into the usual diatribe as to how this should be corrected.

Leung Chun-ying
Leung Chun-ying.

By country CY, of course, means the Communist Party dictatorship and by correct he means, well, we all know what he means. Here lies the nub of the matter because what people like CY believe, but do not dare to say, is that love of the party cannot be nurtured without threats and indoctrination in equal parts.

They are obsessed by the alleged ‘failures’ of the young; because they rightly understand that much of Hong Kong’s coming generation has been lost to the cause of authoritarianism, never a particularly alluring prospect but one that can only be imposed with determination.

In societies where people are free to chose their governments, free to express their opinions and live under an impartial and independent legal regime there is intense patriotism and a strong willingness to be active participants in society without the need for oppressive laws or indeed an obsession with paying respect to national symbols.

Moreover this patriotism and participation in public life is likely to be both stronger and more enduring than anything that can be achieved by force and coercion.

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship