If you believe that Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are going to live forever, then you should give up on Hong Kong and resign yourself to living in “just another Chinese city” where you are free to make as much money as you like but not to speak your mind or march in protest against kow-towing authorities lacking the courage and the principles to stand up for their own people .
That’s right: give up and shut up—except perhaps, thanks to the soon-to-pass national anthem bill, when you are belting out March of the Volunteers under threat of a three-year jail term if you happen to strike a sardonic note.
If, however, you believe in the oft-proven resilience, stubborn determination and nimble adaptability of the Hong Kong people, then there is hope.
Yes, things are bad, and they are about to get a lot worse. Humiliated and appalled by the depth and breadth of hostility that millions of Hongkongers have directed toward them and their local puppeteers, Xi and his army of acolytes have lost all patience with the city and decided to pull up the carpet on the Basic Law, our mini-constitution, and the Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for the 1997 handover from British to Chinese sovereignty.
Both of these watershed documents—once thought to be legal talismans protecting our personal freedoms and high degree of autonomy while also warding off the evils of an oppressive one-party state—have been rendered virtually meaningless in recent months.
The central government’s liaison office has effectively declared itself the official centre of power in the city despite the prohibition against mainland interference in Hong Kong affairs stated in Article 22 of the Basic Law.
Slavishly confirming this brazen assertion, Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, the second most despised person in Hong Kong (Chief Executive Carrie Lam, of course, being the first), announced: “Article 22 of the Basic Law does not apply to the liaison office.”
Saying so in Hong Kong now makes it so—no matter the howls of objection from barristers, legal scholars and the general (and forgotten) public.
Since liaison officials had long been calling the shots behind the scenes anyway, however, their newfound chutzpah only underscored what everybody already knew: all decisions of any import made by the Hong Kong government must go through them and, when they so choose, begin with them.
So most Hongkongers gave a cynical shrug and carried on. After all, Beijing has been slowly chipping away at the Basic Law for years; Article 22 was just another fallen shard.
But this week brings far more frightening news from China’s annual meeting of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the rubber-stamp Chinese parliament: what since 1997 central authorities could not achieve through the Article 23 front door of the Basic Law—national security legislation outlawing and stipulating punishments for acts of treason and subversion—they now intend to dubiously deliver via the back door of Annex III, which allows for national laws to be applied to Hong Kong but, until now, has been used sparingly and with little controversy.
Again, no one should be shocked by this development given Beijing’s heightened determination to bring Hong Kong to heel. Moreover, the Chinese leadership’s resolve has only strengthened amid rising trade and Covid-19 tensions with the United States and this week’s declaration by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Hong Kong is no longer deemed sufficiently autonomous from China, thereby jeopardising its special trading status with the US.
The national security resolution endorsed by the NPC on Thursday—which will be passed along to its Standing Committee to draw up the dreaded details—also comes, conveniently, at a time when the Hong Kong government has imposed a legal prohibition on public gatherings of more than eight people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Nevertheless, that restriction did not stop thousands of protesters from hitting the streets this week to express their anger over a law that will bypass Hong Kong’s own legislature and could soon see them jailed for exercising what for more than two decades we all believed to be their constitutional right to freedom of speech and assembly.
But, if the central authorities think this draconian new law will muzzle protests in Hong Kong , they are mistaken; indeed, it is sure to exacerbate the alienation and resentment that so many Hong Kong people, especially the younger generation, feel toward the mainland.
There simply are not enough jails to hold them all.
The death of this city has been wrongly proclaimed many times since the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed in 1984, and the funeral dirges can once again be heard in the wake the NPC’s latest attack on Hong Kong’s freedoms and special status in China.
Let’s see how Hongkongers respond to these latest obituaries next Thursday, the 31st anniversary of the June 4 massacre of hundreds, if not thousands, of student-led pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. As it so happens, that is also the day the national anthem bill is likely to be passed into law by the Legislative Council—a body now, also through a series of machinations, firmly in the hands of pro-Beijing forces.
For 23 years, Hong Kong has been the only city in China free enough to honour the Tiananmen dead, with tens of thousands of people of all ages filing peacefully into Victoria Park for the annual candle-light vigil; it is both a powerful tribute to the movement it honours as well as stark reminder of the brutality that has kept the Communist Party in power for the past 70 years.
The Covid-19 crisis makes such a massive gathering impossible this year, so take note as the vigil’s organisers adjust, adapt and persevere in light of these new and challenging circumstances.
June 4 is a defining date for Hong Kong marking our special free status in China since the handover.
If it is ever ignored or forgotten, that is the day to call in the coroner for Hong Kong.