Is there anything left to say?

Despite the confident assertion by Chief Executive Carrie Lam that the “vast majority of the people” support the new national security law, the reality is that it does indeed have some support but elsewhere there is a mood of despair, anger and – in some quarters – a desire to flee.

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

The chief executive, whose irrelevance was underlined by her exclusion from discussions on the new law, will not even listen to anyone who does not agree with this draconian attack on One Country, Two Systems. And, of course the same applies to her bosses.

There are indeed people in Hong Kong who relish the idea of throwing dissidents into jail, of secret courts, of having China’s feared state security apparatus set up shop in the HKSAR. They really hate Hong Kong’s open society and think that things will get better once freedom has been extinguished.

But do they really want a society of this kind for their own families? The appalling truth is that these people are hypocrites to their very core. They want Hong Kong to live under the kind of dictatorial system that prevails on the mainland but they make pretty damn sure that their families have an escape route.

Tam Yiu-chung. Photo: inmediahk.net.

Tam Yiu-chung, the only Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and thus the only Hongkonger actually involved in drafting the law, has two sons safely tucked away in Australia.

Carrie Lam’s husband and two sons cling to their British citizenship; she also had a British passport but handed it in to make herself eligible for high office.

Tung Chee-hwa, the former chief executive, is so thrilled about the new law and confident in the future that he has made sure all his children have American citizenship.

Tung Chee-hwa signing a bill as the chief executive in 1997. File Photo: GovHK.

The list of these hypocrites goes on and on. Indeed, it can be said without fear of contradiction that no other ruling elite has resorted to the level of escape plans to foreign countries which is absolutely commonplace in Hong Kong.

They have money and property tucked away in democratic countries. They send their children to be educated in places where freedom of expression prevails and, as a last resort, they arm their families with citizenships of free nations.

They do so because, in their heart of hearts, they know that true, lasting stability is only achieved in countries where governments are elected, where the rule of law is supreme and where there is no fear of a knock on the door at midnight.

Meanwhile, ordinary Hongkongers have no escape hatch and unlike the hypocritical elite, they are committed to this place for better or for worse.

Graffiti reads: “Arise all those who will not be slaves!” Photo: Benjamin Yuen/United Social Press.

Worse has now landed in Hong Kong with a massive thump. And even though you can find perfectly well-intentioned people saying the new law will not affect them if they keep their heads down and do not even contemplate challenging anything, they will soon discover that things simply do not work like that.

Once the cardinal principles of rule of law, notably the existence of an independent judiciary, has been undermined, this does not just put a dent in the system, it shakes its foundations.

Once the promise of One Country, Two Systems has been ruthlessly destroyed by the men in grey suits who favour slow but sure repression over the messy use of tanks to suppress opposition, no Hongkonger can escape the consequences.

And yet, despite this fervent attempt to stamp out the reality of One Country, Two Systems, even the mighty Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cannot destroy the reality that Hong Kong people, unlike their counterparts on the mainland, have tasted liberty and know what it means in practice. In their hearts, they will never accept that tyranny is better than liberty. 

Blank Lennon wall . Photo: Cezzna/United Social Press.

The dark shadow of this new legislation will undoubtedly cause many people to think carefully before they raise their voices in favour of liberty. But what remains in their hearts cannot be removed.

The CCP has exposed its fundamental weakness by resorting to brute force to coerce the people of Hong Kong into submission. It has nothing else in its armoury of responses. 

As dark as things are today I fully agree with Lester Shum, the former Umbrella Movement leader who is now a district councillor. He posted on Facebook on the eve of the law being enacted: “This night is full of fear, we absolutely don’t have to be [cowed], don’t think it’s the end of the world, absolutely not.”

Breaking the spirit of Hong Kong is not as easy as it appears from the perspective in Zhongnanhai.

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Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He 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. Vines is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously - Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium and Market Panic and most recently, Food Gurus. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse.