Silver jubilee of Hong Kong and China: assimilation and patriotism

Hong Kong commemorates 25 years under Chinese sovereignty on July 1. The relationship has been deteriorating as China’s economic boom and the authoritarianism of its leaders have intensified, to which has been added the inexperience and myopia of local elites. Today the enclave is on its way to becoming another gray city in the Chinese landscape. Breaking down Hong Kong’s liberal spirit, however, will not be easy.

Hong Kong commemorates this year its silver anniversary under Chinese sovereignty. Twenty-five years in which the former British colony has experienced the power of the Asian giant and its loss of influence in Beijing. An evolution that has practically turned the “one country, two systems” agreement that London and Beijing signed for the transfer of Hong Kong to China from July 1, 1997 and until 2047. Since then, the decisions adopted by the Chinese government have been curtailing the autonomy and damaging the international reputation of the enclave.

This year’s celebration will enjoy all the official pomp. It will be attended by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, the flags of Hong Kong and China will be raised and the official anthem will be sung. An act, in short, that responds to Beijing’s desire to promote the patriotism among the population. The day will no longer live, however, the demonstrations that Hong Kong people staged every July 1 to claim more democracy to Beijing and recall its commitment to organizing elections under Universal suffrage. The Chinese government banned them after imposing a national security law in 2020.

The Hong Kong of today has little to do with that of July 1, 1997, when the Union Jack was lowered for the last time, in the presence of the prince charles of england and the governor Chris Pattenand the Chinese flag was raised before the then communist leader Jiang Zemin. Since those days, the relationship between this metropolis and Beijing has been deteriorating as China’s economic boom intensified and the criteria of its leaders were imposed. A situation that has been consolidated in parallel to the accumulation of power by Xi and that has placed Hong Kong on the path to becoming another gray city in the Chinese landscape.

“For Local Financial Elites, It Is Particularly Painful To Admit That Their Opinions Are No Longer Heard As Before In Beijing”

In this sense, it is especially painful for the local financial elites to admit that their opinions are no longer listened to as before in Beijing. If in 1997 the Hong Kong economy represented almost 19% of China’s, in 2021 that figure had dropped to 2.1%. And if, on a political level, the communist regime then trusted the rich local shipowner Tung Chee Hwa to lead the former colony, now Xi has opted for the former police chief and protagonist of the violent repression of 2019, John Lee Kachiu.

The situation in Hong Kong cannot be blamed, however, solely on the economic boom in China and the authoritarianism of its leaders. Local leaders incapable of managing the demands of a society that called for more democracy and accommodating elites worried only that their businesses were going from strength to strength have also contributed. A scenario that led to growing social unrest in the middle of the last decade, encouraged by political reforms promoted by Beijing that ignored universal suffrage and stressed that the last word on Hong Kong’s autonomy rested with the Chinese government. This sum of factors caused the Umbrella Revolution in 2014 and the violent protests of 2019. The chaotic situation gave Beijing the necessary arguments to intervene, bring order and silence critical voices.

With its legislative and police offensive, the Chinese government brought about irreversible changes in the former colony that threatened its autonomy. Xi imposed the security law in 2020, which has allowed police to arrest 10,500 people, and in 2021 reformed the electoral system to allow “only patriots” to be eligible. The result is that now all candidates, as well as all officials and judges, must identify themselves as “patriots” and swear allegiance to the mother country in order to hold public office.

These conditions meant that on May 8 of this year there was only one candidate to succeed Carrie Lam to lead Hong Kong, and for the 1,500-member Election Committee to unanimously vote for Lee as his replacement. A result that the Chinese Communist Party itself defined as “democracy with Hong Kong characteristics”.

«The Hong Kong of 2022 is much less free than that of 1997, more dependent on Beijing, with more restricted civil liberties and a silenced critical media»

The panorama, in short, throws a meager, mournful balance of the first 25 years of the return of Hong Kong to the sovereignty of China, while outlining a gloomy future. The Hong Kong of 2022 is much less free than it was in 1997, more dependent on Beijing, with more restricted civil liberties and a silenced critical media. A regression that will be difficult to straighten out given the influence of the Chinese government in the management of the former colony and its desire for it to participate in a vast project in the south of the country that will cover 11 cities and that will require financial, technological and cultural integration, in addition to of political alignment.

In order not to be swallowed up by the Asian giant, Hong Kong only has one trump card: to win the educational battle. An unequal combat because Beijing has already imposed that teaching be more patriotic and presses for Chinese history to be taught and to learn to value the mother country. It has also managed to eliminate a liberal graduation course and the expulsion of teachers who participated in the 2019 protests. Added to all this are flag-raising ceremonies in schools and universities, as well as the singing of the national anthem at events. .

However, the battle is presumed long. Breaking down Hong Kong’s liberal spirit will not be easy. As the Chinese Vice Premier warned qian qichenresponsible for Hong Kong affairs in the 1990s: “The physical return of Hong Kong to China is one thing, the return of the hearts and minds of Hong Kong people is quite another and will take much longer.”

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Written by Editor TLN

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