In the years after Margaret Thatcher’s ominous Beijing visit, during which the iron lady took a fall down the steps outside the People’s Great Hall, Hong Kongers had spent most of their time worrying sick about the imminent draconian rule under the Communists and agitating over whether or not they should emigrate to Canada or Australia. Shortly after the 1997 handover, many of those who had emigrated chose to join the “return tide” back to Hong Kong when they saw that the way of life, systems and everything appeared to have remained intact, well in accordance with the terms of the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984.
Now, fourteen years have passed since the handover. Returnees have watched with their own eyes how fast Hong Kong has been speeding down the degradation highway, in terms of the freedoms they were used to in colonial days and the administration’s respect for civic rights, the robustness of the legal system, and the restraint exercised by the police force in times of turmoil. Instead of seeing “one country, two systems” being played out, they are witnessing that promise turned into tatters, with mainland’s master-slave mentality and paternalistic governing style replacing civilized, rational and open governance that is grounded in Hong Kong’s core values.
Every now and then there are street protests expressing deep disgust with a callous, condescending, self-interested and money-prostituting government that has been obtuse and unresponsive to popular demands on everyday life issues as well as political reforms.
Everyday life issues range from excessive speculation in the property market due to continual money influx from the mainland, to urgent and unmet housing needs of the low- to middle-income class as reflected in the rapid rise of the number of box-like subdivided rooms with inherent fire risks being rented, to rampant consumer price inflation caused partly by runaway property rental increases and partly by the strengthening Yuan, to a deepening rift between the haves and the have-nots, to youngsters’ disillusionment with social mobility and an economy that is getting more and more lopsided with ever diminishing job fields.
On the political front, as recently revealed in some cable documents provided by WikiLeaks (for the link, please go to the end of this post), CE Tsang disclosed to the U.S. consul general in 2005 that he was not supportive of elections by universal suffrage, as it would mean for non-taxpayers taking over political control from the taxpayers. Instead of fighting on behalf of Hong Kongers for full-fledged democracy, the CE actually sold them down the river behind closed doors. Is that his way of saying that he wanted to back the affluent at the expense of the needy? Why is that not surprising?
Society has long been pissed at being force fed the SAR government’s self-devised poisonous potion that is meant to kill citizens’ voting rights in by-elections by changing the rules. Hong Kongers are also shocked at the police force under the leadership of another Tsang using high-handed tactics and acting more and more like their overbearing mainland counterparts in their treatment of peaceful street protesters and activists. In the incident of Li Keqiang’s visit to the Hong Kong University on the occasion of the university’s 100th anniversary, policemen forcefully prevented reporters and university students from accessing Li and set up a so-called “core security zone” in the university compound (the legality of which is still being questioned). To top it all, the incumbent CE and CE-aspirants have had the nerve to back a police chief who has aroused a public uproar targeting what is alleged to be his impudent abuse of power. Recent police actions smack of a brazen attempt to trample on press freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, which are some of Hong Kong’s core values that are guaranteed under the Basic Law.
To further blight press freedom and freedom of expression, the infamous and omnipresent 50-cent gangsters hired by those in power are out and about to smear pan-democrats and their allies, obfuscate intellectual discussions on government policies on online forums, conflate social and political issues and generally seek to hide truths under blatant lies, hoping (naively) to fool all Hong Kong people.
What most Hong Kongers had feared would begin happening fourteen years ago are suddenly appearing full frontal. It looks like there is no escape from the fact that Hong Kongers’ freedoms are being forcibly taken away chunk by chunk, not to mention they will be forever denied democratic elections by universal suffrage. It wouldn’t be surprising if one day in the not-too-distant future, when Hong Kongers wake up, they find themselves under house watch, with mafia-looking “shengguangs” patrolling right outside their apartments.
It is a matter of when those who were in the “return tide” will start questioning whether it is worth their while to linger on in the place they returned to. The worst fears that had taunted them over two decades ago are all of a sudden very real. But they are still the luckier ones because they have a choice.
Link to the WikiLeaks cable:-