Hong Kong at 25: One City, Two Views
Xi extols “one country, two systems” as former Gov Patten decries loss of freedoms
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong on June 30 and July 1 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the end of 156 years of British rule by refusing to stay overnight, an indication, according to informed sources, of Xi’s fears for his safety.
The same fears were part of the reason that he has not left mainland China for nearly two and a half years, prior to this visit. Instead, Xi slept in Shenzhen, from whence he came to Hong Kong by high-speed train. In contrast, when former Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited Hong Kong in 1997, he stayed at a hotel owned by his friend Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s richest man.
The fact that Xi didn’t bother to stay the night is also illustrative of the city’s diminished status as an international city. While Xi wants Hong Kong to be an important financial hub on his terms, it will be under draconian rule by the Chinese Communist Party, not on the terms of liberal Hong Kong people and expatriates. Xi wants Hong Kong to prosper as a CCP-dominated polity.
During the president’s visit, drones were banned across the city, while the airspace above the Convention Center, the venue of the handover ceremony, was a no-fly zone. Multiple layers of barricades emanated in concentric circles, with doors often guarded by police. In the approach, police officers were stationed at intervals, wearing flak jackets with electronic gadgets. Saying crowds were muted was an understatement. There appeared little appetite for the commemoration beyond carefully orchestrated commemorations.
Newspaper vendors were giving away free copies of China Daily, which normally costs HK$10 (US$1.27). The front page of the state newspaper was splashed with articles lauding the handover, including a story on Xi commending the previous Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam for quelling the protests that rocked the city from 2019 to 2020.
The protests abated after Beijing imposed the National Security Law in the middle of 2020. Hundreds have since been arrested and independent media outlets like Stand News and Apple Daily have been shut. The city’s retired Catholic cardinal has been arrested along with its most prominent publisher, the architect of the basic law governing relations with China, and 47 prominent democracy advocates.
During his speech, Xi said that after “the wind and rain,” Hong Kong people now realize ”the city cannot afford to descend into chaos.” He highlighted the need to preserve the common law system inherited from the former British rulers. But he stressed that “The regime must be in the hands of patriots… [there is] not a country or a jurisdiction where its citizens would allow those who are not patriotic, or are even traitors hold political power.”
In a hint that China’s version of “one country two systems” is likely to remain in Hong Kong – if in China’s vastly restricted version – well past its expiry date in 2047, he added, “There is no reason to change such a good system, and it must be maintained for a long time.”
His remarks on “one country, two systems” drew applause from the 1,300 carefully selected guests at the ceremony, which included John Lee, Carrie Lam, and Donald Tsang, a former Hong Kong chief executive who had been jailed. Also present were local tycoons like Allan Zeman and Victor Li, the eldest son of Li Ka-shing.
Around lunchtime on July 1, Asia Sentinel visited the Causeway Bay district, where protest marches were held for most years on July 1 since 2003. No demonstration was seen and the police presence in that area was visible. Asia Sentinel came across several policemen frisking a man in Causeway Bay.
“I got mixed feelings about what Hong Kong is turning into,” a mainland Chinese woman who previously lived in Hong Kong told Asia Sentinel.
“As a Chinese, I know it is inevitable and it marks the end of humiliation, and I am indeed proud of that. Yet as a Hong Konger, I probably don’t like the fact that Hong Kong is becoming another normal city in the mainland,” said the woman who declined to be named.
The difference in opinion could not be more stark. On the same day Christopher Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, delivered a scathing attack at what he called the “Leninist” government in Beijing and the “Quisling government” of post-handover Hong Kong, named after Vidkun Quisling, the puppet leader of Norway under German occupation during World War II. Patten said these harsh words in a video posted on July 1 on the Facebook page of Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) which monitors Hong Kong affairs.
“There is no question that what you have seen in Hong Kong is the attempt to prevent any democratic expression of view, to end freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry and freedom of the press, to engineer the souls of young people in Hong Kong by imposing on them a Communist curriculum, and of course to start to erode the rule of law since the Chinese Leninists don’t actually believe that there is a distinction that should be drawn between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive,” said Patten.
The Quisling regime” of Hong Kong, he said, “has connived at turning Hong Kong into an appendage of the Chinese surveillance state. What was once admired as Asia’s finest police service is now not serving the people of Hong Kong but serving the Ministry of State Security in Beijing.”
“They have crushed democracy, they are crushing freedom putting it in handcuffs, they have crushed freedom of speech, and the Quislings are simply going along with that, as we can see that with the case of Apple Daily….which they hated because its proprietor (Jimmy Lai) has been a refugee from Communism and somebody who criticized Chinese behavior with the massacre of people in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989,” Patten declared.
Lai is currently in jail for violating the National Security Law.
“Why has the Chinese Leninist party done this?” Patten asked rhetorically.
“They are not secure in their boots, these Leninist bosses in Beijing. What they are terrified of is the freedoms which Hong Kong reflects,” Patten explained. That includes a free press and the ability to call leaders into account, “which the Chinese Communist regime realizes that sooner or later will bring their regime crashing down.”
“I don’t think those ideas are going to be snuffed out. I think they will survive long after the Chinese Leninist regime has been swept into the ash can of history,” Patten predicted.
What would Deng Xiaoping do?
At a Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club webinar on June 29, Zhang Weiwei, a former interpreter for Deng Xiaoping, said if the late Chinese leader was alive today, the National Security Law or something similar could have been applied in Hong Kong much earlier.
During the 1980s, Deng negotiated the handover of Hong Kong with then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Zhang, who is now director of the China Institute at Fudan University in Shanghai, recalled that in 1992, officers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) presented Deng with a report on the Chinese military preparation for the handover on June 30 and July 1, 1997. Deng said it was “too soft,” Zhang disclosed.
Deng said this military preparation was for a peaceful transfer, Zhang said. Deng asked the PLA officers if the British did something unexpected so there was no peaceful transfer, whether the PLA was militarily prepared for a non-peaceful transfer, Zhang said. So the PLA redrafted the plan, he added.