THE PROBLEM OF HONG KONG: ILLUSION AND REALITY
"Margaret Thatcher, the late British prime minister, once praised Deng Xiaoping’s famous “one country, two systems” formula for Hong Kong as an “ingenious idea” that elegantly grafted the capitalist British colony back on to Communist China. In the years immediately after Hong Kong returned to China’s fold as a “special administrative region”, its civil freedoms and capitalist economy were safeguarded. But almost two decades after the 1997 “handover”, the former Chinese leader’s apparently simple solution has become a source of misunderstanding and conflict. The Chinese government and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp are locked in a bitter fight over fundamentally different visions for the territory’s political future. One emphasises Beijing’s ultimate authority while the other stresses the sanctity of Hong Kong’s “second system”. It is a contradiction that “one country, two systems” delayed addressing, but can no longer be avoided.... The fight has brought thousands – opponents and supporters of Beijing – on to the streets of Hong Kong in recent months exposing the tensions over the territory’s future. While love of country and love of the party may be inseparable in Beijing’s eyes, this concept is alien to the many Hong Kong residents who found refuge during periods of political turmoil on the mainland, including the famine that followed a botched modernisation drive in the late 1950s and the cultural revolution of 1966-76. Few people in Hong Kong expected China to allow arrangements that could result in the election of a chief executive that it did not approve. Chan Kin-man of Occupy Central, the group spearheading a Gandhi-style civil disobedience campaign for more expansive political rights, says Beijing does not want “to create aspirations” for democracy in mainland China.... China’s willingness to tolerate opposition in Hong Kong has declined in tandem with the territory’s perceived importance to the Chinese economy. When Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, assumed his post in 1992, China’s economy was only about five times bigger than Hong Kong’s. Today it is 35 times larger. “It has clearly become an asymmetric relationship,” says Arthur Kroeber at GaveKal Dragonomics, a consultancy. “In the 1990s Hong Kong was much more important to Beijing because China needed a lot of money and expertise from Hong Kong and they really depended on Hong Kong infrastructure, such as its port.” Beijing also trod more carefully during much of the 1990s because a smooth transition of power in Hong Kong was critical to the restoration of its international standing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But 25 years on, a newly assertive Beijing appears unfazed by the opinions of others. Mr Kroeber says there is “little concern in Beijing about how its Hong Kong policies will appear to the rest of the world”. In the eyes of the Chinese government, Hong Kong increasingly appears to be an ingrate. Mainland Chinese residents are generally courted for their tourist dollars and more than 40m visited the territory last year, according to government statistics. But they are now reviled as “locusts” by many Hong Kongers who blame them for crowding public spaces, using public services and contributing to runaway property prices. “I don’t think Hong Kong is a spoiled child but it has been treated as a favourite child,” says Mr Zhao at the Central Party School. Beijing’s harder line is in keeping with its uncompromising approach over its many territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam – and also a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at bolstering President Xi Jinping’s image as a strong leader in the mould of Deng".Tom Mitchell and Demetri Sevastopulo, "Hong Kong: Voting with their feet". The Financial Times. 7 September 2014, in www.ft.com.
"Chinese foreign policy on one issue display no public ambiguity at all. This is the future of Hong Kong. If what has been said publicly is accurate, it appears that a vast but avoidable tragedy for the 5.6 million people of Hong Kong is in the making...Mainland Chinese officials say that they intend to preserve Hong Kong as it is, under the self-government of its own residents and as an 'autonomous region' of the P.R.C. Beijing [sic! Peking] draws attention to the fact that the new constitution of the P.R.C. provides for autonomous region status for both Hong Kong and Taiwan [sic! Formosa]. Nonetheless, the people who are contemplating living under this new staus which despite a 400-year independent history and culture of its own, found itself summarily incorporated into the P.R.C. Similarly, although Beijing often says to Taiwan that after reunification it can keep its own army, it does everything in its current (to say nothing of future) power to prevent the sales of arms to that same army."Chalmers Johnson, "East Asia: another year of living dangerously". Foreign Affairs. (January 1984), pp. 736-737. The mots used to describe the situation in Hong Kong almost thirty years ago by Chalmers Johnson are still quite pertinent: 'tragedy'. Whether it could have been avoided is difficult, post-facto to say. As Chalmers himself notes, the UK government, was prior to the negotiations which resulted in the Anglo-Chinese accord of 1984, which still governs Hong Kong, "'realistically' preparing a Zimbabwe-type rather than a Falklands-type solution for them" 1. With the growth of the asymmetrical nature of the relationship between both Hong Kong and the PRC and even between the PRC and Great Britain: with the PRC towering above Hong Kong and having become a much larger power, in almost every sense than the United Kingdom, the likelihood of a 'fair' or a 'democratic' solution to the conundrum of Hong Kong is from almost every vantage point completely illusory. Given the extremely authoritarian nature of the China's current regime, to expect that it would voluntarily agree to allowing Hong Kong to continue to evolve into a democratic polity staggers belief. Sad but very true it would appear. In the absence of some type (now truly non-existent) overwhelming pressure exercised by the Western powers on the subject, there is little or no reason to expect that Peking is at all interested in accommodating the poor people of Hong Kong. And au fond, perhaps that is just as well. If nothing else, the coming clampdown in the still free-wheeling island will demonstrate to all and sundry the nature of the regime in Peking: despotic, authoritarian, corrupt and utterly the enemy of Western style governance and civil liberties.