Hong Kong News: Hong Kong in limbo 25 years after Britain’s handover to China

When the British ceded their colony of Hong Kong to Beijing in 1997, they were promised 50 years of self-government and freedoms of assembly, speech and the press that are not allowed to Chinese on the Chinese-ruled mainland. communists.

As the city of 7.4 million celebrates 25 years under Beijing’s rule on Friday, those promises are running out. Hong Kong’s honeymoon period, when it continued as it always did, is over and its future remains uncertain, determined by forces beyond its control.

Before the transfer, many in Hong Kong feared life would change when Beijing took over. Thousands of people rushed to obtain residence elsewhere and some moved abroad.

For the first decade or so, such measures seemed too dramatic – this bustling bastion of capitalism on China’s southern coast seemed to be guarding its freedoms and the economy was booming.

In recent years, Beijing has expanded its influence and control. These movements appeared to have been accelerated by mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019. Now schools must teach about patriotism and national security, and some new textbooks deny that Hong Kong was ever a colony. British.

Electoral reforms have ensured that no opposition lawmakers, only those considered ‘patriots’ by Beijing, sit in the city’s legislature, stifling once-spirited debates over how to run the city . China has named John Lee, a career security official, as the successor to chief executive Carrie Lam.

Press freedom has come under attack, and pro-democracy newspapers openly critical of the government, such as Apple Daily, have been forced to close. Its publisher Jimmy Lai was imprisoned.

Hong Kong has also banned annual protests marking the June 4, 1989 Chinese crackdown on the pro-democracy movement centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, with authorities citing pandemic precautions. The city’s tourism and businesses are reeling from its adherence to the strict COVID-zero policies enforced on the mainland.

Alex Siu, a building services engineer, was born in Hong Kong and didn’t leave until 2020 – his parents had ensured he would have the opportunity by getting him a British Overseas National Passport from years earlier.

Siu moved to Manchester, England with his girlfriend after becoming fed up with both the Hong Kong work environment and the political situation. He is homesick for food, friends and family, but he has no intention of going back.

“I believe there is no hope because the government has absolute power,” Siu said of the deterioration of political freedoms in Hong Kong. “We little citizens don’t have much power to oppose them or change the situation.”

Kurt Tong, former US consul general to Hong Kong and managing partner of consultancy The Asia Group, said the changes reflected growing dissatisfaction in Beijing with the freewheeling semi-autonomous region. The dismay deepened as some of the millions of Hong Kong residents who peacefully protested for democracy in 2019 stormed the city’s legislative complex and at times clashed violently with police.

“The things China found irritating about Hong Kong started to become more important, and the things China found attractive about Hong Kong started to matter less, and friction built up over time. “, did he declare.

Beginning in 2020, authorities launched a crackdown on political dissent, arresting dozens of activists and jailing them for unauthorized assembly, despite provisions guaranteeing the freedom of such gatherings under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the constitution. from the city.

John Burns, honorary professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong, was skeptical that Beijing would ever allow full democracy or universal suffrage in Hong Kong, goals enshrined in the Basic Law at the time of the transfer of power in 1997.

“Hong Kong was going to be part of a local government of an authoritarian country ruled by a Leninist party. How could it be a Western-style parliamentary democracy?” Burns said in an interview.

Authorities have cracked down and moved to stamp out dissent to help restore stability after months of protests in 2019, he noted.

“But it’s a fragile stability based on imposing law and arresting pan-democracy leaders and imprisoning them, hunting them down,” he said, and many in Hong Kong still support the pro-democracy movement. -democracy even if they are silent for the moment.

“We are in a kind of hellish place. Hong Kong is not part of the system and therefore cannot negotiate in this way, (but at the same time) we are not free. We are in this hybrid common ground “, Burns added. “The party has never had to govern a place like Hong Kong, so it’s learning as it goes.”

Former Democratic Party chair and ex-lawmaker Emily Lau says she’s disappointed with the changes but not surprised. “When dealing with a communist regime, you shouldn’t expect anything. Nothing should surprise you,” Lau said.

She focuses on the future of Hong Kong. The city remains separate from the mainland, she said. Her friends and colleagues may be imprisoned, but she can visit them and they can choose their own lawyers – rights generally denied to political prisoners in China.

“I know it’s very difficult. But I think we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do our best to defend our fundamental values, which are human rights, democracy, the rule of law and personal security, and social justice,” she said.

Chan Po-ying, 66, whose longtime partner and fellow pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung – better known by his nickname ‘Long Hair’, is serving a nearly 2-year prison sentence and is awaiting a hearing on national security charges, says she is continuing.

“I persevered for a long time, I believe I shouldn’t give up so easily, especially in this difficult time,” Chan said. “The government and the law have given us these rights (under the Basic Law).”

In May, during an election for Hong Kong’s new chief executive, Chan and several others staged a small protest to demand universal suffrage. On June 4 this year, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Chan and two others stood on a street in silent protest, dressed in black and wearing white masks with black “x”s taped on them. .

However, with security tightened ahead of Friday’s ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the handover, Chan sent a message to Hong Kong media saying she and her group would not hold a protest.

After being called in for a “discussion” by state security police, they decided “on this day we cannot carry out any kind of protest activity”, she said.

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