There’s no better place to see a showdown on the global stage than from the front row.
Growing up in Hong Kong and Mainland China alike, I had the best seat in the house to a decades-old conflict that has recently escalated to new heights. Here is one thing I know for sure: Hong Kong quite literally did not sign up for this.
In 1984, the British and Chinese governments signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration. In short, this document states that Hong Kong’s sovereignty would be handed over to the PRC on 1 July, 1997, and Hong Kong should be granted a “high degree of autonomy,” upheld by the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. All of this was marketed as a happy union under the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.
A bit of a disclaimer: I am not Hong-Kong-chinese. I can’t speak for or in the place of anyone who is Hong-Kong-chinese. But I can speak for the place I was raised and I know for a fact that anyone who calls themselves a “香港人” (“Hong Kong person”) is uneasy to say the least about Hong Kong’s blurry future and the recent above incidents.
It’s been nearly five years since the South-China stage was shook by the pro-democracy Occupy Central protests, which left the city fractured into factions and the government fuming. In recent months, the tension has only grown. The recent announcement of the implementation of a all-encompassing criminal extradition law has sparked months of protest, intermittent airport shutdowns, violent police intervention and international news coverage. Two years ago, a local court dealt a crushing blow to the separatist movement by removing four elected pro-independence legislators from office, ensuring the growth of China’s encroaching influence on HK internal affairs. Three years ago, five booksellers suspected of distributing anti-Beijing books were kidnapped by the Chinese military and whisked away to top-secret interrogation locales in the Mainland. Only two have resurfaced. In January of 2017, they murdered one of the city’s most prominent billionaires.
On top of these disturbing acts, the PRC is directly violating the rights granted to HK citizens as stated in the Basic Law. 2017 was the 20th anniversary of the handover, and many residents looked to it as a beacon of the city’s political evolution. According to the declaration, the year was meant to commence steps toward universal suffrage. Instead, the next elections were held in the same fashion as before, without a shred of improvement or relief of pressure, with Chinese politicians controlling which seats were up for democratic election, maintaining veto rights, withholding the right to vote for the Chief Executive, and rigging voting stats.
Needless to say, it’s easy to see why the atmosphere is so tight.
I used to hear the word “locust” hissed at Mainlanders on trains, and the slur “rabid dog” shot back. Widespread complaints about mainland tourists “stinking up” the city were prevalent. Our mainland-run primary school banned students from speaking Cantonese, Hong Kong’s native dialect, on school premises, so we half-exclaimed profanity between desks to tick off teachers. During the Umbrella Revolution of 2014, my mainland classrooms were filled with disdain for the “greedy, ungrateful children” across the border. Clearly, there’s some bad blood here.
That’s because Hong Kong is not China. But it is, in many ways, completely lodged under China’s thumb. 50% of Hong Kong’s trade is linked to the Mainland and we import the majority of our food and water from Guangdong province, in southern China. We have no semblance of an independent military, and our government is made a joke of a democracy by its Chinese puppeteers. And, not to state the obvious, but the PRC would most definitely never allow it.
Hong Kong deserves independence.
And even if independence is not feasible, respecting and upholding our lawful rights is. Or at least it should be for the time they remain in our hands.
In the grand scheme of the global stage, my hometown has a blink of an eye before it loses its mirage of freedom. China made a promise to keep the wool over our blissfully ignorant eyes a while longer, and these recent blows are nothing short of cruel irony. Because in truth, freedom was never part of the deal.
Maybe it was foolish of us to believe it ever existed in the first place.