Armed forces

Hong Kong ‘Special Administrative Region’ at 20

The bastion of free speech under Chinese sovereignty seems to be in the throes of Tibetisation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects troops at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison as part of events marking the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong, China June 30, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Damir Sagolj

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, once tried suggesting to the Beijing authorities that they extend to his native land, Tibet, the “one-country, two-systems” formula, under which British-ruled Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

He was, of course, rebuffed in no uncertain terms.

But seeing the way Hong Kong has been governed over the past 20 years, the Dalai Lama might well wonder whether that formula he sought would have been worth the trouble. The “high degree of autonomy” and “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” that had been promised under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration are seen to be fraying. There is a wide-spread feeling among the people of Hong Kong and observers beyond that Beijing and its officials based in the territory have far too much say even in the city’s day-to-day politics.

Rather than expanding democratic features in Hong Kong by allowing the people greater say in electing their representatives as had been envisaged in the 1980s and 1990s, Beijing has only circumscribed the choices allowed to the city’s 7.4 million inhabitants who had previously been under what in at least the last decades of 156 years of British colonial rule was a benign, mostly human rights-friendly dispensation, albeit undemocratic.

Hong Kong’s post-handover legislature is only partly democratically elected through one-person, one vote. Thanks to the so-called ‘functional constituencies’, it is weighted in favour of corporate entities that enjoy – with Beijing’s blessings – oligopolistic control over the territory’s economic life. Property tycoons in league with the central and local governments stifle the space available for renting and owning, so much so that some of the poorest in the territory live in cage homes paying premium prices for the dubious privilege. The grocery sector is largely in the control of a duopoly, one of which is owned by a company headed by Li Ka-shing, one of the world’s richest tycoons. Needless to say, choices are limited both for suppliers and buyers, the latter including many of the city’s most impoverished residents.

All this under the gaze of a regime in Beijing that continues to call itself the Communist Party of China: since the late 1970s and especially since the early 1990s – i.e., after the quelling of the pro-democracy movement of the 1989 Beijing Spring – the regime has been pursuing robber-baron capitalism.

Incidentally, the current Xi Jinping regime in China is arguably the most repressive since the death of Mao Zedong in the mid-1970s, a large number or dissidents including Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo languishing in either prisons or under highly restrictive house-arrest conditions.

The Chinese regime’s anti-labour practices are being documented by NGOs such as China Labour Bulletin and China Labour Watch and numerous others. No wonder that it openly condones the capitalist marauding going on in Hong Kong and also in the adjacent Macau in 1999 – the former Portuguese ruled tiny town of under 700,000 people – a gambling haven much frequented by many ‘mainland’ Chinese people.

Yesterday, June 28, just a day before Chinese president Xi Jinping arrived in Hong Kong to swear in Carrie Lam as chief executive, and mark 20 years of the territory’s return to Beijing’s sovereignty, police were filling two-ton barricades across the city with water to make them unmovable. They cited some questionable terrorism threats in defence of their bizarre measures, as UCANews has noted.

A few words from William Nee of Amnesty International based in Hong Kong, quoted in the UCANews report:

While it is not unreasonable to be prepared for all sorts of possible threats to public safety, it is worrying to suddenly hear so much talk about the terrorism threat in Hong Kong since China has a history of enacting enormously disproportionate security measures and coercive social controls in the name of fighting terrorism.”

More specifically as regards Hong Kong, he went on:

In the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, for example, we see the threat of so-called religious extremism, separatism, and violent terrorism – three very different things – are all lumped together in a vague and amorphous blob known as the ‘Three Forces,’ which the entrenched security apparatus and policy makers can go after in crude ways that violate human rights.

“It would be a shame, although perhaps not unexpected, if the Chinese government is trying to rhetorically pave the groundwork for carrying out similar policies in Hong Kong in the long run.

Xinjiang, as the Chinese regime calls it, would have been an independent republic alongside the various post-Soviet-stans, as East Turkestan, had history turned differently for its Turkic peoples.

Similarly Tibet for the Tibetan Buddhists.

Thus, the question arises whether Hong Kong is staring at a rather gloomy future, the kind that has befallen the peoples of Xinjiang and Tibet – that is to say, instead of augmented autonomy, a complete surrender of control to Beijing and its minions.