As the city of 7.4 million people marks 25 years under Beijing’s rule on Friday, those promises are getting thin. Hong Kong’s honeymoon period, when it went on as always, has passed and its future remains uncertain, determined by forces beyond its control.
Before the handover, many in Hong Kong worried that life would change when Beijing took over. Thousands of people rushed to apply for residency elsewhere and some moved abroad. For the first decade or so, such measures looked too dramatic – this bustling bastion of capitalism on the Of China The South Coast seems to have retained its liberties, and the economy is booming.
In recent years, Beijing has increasingly expanded its influence and control. Those moves appear to have been prompted by mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 and 2019. Now, schools must provide lessons in patriotism and national security, and a New textbooks deny Hong Kong was a British colony.
Electoral reform has ensured that no opposition legislators, only those seen by Beijing as “patriots”, present in the city’s legislature, have silenced once the heated debate about how to run the city. China has appointed John Lee, a career security official, as the successor to Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Press freedom has been attacked and pro-democracy newspapers openly critical of the government, such as Apple Daily, have been forced to close. Its publisher Jimmy Lai has been jailed.
Hong Kong has also banned China’s annual protests marking June 4, 1989, suppressing a pro-democracy movement centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, with authorities citing pandemic prevention measures. Tourism and the city’s businesses are reeling from compliance with the strict COVID-zero policies enforced on land.
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Alex Siu, a building services engineer, was born in Hong Kong and only left in 2020 – his parents have assured him he will have a choice by getting him a National passport. British family abroad many years earlier.
Siu moved to Manchester, England with his girlfriend after becoming fed up with Hong Kong’s work environment and political situation. He misses home for food, friends and family, but has no intention of returning.
“I believe there is no hope because the government holds absolute power,” Siu said of the deteriorating political freedoms in Hong Kong. “We little citizens, we don’t have much power to fight them or change the situation.”
Kurt Tong, former US consul general in Hong Kong and managing partner at consulting firm The Asia Group, said the changes reflect growing discontent in Beijing with the semi-autonomous region. this autonomy. The frustration deepened when some of the millions of Hong Kongers who marched in peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2019 stormed the city’s legislative complex and at times clashed. fiercely with the police.
“Things that China found unpleasant about Hong Kong started to become more prominent, and things that they found attractive about Hong Kong began to become less prominent, and friction built up over time,” he said. time”.
Starting in 2020, authorities launched a crackdown on dissidents, arresting dozens of activists and jailing them for unlawful assembly, despite provisions guaranteeing the right to such freedom of assembly under the Basic Law of Hong Kong, the city’s constitution.
John Burns, emeritus professor of politics and public administration at the University of Hong Kong, is skeptical that Beijing will allow Hong Kong to be fully democratic or universal suffrage, goals enshrined in the Basic Law at the time of handover in 1997.
“Hong Kong will become part of the local government of an authoritarian state ruled by a Leninist party. How can it be a Western-style parliamentary democracy? ‘ Burns said in an interview.
He noted that the authorities had been cracking down on and moving to quell dissent to help restore stability after months of protests in 2019.
“But this is a fragile stability based on the imposition of the law and the arrest of pro-democracy leaders and jailing them, kicking them out,” he said, and many people in Hong Kong still support the pro-democracy movement even if they are silent until now.
“We’re in a hell of a place. Hong Kong is not part of the system and therefore it cannot bargain that way, (but at the same time) we are not free. We are in this mixed middle ground,” Burns added. “The party has never had to rule a place like Hong Kong, so it is learning how to handle it.”
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Former Democratic Party chair and former lawmaker Emily Lau said she was disappointed with the changes but not surprised. “When you deal with a communist regime, you should not expect anything. Nothing should surprise you,” Lau said.
She focuses on the future of Hong Kong. The city is still different from the mainland, she said. Her friends and colleagues may be jailed, but she can visit them and they can choose their own lawyers – a right that political prisoners in China are often denied.
“I know it’s very difficult. But I think we owe it to ourselves and future generations to do the best we can to fight for our core values, which are human rights, democracy, the rule of law, personal safety. and social justice,” she said.
Chan Po-ying, 66, whose longtime associate and pro-democracy activist Leung Kwok-hung – known by the nickname “Long Hair”, is serving a nearly two-year prison sentence and is awaiting trial. bare on national security-related charges, says she is pressing.
“I have persevered for a long time, I believe that I should not give up so easily, especially in this difficult time,” said Chan. “The government and the law have given us these rights. me (under the Basic Law). “
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In May, during an election for the new chief executive officer of Hong Kong, Chan and several others organized a small protest to demand universal suffrage. On June 4 this year, the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Chan, along with two others, stood on a street in silent protest, dressed in black and wearing a white mask. has a black “x’s” sticker on it.
However, with security tightened ahead of the 25th anniversary of the handover, Chan released a message to Hong Kong media that she and her team would not be protesting.
After being summoned by state security police to “chat,” they decided “on that day, we couldn’t conduct any protest activities,” she said.
AP columnist Kelvin Chan in London and news assistant Karmen Li from Hong Kong contributed to this report.
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