Can Hong Kong Control Own Fate?
Image Credit: SanfaMedia

Can Hong Kong Control Own Fate?


On April 1, exactly one week after a committee stuffed with pro-Beijing electors chose Leung Chun-ying to be the third post-colonial Chief Executive of Hong Kong, thousands of people took to the streets and vented their anger toward mainland China for meddling in the city’s affairs. Some even donned large replicas of Chinese tanks, presumably symbolizing the fear that Beijing had started cracking down on the former British colony. It seemed as though people took to the streets to express the worry that the city they had always known – free, vibrant, and open – was gradually slipping away. And they wanted to do something about it.

As the recent “election” shows, Hong Kong has a complicated relationship with the mainland. In its dealings with China, the city has constantly balanced between accommodation and suspicion, belongingness and resentment, worried if it could retain its distinctiveness or risked becoming just one of many Chinese cities. Yet, in a larger sense, none of this is new, and one can’t understand the dynamics being played out today simply by referencing the anger toward the “small circle” election or Beijing-friendly tycoons. Instead, it’s necessary to explore the experience of a city that, for most of its history, has routinely felt the pressure of living under someone else’s control.

A short tale from the Cold War will, perhaps, provide some color to this relationship:

Looking back before the “election,” emotions were already running high weeks before Leung won the leadership pick. Back in January, a Hong Konger started berating a mainland tourist for eating on one of the city’s subway trains. The local man noticed shreds of noodle bits falling on the floor, and proceeded to lecture the visitor for violating Hong Kong’s widely observed civility rules. All this was captured on video, and what ensued was a widely-circulated public rantby Kong Qingdong, a literature professor at China’s Peking University, calling Hong Kongers “running dogs” for treating their mainland brethrens with disrespect. Some Hong Kong activists, in turn, took out ads in papers, calling mainland tourists “locusts.”

In the midst of the escalating rhetoric, few outside of the city will remember that there was a time when Hong Kongers, living as colonial subjects in an undemocratic British territory facing a seething communist regime to the north, feared every day a Chinese invasion. Border clashes happened occasionally between the city and the mainland. In the summer of 1967, at the height of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, a gun fight, involving revolutionary Red Guards, killed five Hong Kong police officers. And while political banners like “Down with American Imperialism” dotted the landscape on the Chinese side, the British side was described as:

“a set of three, steel-link fences, topped with barbed wire. One hundred yards back from the fence are gun emplacements for Gurkha troops. Land Rovers filled with Scots Guards and the Black Watch drive by, along single-lane roads. British regiments are in full battle garb; weapons are on loaded and ready.”

Frankie Fook-lun Leung
July 6, 2012 at 08:10

One should not be surprised that total absorption of H K into China will be complete despite the claim for One Country Two Systems.  China constantly emphasize that One Country come before Two Systems which means that the Sovereign master dictates how these two systems should evolve and the orbit of the H K system is to follow the Sovereign's edicts.

Frankie Fook-lun Leung
July 3, 2012 at 03:05

People's Daily, China Post, Global Times, CCTV and other CCP pulbications.

Frankie Fook-lun Leung
June 28, 2012 at 11:55

Have you not read the South China Mourning Post to see that in China all news is good news.

May 9, 2012 at 03:03

A correction: the Chinese had ceded Hong Kong to the British indefinitely. It was only the New Territories lease which was to expire in 1997.

The problem apparently was that with the loss of the New Territories, Hong Kong would lose its main water source and become less defensible.

May 3, 2012 at 23:34

No. The British did not own Hong Kong. They leased it from China for 99 years. Hong Kong was then rentrued to the Chinese, although it still has a special status and maintains it’s own currency (HK$). It has a certain amount of autonomy from China, and still has a separate Stock Exchange (Hang Seng Index).If you have a single entry visa to China,you cannot visit Hong Kong and then re-enter China.The status of Hong Kong is very confusing.

April 21, 2012 at 12:37

Then by your thinking Hong Kong should be closed to foreigners so that prevent them from exploiting the “poor Chinese” (millions is only pocket change) Still remembering the HK radio host burnt to death by the communist agent in the 60′s riot. They pulled him (Lam Bun )out of a car and poured gasoline on him and light up just because he said some anti ccp comments. That is more ruthless than the British. By the way do you get 5 cents per blogging?

April 18, 2012 at 16:52

“deport people to the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean ”

Where is that?

What island do you call no where?

John Chan
April 18, 2012 at 00:27

You summarized HK perfectly; it was a product of 100 years ruthless British colonial rule, superficial and financial egoistic. Perhaps China wants to see how bad a society can become if it left full exposure to the western imperialists interference.

John Chan
April 18, 2012 at 00:13

@Frankie Fook-lun Leung,
Muzzling the press? Do you live in HK? CIA exported American mudsling negative attack campaign technique to HK, and Sing Tao stooped so low to be the tool for the CIA. If China acted in the HK Chief Executive election, it is to counter such blatant imperialist interference in HK election.

CY’s election is good for HK; HK would have a government pay more attention to the welfare of the common people instead of bloating the pockets of the developers and the greedy financial crocodiles from the West.

John Chan
April 17, 2012 at 23:40

British ruled Hong Kong with iron fist authoritarian rule, they used internal security act to lock up people and deport people to the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean without trial. There were no election in HK in the last 100 years; British pacified HK people with appointment of cronies and soda caps from Her Majesty.

In contrary, HK enjoys direct election at the district councils and mixed direct and indirect election in the legislature and of governor, that kind political freedom is unprecedented in HK history. Such freedom given by the CCP to HK makes a mockery to the modern democracy creator, a title proclaimed by the British. The freedom in HK is another proof that the West is a two-face monster, freedom to itself but slavery to everybody else.

On the other hand India makes democracy a complete joke, it uses election to white wash its inhumane caste system that abuses and discriminates human being by birth. India was a British colony; it is a shame that Indians have less freedom on its own than they were under the British.

April 17, 2012 at 21:51

@Anon: Agreed! And once HK has been totally controlled, and with its Cantonese language replaced by mandarin, the process of assimilation of Guangdong’s people, culture and language will be complete, after 2000 years.

April 17, 2012 at 08:53

“The press may be ‘free’ in HK, but lacks any hard hitting debate and analysis compared to many Mainland publications.”

Please direct me to the hard-hitting stuff on the shelves in the Mainland. Note — angry rhetoric doesn’t show strength or intelligence.

April 17, 2012 at 05:18

US behind ‘secession’ plot in Hong Kong? by Kent Ewing, Oct. 2011.

“HONG KONG – Fourteen years after this city’s handover from British to Chinese rule, the United States has launched a secret plot to encourage Hong Kong to declare ndependence. Ultimately, the sinister aim is to undermine China’s rise on the world stage and reassert US dominance in Asia.”

IMO, what HK’s economy would be without mainland support!
E.G. – HK is the major ‘Yuan/RMB transaction’ hub.

April 17, 2012 at 04:00

The only reason Hong Kong is still kept relatively intact is Taiwan. It’s a bit hard to believe, isn’t it? China wants Taiwan and doesn’t want any mishap in Hong Kong to be perceived negatively across the Strait. So if the people of Hong Kong thinks their freedom is under threat, they better pray Taiwan won’t surrender to the big bully.

April 17, 2012 at 01:25

I laugh at anyone who thinks Hong Kong is free

they are under the control of the ccp, they are never free.

The Chinese government does not want to kill the golden goose called Hong Kong, but it will due to its own nature.

The ccp wants all power routed through the government, it will uproot Hong Kong and assimilate it.

You look at Hong Kong, and you see the future of Taiwan. Any thought of actually having seperate polities is hilarious. Beijing is the one in charge, you will be governed by who Beijing wants you to be governed by, and be happy about it!

The chains of silk are growing tight aren’t they?

expect the return of secret police (if they aren’t there already) and a steady increase in corruption.

Hong Kong will be harmonized, the nail that sticks up will be pounded down.

Frankie Fook-lun Leung
April 16, 2012 at 12:10

The election of CY Leung illustrates fully that the selection and appointment of a H K chief executive is now intertwined with the power struggle and factional politics in Beijing. This is unprecedented. Such a scenario heralds the demise of One Country Two Systems. The type of intrigues, power struggle, nepotism, sycophantic rule of man philosophy, coupled with muzzling the press will make Hong Kong become what Lee Kuan Yew correctly and presciently predicted another Chinese city. Amen.

April 16, 2012 at 11:33

The young are always leading the protesting because they have no responsibilities for anything. While I would fully support the right of hot heads to protest, decisions can’t be based on irrational fear…. and there is a lot of that in HK unfortunately. The real problem in HK is that we have timid politians who don’t have any vision and cannot lead. It’s a sad indictment of the political situation in HK when my mainland friends tell me that the politicians in HK are much much more fearful of Beijing than politicians in Guangzhou or Shenzhen. Similarly they complain about the press in HK, hardly any rational debate or analysis. The press may be ‘free’ in HK, but lacks any hard hitting debate and analysis compared to many Mainland publications. I suspect HK wouldn’t know what to do with freedom and democracy if it was handed to her on a plate.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief