Twenty years late, decolonization is coming to Hong Kong

By Thomas Hon Wing Polin Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/2 15:33:45

Two decades after Hong Kong's formal return to China, decolonization of the territory seems set to start in earnest. Top Chinese leaders, hitherto remarkably hands-off, appear to have decided that enough is enough - that Hong Kong cannot be allowed to continue drifting in a direction that would jeopardize the nation's interests. 

For the first time, China is demanding that Hong Kong enact long-delayed national security legislation, as required under Article 23 of the Basic Law. Zhang Dejiang, who heads the National People's Congress (NPC) and handles Hong Kong affairs in the Standing Committee of Political Bureau of CPC Central Committee, also explicitly spelled out that Beijing has de facto, as well as de jure, sovereignty, and that it is the source of all legal authority in the territory. He warned that a few people in Hong Kong should not confront the central government in the name of a "high degree of autonomy."

In 1997, China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong. The flag changed, a tiny People's Liberation Army contingent replaced its British counterpart, and the NPC was allowed to interpret the local Basic Law a few times. As Beijing promised, horse-racing and ballroom-dancing continued. All manner of freedom remained unchanged. Indeed, license to criticize government authorities (both local and central) was substantially expanded, together with the influence and activities of anti-Beijing forces who called themselves "pro-democracy." Queen's Road remained Queen's Road, and King's Road stayed King's Road.

More fundamentally, thanks to 150 years of British colonialism, the educational and judicial systems, as well as the civil service and mass media, were dominated by subscribers to the viewpoints and values of the Western imperium that has long dominated the world. Those values were invariably marketed as "freedom," "democracy" and "human rights." Unfortunately for Hong Kong and its people, in substance they meant helping the US-led Empire perpetuate its global domination through predatory capitalism, war-mongering and political destabilization.

Back in the 1980s, China had agreed to implement in Hong Kong the One Country, Two Systems (OCTS) arrangement. That implicitly meant the Anglo imperium could continue to do business as usual after the British crown colony became China's first Special Administrative Region (SAR), so long as such activity did not spill into the mainland itself. 

The protections inherent in OCTS gave local anti-Beijing forces, working with the Empire's agents, the cover they needed to paralyze Hong Kong's governance with their relentless political obstructionism, protests, and ideological hounding of those with different views. One result: Once the can-do capital of the world, Hong Kong became synonymous with an inability to legislate and implement significant public policy. In global rankings, the former Pearl of the East dipped in most meaningful areas of human endeavor.

The deterioration plumbed a nadir with the 79-day "Umbrella Revolution" of 2014 and the violent Mongkok riots last year. Those milestones in local history, together with growing calls for Hong Kong independence, probably made up Beijing's mind to put the wayward SAR on a tighter leash. Certainly, Hong Kong's ever-patient people themselves are increasingly fed up with the ever more petty and puerile antics of the "pan-democrats," which have done untold harm to the community. 

There's another dimension HongKongers tend to miss. They see the drama as a local issue. The central government does not. It has just wrapped up a highly successful inaugural summit for its Belt and Road initiative (B&R), which seeks to connect and transform the Eurasian landmass through an endless array of mutually beneficial trade and development projects. If successful, the B&R could challenge and even in time displace the West's conflict-fueled, rent-seeking world order. That's why the Empire will attempt to undermine Beijing's historic initiative, not least through its intensifying efforts to contain China and destabilize the country's peripheral regions, including Hong Kong. 

In 2003, when the central and SAR authorities backed down on Article 23 after the pan-democrats mobilized a 500,000-strong protest, Hong Kong contributed to as much as 30 percent of the Chinese economy. Today, this number declined to 3 percent. Those economic numbers may have been the final piece in Beijing's calculations. The conclusion: Now is the right time to have a national security law in Hong Kong.

The author is a former senior editor at the international newsweekly Asiaweek (English) and founding editor of Yazhou Zhoukan.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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