Opinion & Analysis
Hong Kong's future is what's on everyone's mind8:50 PM, August 7, 2019
Hong Kong:And the betting among many observers is that the current chaos will end in tears.
(Photo credit: AP)
There’s hardly a media outlet around the world not reporting the chaos unfolding in Hong Kong. Details and depth of coverage may vary in quality. But the extent and reach of the chaos are beyond dispute and without precedent in the former British colony.
The coverage is what one would expect of a city as fully digital as Hong Kong, with all manner of Chinese and foreign language media offering everything from Beijing’s party line to reports on the effects on the economy to grim forebodings for the future.
And the future is what’s on everyone’s mind. The best barometer to measure confidence about the future is the city’s Hang Seng Index, which has been falling along with other stock markets jittery about Hong Kong and U.S. President Donald Trump’s trade war with China. The fears are well placed, with units of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) being massed at the border and ready to step into Hong Kong and take control.
Not since 1967 has Hong Kong seen such political turbulence when the Great Helmsman of the People, Mao Zedong, unleashed the deadly forces of the Cultural Revolution, which had its agents in Hong Kong creating merry hell even in the independent crown colony.
This time it’s different: it is the forces opposed to Beijing that are on the war path, and apparently uncontrollably.
This has been coming for many years, indeed decades. As someone who has lived in or visited Hong Kong for almost 40 years, I often marveled at how easily the local citizenry accommodated themselves to colonial rule, never seeking much in the way of representative government and remaining satisfied with a form of government where the British ran the show, including who joined the consultative forums of governance.
Everyone believed that what Hong Kong people wanted most was to be left alone to make money and as long as there was peace and opportunity to exploit Hong Kong’s special status economically, that was all the local people wanted. The fact that the communists over in the People's Republic of China (PRC) could take control of the colony if they wanted to in a matter of hours kept locals well and truly appreciative of the blessings of the British Empire for them.
Even those who resentfully accepted that Hong Kong would revert to the PRC’s full control in 2047 have chaffed at the bit as China has progressively taken more and more direct control, with the bill to allow China to extradite whomever it wished to being the last straw.
Hong Kong citizens have witnessed the two features that marked it out as being a better place to be than China be slowly undermined. However, the promised “one country, two systems” has been whittled away to many locals’ annoyance. And now this!
The effective rule of law demands that the judiciary be independent. It isn’t in mainland China of course and is becoming not so in Hong Kong. Complaints about appointments to the judiciary abound.
Banking and finance are two of Hong Kong major industries. But the constraints put on the several big PRC-based banks in Hong Kong to counter the extensive money laundering and illegal trading practices of PRC citizens looking to export their wealth to safe havens have had an impact on everyone’s transactions and the scrutiny of accounts that previously were as open and accessible as any in Asia.
So, as a result, everyone that can — and they’ve been doing it since the 1980s — has developed residency and citizenship in other countries, as is evident all over the world. Many with residency and citizenship elsewhere in the world have, of course, returned to Hong Kong to work and avail themselves of the Special Administrative Region’s prosperity. That could be over and permanent exits will accelerate.
The betting among many observers is that the current chaos will end in tears. The massing of troops at the border is one sign. But the biggest thing that suggests that the PLA will march in and declare martial law is that the Chinese Communist Party has what we say of criminals with prior convictions — the PRC communists have “form.”
Despite the world’s media being able to report and record every moment of it until the Chinese close down all digital communication to and from Hong Kong, the PRC remains more of a dictatorship than a communist party and dictators always react the same way when their control is challenged.
Pity the Chinese Communist Party Politburo if you care to but maintaining Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong and (now) Xi Jinping Thought really means they have only one option: to send in the PLA. Dialogue, liberal concessions, an alternative to dictatorship: these aren’t in the catechism promoted in Beijing.
What will or could happen? Here are a number of the possibilities, some of which can happen at the same time:
1. The party takes over ruling directly and the Hong Kong economy collapses, slowly or quickly;
2. This could trigger more trouble for the Chinese economy trapped in declining growth, overproduction, excessive supply of labor and products it can’t sell, a trade war with the U.S. that could spell disaster for China and many other countries, including Australia;
3. More experience for China of the pariah status that will harm them in trade, technological development, manufacturing but especially in dealings with countries in East Asia (especially Japan) and Southeast Asia, where already knives are being sharpened over China’s gambits in the South China Sea;
4. And the big one for the Chinese: perhaps irreparable damage to their ambitions to unite China with Taiwan, whose citizens of an effectively operating democracy and very prosperous economy, along with a powerful military supported by the U.S. among others, will resist with full force any attempts to annex it.
The celebrated late Australian journalist Richard Hughes wrote a book on Hong Kong in the 1970s. He lived there from the end of World War II until his death in 1984 and his book was entitled “Borrowed Place on Borrowed Time.” The time must be just about up.
Father Michael Kelly SJ is the CEO of UCAN Services. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com.
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