Hong Kong, March 15 (ANI): If you can believe the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), then the former British colony of Hong Kong is thriving because of the former's magnanimity. The truth is that Beijing is determinedly stifling Hong Kong and turning it into a mimeograph of the rest of authoritarian China.
Interestingly, Xi Jinping's Party Work Report in 2017 stated (emphasis added), "Since Hong Kong and Macao's return to the motherland, the practice of 'One Country, Two Systems' in both regions has been a resounding success. The policy ... has proved to be the best solution to the questions of Hong Kong and Macao, left by history, and the best institutional guarantee for the[ir] long-term prosperity and stability..."
Retrospectively, that assessment proved Xi and his party were totally disconnected with the true sentiment in Hong Kong. Now, unable to elicit any respect or devotion from the majority of Hong Kong people, the CCP has instead done what it knows best- to ruthlessly "enforce" loyalty and obedience.
George Orwell's famous book Nineteen Eighty-Four contained this line, "You must love
Big Brother. It is not enough to obey him: you must love him."
Turning to 2021, Hong Kong Secretary for Constitutional & Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang recently said, "You cannot say that you are patriotic but you do not love the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party or you do not respect it ... Patriotism is holistic love."
These kinds of comments from Hong Kong-born Tsang illustrate how many are trying hard to please Beijing, and that the former colony could soon become as red as China itself. A new wave of ambitious CCP loyalists is arising in Hong Kong, opportunists who embrace "socialism with Chinese characteristics" and the allure of newfound influence and power. An example is the Bauhinia Party formed by Charles Wong and two other Mainland-born businessmen in May 2020.
Last week, the National People's Congress (NPC) - a rubberstamp body that simply agrees with what the CCP's core leadership has already decided - approved sweeping changes to the way Hong Kong's electoral system works.
The NPC voted 2,895 in favor of electoral "reform", with just one abstention. Abstentions typically occur to give official credibility to "democratic voting" within the ultra-conformist CCP. The electoral law could change as early as April, and it will mark perhaps the most serious regression of the One Country, Two Systems policy so far.
It underscores how the CCP has irrevocably torn up the Sino-British Joint Declaration and is imposing its own brand of repressive authoritarianism on the city.
Law changes include reducing the election committee that chooses the chief executive from 1,500 seats down to 1,200, and probably deleting district councilors who tend to be pro-democrats voted in by popular choice. This election committee would select 90 seats of the local legislature, and control the nominating process.
Tsang confirmed that any politician deemed insincere would be barred from office, with only "patriots" allowed to rule in Hong Kong. The term "patriot" refers to loyalty to the CCP, rather than to China itself or to Hong Kong.
Indeed, as Song Ru'an, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's deputy commissioner in Hong Kong, explained, "When we talk about patriotism, we are not talking about the abstraction of loving a cultural or historical China, but rather loving the currently existing People's Republic of China under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party."
Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China's State Council, said last month that Hong Kong can only be ruled by "patriots". He said the electoral system must be "designed" to fit the territory's situation to cast out "anti-China agitators".
The imposed electoral changes are designed to stifle any whiff of opposition from pro-democracy elements. The government received a painful slap in the face in 2019 when pro-democracy politicians won nearly 90% of district council seats. Anyone failing the upcoming new "loyalty test" would appear in court for formal disqualification, and subsequently, be banned from standing in elections for the following five years.
ANI spoke to one Hong Konger, who faced increasing repression, chose to flee their homeland and live overseas. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said: "This is a huge regret for democracy in Hong Kong. By my understanding, under the law change the communist party would effectively be able to vet Legislative Council candidates ... They would not be able to represent the people anymore.
The communist party is doing this because China wants to take overall control of Hong Kong, and I think the government and communist party seem not to be afraid of the international tension and pressure anymore. Controlling Hong Kong is the goal."
As the screws tighten, the source told ANI, "Some of my friends in Hong Kong said they felt helpless in the current situation, especially as the attitude of the Hong Kong government is always politics first. People have no way to express themselves ...
According to my observation, some people have chosen to keep going and say what they want to say. Some have chosen to keep silent, but the National Security Law has taken away the freedom of speech of Hong Kong people. They can detain anyone for what you say, even if it's just saying a slogan."
Since mass protests erupted in 2019, after its initial shock, Chief Executive Carrie Lam's government has astutely handled the matter of legally outlawing dissent. If pro-Beijing candidates could not win legislative office through popularity, they can now stack the deck by mass disqualification of those who do not display undying devotion to the CCP.
Furthermore, the National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong in June 2020 has had a suffocating effect on political activism and freedom of expression. Just as in China, laws are being formulated to give the authorities "legal" backing to control what people do and say. This electoral law change in effect obliterates any faint remaining dream of democracy in Hong Kong. "One Country, Two Systems" is dead, and only those who embrace the CCP and Xi will have future roles. Now there is only one party that rules, and that rule is absolute.
The Hong Konger in exile told ANI: "In August there will be another law change relating to immigration policy. I think there'll be a huge amount of people leaving Hong Kong before August, because the law change is about controlling or blocking people from freely leaving Hong Kong." Regarding the current state of affairs in the territory, they said, "I feel very sad. I didn't think China would behave like that to Hong Kong. We couldn't imagine it ten years ago."
This amply illustrates China's paranoia of its own people. The People's Republic of China does not belong to the people, but to the CCP elite. Beijing deemed it too risky for Hong Kong people to have any ability to vote for those it wants to represent them, so by changing the ground rules it can sweep away all opposition from the playing field.
Whether in politics, the legal system or media, Beijing is inexorably tightening its grip, throttling Hong Kong and molding it into its own likeness. Its willingness to face vilification from foreign countries for the capricious way it is behaving in Hong Kong underscores its paranoia about any form of internal dissent.
Forty-seven pro-democracy campaigners and activists are standing trial for taking part in an unauthorized primary election in July 2020. These are the cream of pro- democracy leaders, while others have fled overseas into political exile.
Hong Kong built its reputation on its business acumen and British-based jurisprudence. Yet the CCP is already making inroads into that bastion of an unbiased legal system. By unilaterally imposing new laws and by cultivating pro-CCP elements, pressure is rising on judges and the courts.
What about Hong Kong's past advantages as an international financial center and a place where the rule of law exists? The Hong Konger in voluntary exile again: "I think they'll be completely lost, because now there's no difference between a normal city in China and Hong Kong."
Carrie Lam has already promised new laws against doxing, fake news and hate speech. Presumably, anything other than "holistic love" for the CCP could be construed as hate speech.
On 9 February, Hong Kong's High Court created a precedent by ruling there should be no presumption of bail for people charged in national security matters. Nor do such cases require a jury, a marked departure from long-standing Hong Kong practice, and one that aligns it more closely with China's politically controlled courts. Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under the National Security Law for "terrorism" and "inciting secession", was denied any right to trial by jury by Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng. His crime of riding a motorbike into a group of police officers whilst waving a flag emblazoned with the words "Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times" could result in life imprisonment.
Foreign governments are already warning that travel to Hong Kong should now be treated the same as traveling into China. Confidence among foreign businesses is shaky, although for most the tension between principle and profit will be easily resolved in favor of the latter.
China is also asserting greater control over communications in Hong Kong. It is blocking websites for the first time. On 12 February, internet service providers blocked access to the Taiwan Transitional Justice Commission website. A month earlier, they blocked HKChronicles, a website doxing police officers and exposing pro-Beijing businesses.
A new law is set to require all SIM cards to be registered, which will permit the state to conduct surveillance of personal communications. The Commerce and Economic Development Bureau alleged SIM cards were being "exploited by criminals in undertaking illegal activities".
The government is also shaking up RTHK, the territory's public broadcaster. On 19 February, a bureaucrat with zero broadcasting experience was appointed its head, shortly before a report was released alleging that RTHK lacked "clear editorial accountability". Hong Kong had already banned the BBC World Service, following Beijing's lead.
Apple Daily newspaper owner Jimmy Lai is currently in jail awaiting trial for "colluding with foreign forces" under the Draconian National Security Law. Then, D100 Radio host Edmund Wan Yiu-sing was detained on 7 February on four counts of "seditious intent" for criticism of the government.
Angeli Datt, a senior research analyst for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at Freedom House, commented: "The Hong Kong government is slowly but systematically attempting to remove the separate mechanisms protecting the free flow of information and due process rights that Hong Kongers have enjoyed for years. With Hong Kong authorities firmly following Beijing's lead, 2021 is certain to see further erosions in freedom of expression and human rights in Hong Kong."
With Hong Kong being so rapidly suppressed and subsumed, what is next? There are
increasing fears that Xi will attempt to forcibly "reunite" Taiwan with Mainland
China within the next five years.
The final word from the Hong Kong expat: "I just want to give Hong Kong people a message: If you can leave, leave as soon as possible before it's too late. (ANI)