Virus-free island prepares to bring home stranded citizens
Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.
Betrayal is the most apt word I can find to describe my feelings about Beijing’s foisting of a national security law on Hong Kong. I had been optimistic on July 1, 1997, when the city passed to Chinese rule, and ceased to be a British colony, under the “one country, two systems” concept of governance.
There was no reason to disbelieve the assertions that the city would have a “high degree of autonomy”, and freedoms as they existed would remain and even be strengthened. Now, I am disappointed and have lost all trust; like some other foreigners, I have to reconsider my plans to retire in the place that I have called home for so long.
Details of the law are not yet clear, but the National People’s Congress in Beijing had no difficulty rubber-stamping the idea. Authorities and their supporters have portrayed it as being targeted at a small percentage of Hong Kong’s population, specifically those considered a threat to the nation.
Existing laws already cover terrorism, criminal activities and violent acts; coupled with archaic handovers from colonial days, the government has every legal tool it could need to ensure national security. Among that which isn’t covered, though, is apparently foreign interference, and I, not being Chinese, am obviously uncomfortable about that.
Fear and intimidation are classic Communist Party methods of silencing critics. I have been enduring them in the comments section of my columns for months now, claims that my pointing out what I perceive to be wrong is considered biased and anti-government.
Never mind that freedoms of speech and expression are integral parts of “one country, two systems” and that a healthy society needs a diversity of views to thrive. A government that only tolerates praise and crushes criticism is bound to be flawed, broken and unrepresentative.
People who hide behind pseudonyms have been telling me that my thoughts are unwelcome, that I should shut up and go “back to my country”, or even that I should be assaulted. In one comment, one person wrote: “Kick this guy out. We don’t want his opinion any longer. Bias. Disruptive.”
These remarks are reminiscent of China during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, when fear was used as a weapon by leader Mao Zedong to intimidate and subjugate his own people. It has returned under President Xi Jinping, and been increasingly apparent in tactics used towards those who do not embrace Beijing’s point of view.
I have been disregarding such remarks, knowing Beijing has a veritable online army fighting to censor and sway opinion. But with the national security law expected to be enacted in a month or so, I will have to take such views seriously.
Many in this city will; other than journalists and opinion writers, it seems likely anyone who does not agree with all that Beijing says and does will be open to intimidation, bullying, credit-scoring and revenge. Hongkongers are not ones to bottle up their thoughts and like to make their views known, but with the boundaries of the law unlikely to be clearly defined, all are open to its provisions.
Foreigners are the fortunate ones, they have a passport that can take them elsewhere. But for those of us with close connections to Hong Kong, who own property and are part of the government pension scheme, leaving is not so easy. Anecdotally, I am aware of people moving their assets out and putting homes up for sale.
Concern about the banking system and the Hong Kong dollar has some converting savings into foreign currency and moving it offshore.
Those eager to please Beijing or benefit from its attention are obviously pleased. Those who had so much faith in what China had to offer Hong Kong 23 years ago are bitterly disappointed. If silencing those who have a different point of view is perceived by Beijing as the way forward, so be it. The nation will be the loser.
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
How to Stay Healthy While Working From Home
The IKEA SALE is now on, happening online only!