With royal carriages, red carpets, and grand banquets, Britain’s welcome of Chinese President Xi Jinping was hospitable to say the least. Chinese students queued for hours in the cold for a chance to meet their beloved leader—others were less thrilled. Or rather, their interest was directed towards The Independent’s 20th October 2015 headline: ‘The hero of the Umbrella Revolution is here to rain on China’s parade’ rather than ‘Manchester looks forward to Xi’s visit’. These divergent news stories perfectly capture the clashing sentiments of Mainland China and Hong Kong regarding the presidential visit.
While many saw the visit as a recognition of China’s growing importance in world politics and the global economy, some took this as an ultimate betrayal by the British government. While mainstream Chinese media placed the impetus on the royal family colour coordinating for President Xi Jinping, young people from Hong Kong mocked the visit. First Lady Peng Liyuan’s uneven makeup and President Xi Jinping’s wish to visit Old Trafford came under fire while the ultimate mockery had occurred following the President’s selfie with Manchester City striker, Sergio Agüero and David Cameron. Hong Kong’s youth are not harbouring feelings of hostility towards the President, but a feeling of abandonment towards Britain. It’s a feeling being cultivated by the visit in which Britain was so clearly kowtowing to China for economic benefits—ignoring the growing tension between the two regions.
Last year Hong Kong made international headlines with its 81-day civil disobedience, the Umbrella Revolution. This student-led movement surprised the world on not only by how organized the young leaders were, but also with how quickly the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) resorted to violence. One such student activist, Joshua Wong, was featured on the cover of TIME magazine and The Independent for leading and initiating the movement. The United Nations and several world leaders urged Beijing to recognize and obey the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984. While protesters hoped the British government would take further actions and support Hong Kong, what resulted was a formal statement with no diplomatic measure.
The people of Hong Kong were disappointed once again when the British government chose not to address the democratic and human rights issues in China during Xi’ Jinping’s visit—especially when the room for public discussion in Hong Kong is shrinking. We are politically hopeful people, but given the actions of Britain this past month, we cannot help but feel like the window to drastically change our situation is closing quickly and unforgivingly.
While foreigners see Hong Kong as a generally autonomous city on par with London and New York, the reality falls short of its reputation of freedom, justice, and rule of law. Freedom of speech in the press has been constricted for a couple of years now, but news that Ming Pao’s former editor-in-chief, Kevin Lau, was attacked in broad daylight was completely unexpected. Though the incident was not the first threat towards Hong Kong journalists, this assault led to the rising trend of media self-censorship. In fact, Hong Kong’s ranking in the World Press Freedom Index has had its place dropped from #58 in 2012 to #70 in 2015.
Over the course of a year, ominous signs of a private agenda has suggested that the justice system in Hong Kong is being used as a political tool. When cases for the Umbrella Revolution were being presented in court, judges criticized the HKPF for making unsubstantiated testimonies. Furthermore, the Beijing government’s emphasis on the ‘fact’ that all judges should be patriotic and responsible for protecting China’s sovereignty, security, and developmental interests in The White Paper (published in 2014), which drew concerns about Hong Kong judiciary’s independence from across the world. Spectators and Hong Kongers alike worried that this would be the signal of Beijing’s government intervening with the peninsula’s domestic issues and violating the promise of the special administrative region’s ‘high level of autonomy’.
Decisions made by The University of Hong Kong’s board of directors regarding the nomination of an Umbrella Movement affiliated university vice principal further proves the Central government’s—or at least their allies—relentless pressure on the SAR’s academic freedom. After witnessing how the core values of Hong Kong are being jeopardised, one must ask how Hong Kong can fend off competition from neighbours like Singapore, being that the cornerstones on which Hong Kong built its success on is being insidiously corroded.
It is nearly impossible to put a society back on the right track unless its people are willing to get actively involved in political activities, elections, protests, or even simple discussions. Despite what the Umbrella Revolution might suggest about the people’s heavy involvement in politics, the majority of citizens respond to politics with a shrug. In fact, it is the near-obsessive focus on economic development that caused this phenomenon. The social environment in Hong Kong encourages people to work tirelessly for financial benefits. Just as how President Xi Jinping ‘bought’ the luxurious trip to the UK, a similar mentality persists through the government building infrastructures at the expense of social stability.
The people of Hong Kong believe that all it takes to lead a stable life is playing by the rules, yet they fail to realise that they are playing in an unfair game where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Each year, the high achievers in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (HKDSE, a public exam qualification) will always go for medicine, law, or degrees that will guarantee them a decent job. There is an overwhelming consensus in society that believes these are the talents that will lead Hong Kong to a better future. Yet what Hong Kong’s society truly needs are young people who will devote themselves to politics. Hong Kong needs more than just one Joshua Wong. But this won’t happen if the public still sees studying politics as having one foot in the grave.