We owe Hong Kong more

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We owe Hong Kong more

Lee Sang-eon

The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
In retrospect, I benefitted from Hong Kong a lot. In middle school and high school, a Hong Kong martial arts film helped reduce my vague inferiority complex with the West. I thought traditional Asian martial arts combined with an unyielding spirit could defeat a big Westerner. This belief was challenged recently as I watched a YouTube video of a Chinese martial arts master being knocked out by a Western player in a few seconds. But for the last 30 years, those films helped me from feeling overly dispirited when I felt the heavy pressure of living in the West.
The Hong Kong films I watched in my early 20s gave me hope that Asians could be heroes as great as James Bond. Young Koreans raved about Chow Yun-fat, Leslie Cheung and Andy Lau. The self-comforting plot of valuing friendship and loyalty and fashionable Asian actors gave me a sense of confidence that Asians may be admirable in many ways.
I enjoyed tangible benefits when I studied in Britain in the early 1990s. Because of our similar appearance — or our separation from home — I became friends with students from Hong Kong. Having received strictly nationalist history education in the 1970s and 80s in Korea, I asked them if they should end their colonial history as soon as possible. Britain and China were in negotiation for the transfer of Hong Kong at the time. They had different ideas. They said they were Hong Kongese, not Chinese, and did not agree with the idea that they should form a single nation just because they had the same ancestors.
Pro-China supporters hold Chinese national flags during a rally to celebrate the approval of a national security law for Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, Tuesday, June 30, 2020 [AP/YONHAP]

Pro-China supporters hold Chinese national flags during a rally to celebrate the approval of a national security law for Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, Tuesday, June 30, 2020 [AP/YONHAP]

That was a blow to my thinking. I learned from them that present history is more important, or just as important, as the past history. They made me think that slogans about national integration or national self-reliance cannot be trusted absolutely. Some of them actually immigrated to Canada or the United States, which could be interpreted as repudiating their homeland.
When I visited Hong Kong after I became a reporter, I recalled that the Korean language has an expression, “Going to Hong Kong.” It means feeling good. The night scenery of Hong Kong that Chow Yun-fat praised in “A Better Tomorrow” was as spectacular as I had hoped, and the integration of the West and East was a marvel to me. In my later visits, Hong Kong seemed to have become more “Chinese,” with some hotel bellboys not so proficient in English. But the city still offered a charming mix of Eastern ethics and Western technologies. Downtown streets had diligent merchants, and Stanley Beach had a taste of European ports. It seemed to be a mix of Francis Fukuyama’s end of history beyond the race of ideologies and systems and Thomas Friedman’s flat world.
That Hong Kong may disappear though. Its openness and diversity are likely to be suppressed by China. Names like Victoria Harbor and Queensway will likely trigger spasms of nationalistic outrage, and a visiting Korean might be at risk of arrest for making a critical comment of Beijing. Last week, a big barge with a sign celebrating the enforcement of the Hong Kong Security Act was floated in Victoria Harbor. It was an unpleasant sight.
Protestors in Hong Kong sang a Korean protest song and praised the candlelight revolution of 2016, but the Korean government remains silent. They are wrong. It is true that the candlelight protest pursued the values of democracy, justice and human rights. But it is hard to say the current government of Korea really inherited that spirit. It is more realistic to say that the candlelight spirit was hijacked.
The Korean media is also passive in criticizing Beijing. A fellow editorial writer asked, “Is Korea really in a position to say something about another country?” Democracy is at risk in Korea where the head of the ruling party hurled curses at a reporter who asked a just question about the ruling party’s position on the recent death of Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon over a sexual harassment scandal. Besides, there are many things to consider about the future of Korea being adjacent to China. I am sorry, Hong Kong.
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