Not Hong Kong as we know it

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Not Hong Kong as we know it

The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

I vividly remember. In August 2019 at the height of the protests, I met the student president on the campus of Hong Kong Baptist University. “Why do you protest,” I asked. He replied that if they remained silent, they would lose. When I asked if there’s any hope for victory, he said, “People are moving. There’s an election next year.” And he mentioned Gwangju, as he wanted to learn from Korea’s experience of democratization. There was hope then. No one expected Hong Kong would change just a year later.

In retrospect, the Chinese government had thorough strategies. After Vice Premier Han Zheng visited Shenzhen in November last year, protest suppression became unprecedentedly intense. It was clear that protests were being suppressed by force. Protestors were injured and pushed. Fires spread in downtown streets. The police didn’t seem to care. After universities were locked down, protestors were dispersed. The spring did not come. Covid-19 was a disaster for China, but ironically, it offered a chance to dominate Hong Kong. People could not resume protests. Two major political events in China — the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference — were held in May, and as if they were biding time, the security act was passed. The legal system is now in China’s hands.

People who called for Hong Kong’s autonomy, independence or foreign help were to be arrested. On the day when the security act was passed, the people of Hong Kong carried blank papers on the streets. Instead of slogans, they played flutes. They could no longer sing, “We are afraid. We keep our heads up and cry out the slogans for freedom to come.”

And that was not the end. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council has 70 lawmakers who are elected every four years. 35 are directly elected from districts while 35 are selected from functional representatives. 19 of them are in the democratic alliance. They, however, were not safe. Four of them were stripped of the position because they went to the United States and asked for help in July. The lawmakers who were elected by the people could not survive in the fearful standard of “national security.” The remaining 15 members resigned.

Probably because of the confidence as the second-largest economy in the world after the United States, China’s changes can be seen in how it deals with Hong Kong. China is no longer daunted by international criticism. Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasizes internal unity to surpass the United States.

Now the flame is spreading beyond Hong Kong to Taiwan. China is criticizing the Tsai Ing-wen government for elevating war tensions day by day. The Chinese military is training for a landing operation for a Taiwan invasion scenario. As next year marks the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, there are reports that Beijing is discussing how to celebrate. The U.S. relationship is a variable, but Taiwan unification is a constant for China.
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