By ellymelly – If you enjoy my work, consider shouting me a coffee over on Ko-Fi
One day soon, Hong Kong’s skyscrapers will shadow China’s horizon like limbs protruding from the ground after Mao’s famine. They’ll be tombstones for a city whose people are ethnically Chinese but ideologically Western, the fruits of an experiment left to rot where the best features of opposing powers came together and created something temporal.
Everyone can hear Hong Kong’s screams but the world are powerless observers to its death. We are already in mourning, keeping our eyes closed to spare ourselves the sight of approaching steel. Politicians have stopped talking about it. Articles pass by without comment. Dissidents vanish and silence is spreading like a virus chasing fear.
Free Hong Kong!
I wish it were that simple but in 2020, the world is struggling to save itself let alone a city that has been tipping into China’s abyss for decades.
‘Inevitability’ is an abstract concept that haunts humanity felt no more strongly than in Hong Kong, whose demise is tied to a clock with hands pushed around by impatient Communist Party officials. While the world saw The Sino-British Joint Declaration (drawn up in 1984 and registered with the United Nations in 1985) as a binding treaty to extend Hong Kong’s lifespan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said that the declaration was merely, ‘an historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning’.
This was news to international law and highlighted a recurring problem. China has developed a habit for using regulation as a tool to manipulate foreign nations into legal binds that their dictatorship has no intention of honouring. This ensures that the world is left tied up in knots of their own making while China’s regime remains free to snatch nations and torment citizens in full view as they come down off their Opium War bender. Harsh? Perhaps, but true.
The memory of China’s golden millennia scratches at the back of the CCP’s mind, demanding that Xi Jinping and his army of bureaucrats embark on a period of global conquest to regain what they see as their rightful position as the dominant political force. This is bizarrely cheered on by anti-colonial teenagers inside Western universities who harass pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters or see them expelled to spare the fragile feelings of Beijing. Unfortunately, Communism is a disease that eats nations from the inside out. The further they expand, the poorer the world becomes. Hong Kong’s free market and democratic success has spent two and a half centuries laughing in China’s face and the CCP would happily erase it, regardless of the economic hit.
From sleepy inlet to on-again-off-again Portuguese port, Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China has always been like the tide. For two hundred years starting in the 1600s, China’s desire for isolationism left it at an economic disadvantage, easily exploited by a flourishing European maritime trade. To combat this force of progress, the Canton system was developed reducing China’s foreign trade to a single legally sanctioned port. Racism was law, with foreigners prevented from learning Chinese languages or intermarrying with locals. Then in 1759 the Emperor set forth the rather non-PC code titled, ‘Prevention of Barbarian Ordinances’.
‘Within our lands, we have great wealth, why on earth would we desire the inferior products brought from abroad? The tributes given to us out of kindness were originally unregulated. Yet if there lies the possibility of unrest through their presence, even if we permit their foreign commerce in the future, they will not be allowed entry into the nation.’
Ironically, the world is starting to feel a similar sentiment toward present day China and their flood of inferior products produced by modern slave labour for morally confused mega-corporates.
Isolationism in the face of tempting profits led to merchants and officials inside China engaging in lucrative corruption. The world was a messy place three hundred years ago, shuddering through the rise and fall of empires. It concluded when the Qing Dynasty, China’s last imperial empire, ceded the island of Hong Kong to the British Empire in 1842 at the close of the first Opium War. Later wars expanded this territory with ninety-nine year leases, the termination of which triggered the treaty process between Thatcher and Xiaoping. This means that Hong Kong has been under Western influence since Australia started carving itself up into states. That is an eternity for living people. It is no surprise that these children of democracy are filling the streets in their millions, flying British and American flags, demanding sovereignty while their friends are dragged off to the mainland without trial.
After the 1997 handover, Hong Kong’s people distracted themselves with a life of noise.
No one can deny that after all was said and done, Hong Kong emerged as the gateway to Chinese investment right at a moment in history where China was poised to take on the world’s economic gold mine. Blessed with a valuable port, Hong Kong enjoyed its democracy and free market economy, setting itself up with a special legal grey area where people did not require cumbersome visas to trade and enjoyed low taxation. Prosperity swarmed. Hong Kong became a marriage of East and West that honeymooned every night and was described as the only true nation city in the world.
Being a ‘nation city’ is part of Hong Kong’s problem. It is not and can never be, independent from mainland China, this makes the prospect of fighting for its freedom on military terms essentially impossible with China’s current level of influence. Wary observers note that when mainland China realised this, it decided to call the UK’s bluff during treaty negotiations. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had no choice but to sign the Sino-British Joint Declaration or face the prospect of open war with China – a war which they could win on paper but never hope to enforce without destroying Hong Kong.
Whether you regard it as the lesser of two evils or a geopolitical act of procrastination, it was agreed that Hong Kong would be gradually handed back to China like the tightening of a noose. There was a vague, foolish hope that given the long period of time laid out in the treaty, China would see the error of their authoritarian ways and strive to be more like Hong Kong, embracing markets and democracy. Anyone who thought this must not have read the fine print of the agreement which already harboured the sinister overtones of a jealous nation.
Once signed, the world could no more save Hong Kong than stop the seasons. At heart, most people knew that the city was doomed. Successive waves of refugees fled to various nations inside the Commonwealth, each time tearing off pieces of Hong Kong’s GDP and gifting them like a dowry. Businesses persisted, determined to drain as much money from mainland China as possible before the Communist regime turned red enough to see blood in the water.
In 1997, with the official handing over of Hong Kong to China and the birth of ‘One Party, Two Systems’, five-hundred thousand Hong Kongers fled. Since then, China has only made it half way through the fifty year caretaker period before skipping out on its promise with the passing of the National Security Law, destroying any lingering hope. Under Boris Johnson’s amendments, three million Hong Kong nationals are either eligible or already hold a British National Overseas (BNO) passport, allowing them a passage to UK citizenship. By treaty law, this does not include their children and so many remain stuck between worlds, unable to abandon their kids even if they could relinquish their nation. Once this game starts, things will get nasty fast. China doesn’t want the world to see millions of Hong Kongers fleeing in fear of China.
What will kill Hong Kong?
Most assume (quite fairly) that as China erodes the economic and democratic freedoms that make Hong Kong special, the failings of Communism will take root. The people will be easily subdued as they always are when a ruthless dictator provides enough force, but what about the nine thousand foreign businesses? Thirteen hundred of them are American and many are already in the process of packing their bags. It has become obvious that you cannot simply purchase a city and hope to inherit its wealth. Personally, I think China already knows this and does not care. The Chinese Communist Party want Hong Kong’s port and they’ll bulldoze the whole lot to get their way if they have to.
This is what the history books will say killed Hong Kong, but I see a larger force at play.
Hong Kong is a city on the edge of oblivion, caught between the CCP’s clutches and a world which is withdrawing from China to protect itself from Communism. It has nowhere to go and no hope of reprieve as businesses are told to flee ‘anywhere but China’ to protect the sovereignty of their parent nations. If China is no longer a destination, then Hong Kong is a gate to nowhere. Hong Kong has always been a city driven by commerce and therefore it is the loss of commerce that will hold the knife. There is no threat of war that can fix this and to be perfectly honest, the West knows that they have to dis-empower China economically to prevent global conflict. This will require the sacrifice of Hong Kong – something no one wants.
In the middle of all this, their market economy is suffering from China’s little Wuhan cough. This is being used as an excuse to crush political dissent inside Hong Kong. If it were any other country, the United Nations would insist they be given the right to a referendum to choose their own fate. China, with a veto seat and plenty of cheaply purchased friends, has no intention of playing by intentional law or following Britain’s lead down the path of the peaceful collapse of its empire. Xi Jinping is building his empire by force and he has no time for pesky global interference in China’s acquisitions.
When Western nations see people in their millions crying out for help in the face of a Communist oppressor, of course, the inclination is to help. They have seen this before, a dozen times across the continent, always followed by unspeakable terror. Morally, we should help but in reality, what could be done? Hong Kong is not like Taiwan. The moment she is won, she’ll be starved to death or left to rot in darkness.
And so, Hong Kong has become both a tragedy and a Greek Siren, beckoning the last few sailors toward the rocks.
By ellymelly – If you enjoy my work, consider shouting me a coffee over on Ko-Fi