Tensions Building in Hong Kong with China
It was interesting timing to travel to Hong Kong. I arrived in Hong Kong on June 2nd. It turns out that June 4th was the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China. And there are a number of interesting trends happening in both China and Hong Kong that I got to see a small window into.
Hong Kong is a bustling city. The Hong Kong metro system is one of the nicest I have seen. It’s clean, it’s organized, it’s sprawling, it’s new. The lighting system in the cars gives a good bit of information, it seems new trains come every 2–3 minutes. But each station is really big, with lots of walking.
One thing for me that just cracked me up the whole time in Hong Kong was the ads. I felt this also for other ads in China. Maybe it’s because I can’t read the language, but I just find the advertisements so funny. There was a guy drinking milk who I saw so many times on the metro. So maybe it was a good milk ad? I think the style is different in addition to me having no idea what it says.
So I learned a good bit historically about Hong Kong, but it’s clearly only scratching the surface. After the Opium Wars, Hong Kong was given to the British who had control. This was in 1898, and they had a 99 year lease, after which it would return control to China. 1997 was 99 years later, and at that point it returned Hong Kong to China. At this point the country had a “One Country, Two Systems” setup, where Hong Kong would have its own economic and administrative system. Basically it gave a special independent status to Hong Kong, and this would last for 50 years.
Via Wikipedia: Chapter 1, Article 5 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, the constitutional document of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, reads:
The socialist system and policies shall not be practised in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the previous capitalist system and way of life shall remain unchanged for 50 years.
So Hong Kong feels like a New York of China a little bit. It’s busy, it’s expensive, and it’s a global city. It is open in a way that my visit to Shanghai and Beijing was not. People speak English. They have their own money, the Hong Kong Dollar. It seems it’s very important to them to be a global business center, much like Singapore. But to do this it then means in some ways they need to be separate from China. But more and more, and especially now, it seems China is trying to exert more control over Hong Kong and seems to be reneging on their promises.
So is Hong Kong democratic? No. From one of my tour guides, it sounds like it is more of a puppet government, chosen by a committee and really chosen by the Chinese government. But it seems people want to be more independent. Back in 2014 there was the Umbrella Movement, which was another democracy protest. So people are sharing ideas of what they want, but it’s just not going anywhere. So while it’s maybe more “open” and more “western” it’s just a Chinese version of being more open and western; it’s not really open and western.
And just a few days ago, it turns out there was another protest about a new law about extradition to China. So again it seems people are trying to protest while they feel they still can. But it doesn’t seem it does much. Over one million people showed up, and as of now it has delayed movement on the new law.
One of the tours I did was a sort of recent history of China and Hong Kong relations, so it was interesting to learn about. From the tour guide, it sounds like there is a generational divide in Hong Kong, also related to the 1997 date of the return to China. For the younger people, it seems they have developed a more independent identity as a “Hong Konger” in a way that may not be true for the older generation. This trend of tensions in Hong Kong and China seems it may only escalate. Because if you follow this trend out, there is a big unknown happening in about 30 years when the special status period between Hong Kong and China ends. It’s not clear what will happen then. And why does it seem to me like this is another big tension point? Well, at this point the younger generation who as a more independent identity separate from China will be growing up at the same time that China is trying to crack down and enforce more control. That seems to spell trouble.
From my perspective it just seems Hong Kong should be an independent country. That would probably be better.
It seems like there are smaller instances of Chinese repression happening in Hong Kong; it sounded like even talking about Hong Kong independence is something you just can’t do. And if people do that, it seems the government takes action. The guide explained that even a foreign host of a conversation about independence has had visa trouble since then.