This page, which is still under development, brings together materials on the protests in Hong Kong beginning with demonstrations in early summer 2019 against proposals to allow extradition to mainland China.
1. John Whelpton's 31 August 2019 response on Quora and Facebook to the question: `How similar is Hong Kong's fight to become independent and Brexit?'
Thank you for an interesting question, even though it perhaps rests on confusion generated by the fraudulent use of the word `independence’ in the name of the United Kingdom Independence Party, the organisation which played the largest part in the anti-EU campaign, and also on failure to realise that campaigners for Hong Kong’s complete independence are a very small minority. I am myself both a British citizen and a permanent resident of Hong Kong, angered by the decision to leave the European Union and also worried and distressed by the current Hong Kong situation, but will attempt to answer objectively, As others have already pointed out, there is a fundamental difference between the UK’s and Hong Kong’s situations. The UK is a sovereign state which voluntarily joined an association of sovereign states and then decided to leave it, whereas Hong Kong is just one part of the sovereign state of China and, though a British colony for over a century, has never been independent. Neither the EU nor those of us in Britain who oppose Brexit dispute that the country has a right to leave if it wants to; the disagreements are instead over whether the decision was a correct one and over the details of the `divorce’ settlement. China, on the other hand, certainly does not recognise any right to secede nor even any right for us in Hong Kong to decide our internal political arrangements on our own. There is obviously no possibility of the EU using force to keep the UK from leaving, whereas China has both the means and the willingness to compel Hong Kong to stay part of the country.
That said, there are some important similarities in the emotions involved in both situations. Perhaps most fundamental is a question of identity. A very large number of Britons, even if they would prefer on economic grounds to remain in the EU, do not identify emotionally with Europe, whilst many in Hong Kong, though obviously Chinese in a broad cultural sense and for the most part recognising that independence is a practical impossibility, do not identify with the People’s Republic of China. For older Hong Kongers, this sense of alienation is directed principally against the authoritarian nature of the mainland regime, but among the younger generation the feeling sometimes extends into rejection of the whole idea of being part of a Chinese nation.
Secondly, there is in both cases anxiety over an influx of `outsiders’. There is resentment in Britain against large numbers of migrant workers from Eastern Europe, allegedly pushing down wage levels and overloading social services, and in Hong Kong against mainland Chinese, especially those speaking Mandarin rather than the local Cantonese `dialect’, who are seen as pushing up the price of housing and competing for local resources. Finally there is discontent over broader economic conditions - years of austerity in the UK and in Hong Kong a combination of stagnant wages and housing prices which would be exorbitant even without any immigration.
2. BBC feature article - https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-50753963 (accessed 15/12/19) (vesion below omits most of the photographs in the original article and also an embeddded 9-minute video: `The identity crisis behind Hong kong's protests')
Hong Kong protests test Beijing's 'foreign meddling' narrative
By John Sudworth BBC, Beijing
A few months ago a Chinese official asked me if I thought foreign powers were fomenting Hong Kong's social unrest. "To get so many people to come to the streets," he mused, "must take organisation, a big sum of money and political resources." Since then, the protests sparked at the beginning of Hong Kong's hot summer have raged on through autumn and into winter. The massive marches have continued, interspersed with increasingly violent pitched battles between smaller groups of more militant protesters and the police. The toll is measured in a stark ledger of police figures that, even a short while ago, would have seemed impossible for one of the world's leading financial capitals and a bastion of social stability.
More than 6,000 arrests, 16,000 tear-gas rounds, 10,000 rubber bullets. As the sense of political crisis has deepened and divisions have hardened, China has continued to see the sinister hand of foreign meddling behind every twist and turn. The 'grey rhino'In January, China's supreme political leader Xi Jinping convened a high-level Communist Party meeting focused on "major risk prevention". He told the assembled senior officials to be on their guard for "black swans" - the unpredictable, unseen events that can plunge a system into crisis. But he also warned them about what he called "grey rhinoceroses" - the known risks that are ignored until it's too late.
While state media reports show the discussions ranging over issues from housing bubbles to food safety, there's no mention at all of Hong Kong. And yet the seeds were already being sown for what has become the biggest challenge to Communist Party rule in a generation. A few weeks after the meeting, the Hong Kong government, with the strong backing of Beijing, introduced a bill that would allow the extradition of suspects to mainland China. Opposition to the bill was immediate, deep-seated and widespread, driven by the fear that it would allow China's legal system to reach deep inside Hong Kong.
Despite assurances that "political crimes" would not be covered, many saw it as a fundamental breach of the "one country, two systems" principle under which the territory is supposed to be governed. It wasn't just human rights groups and legal experts expressing alarm, but the business community, multinational corporations and foreign governments too, worried that overseas nationals might also find themselves targeted by such a law. And so, the first claims of "foreign meddling" began to be heard.
On 9 June, a massive and overwhelmingly peaceful rally against the bill was held, with organisers putting the attendance at more than a million. The accusations made in person by officials, like the one mentioned earlier, were echoes of a narrative being taken up in earnest by China's Communist Party-controlled media. The morning after the march, an English language editorial in the China Daily raised the spectre of "interference". "Unfortunately, some Hong Kong residents have been hoodwinked by the opposition camp and their foreign allies into supporting the anti-extradition campaign," it said. From the protesters' point of view, the dismissal of their grievances as externally driven explains, to a large extent, what happened next. The city's political elite, backed by Beijing and insulated from ordinary Hong Kongers by a political system rigged in its favour, demonstrated a spectacular failure to accurately read the public mood.
Three days after the march, with Hong Kong's leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, insisting she would not back down, thousands of people surrounded the Legislative Council building where the bill was being debated. It was on the same spot just outside the chamber, less than five years earlier, that a phalanx of trucks with mechanical grabbers had begun scooping up rows of abandoned tents. To the sound of the snapping of poles and the crunching of bamboo barricades - the detritus of weeks of protest and occupation - 2014's pro-democracy demonstrations finally ran out of steam. Now the proposed law, one that may once have been seen as relatively inconsequential, was about to reignite the movement.
The protesters threw bricks and bottles, the police fired tear gas and by the evening of 12 June, Hong Kong had witnessed one of its worst outbreaks of violence in decades.
No-one could be in any doubt that the Umbrella Movement, with its demands for wider democratic reform, was back with a vengeance. The few concessions - first the suspension and finally the withdrawal of the bill - came too late to stop the cycle of escalating violence from both the protesters and the police. Beijing is right to point out that there are plenty of Hong Kongers who deplore the mask-clad militants building barricades, vandalising public property and setting fires. Some of them are ardent supporters of Chinese rule, others are simply being pragmatic, believing that violence will only provoke the central government into intervening more strongly in Hong Kong's affairs.
But the authorities were stunned last month by a test of the true strength of those viewpoints, when - on a record turnout in local elections - the pro-democracy camp swept the board. The poll gave its candidates almost 60% of the total share of the votes.
At first there was an astonished silence from mainland China, which had genuinely thought the pro-Beijing side would win. The initial news reports mentioned only the conclusion of the voting, not the results, but then came a familiar refrain. The state-run Xinhua news agency blamed "rioters" conspiring with "foreign forces". "The politicians behind them who are anti-China and want to mess up Hong Kong reaped substantial political benefits," it said.
As proof of interference, China cites cases of foreign politicians voicing support for democracy or raising concerns about its erosion under Chinese rule. It has also blamed Washington for passing a law mandating an annual assessment of Hong Kong's political freedoms as a pre-condition for continuing the territory's special trading status. Xinhua has denounced it as "a malicious political manipulation that seriously interferes with Hong Kong affairs". But no evidence has been produced of any outside forces co-ordinating or directing the protests on the ground. In reality, the young, radical protesters, with the ubiquitous use of the portmanteau "Chinazi" in their street graffiti, appear as much motivated by statements from Beijing as they are from Washington. The very institutions - independent courts and a free press - that are supposed to be protected by the "one country, two systems" formula, are derided by the ruling Communist Party as dangerous, foreign constructs. Where once Hong Kongers might have hoped that China's economic rise would bring political freedoms to the mainland and a closer alignment with their values, many now fear the opposite. Mass detention camps in Xinjiang, a wider crackdown on civil society, and the abduction of Hong Kong citizens for perceived political crimes have all underlined the concern that their city is now ruled by political masters inherently hostile to the very things that make it special.
And any appeal to universal values as underwriting Hong Kong's side of the "two systems", is anathema to Beijing, one that it rejects by conflating it with outside foreign meddling. Despite earlier fears, the central government seems unlikely to send in the army - a move certain to provoke even more of an international outcry. But nor can it offer a political solution. Giving the pro-democracy movement any more of what the Communist Party strains every fibre of its organisational structure to deny to the mass of Chinese people is impossible. Its values are stability and control, not freedom and democracy, and it struggles to understand how anyone would choose the latter over the former. So Beijing finds itself bound by a sense of historical destiny to a territory with which it is - in large part - in deep ideological opposition.
It is a tension that has not gone unnoticed elsewhere in the region, in particular, in Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers a breakaway province. Hong Kong's experience of one country, two systems, the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has suggested, has shown that authoritarianism and democracy cannot coexist. Referring to the prospect of a similar formula being foisted on Taiwan she tweeted, in Chinese characters, the phrase bu ke neng - "Not a chance". 3. John Whelpton - response on Quora to SantoshKumar Palit's question: What is the future of press freedom in Hong Kong?
Freedom of the press is a relative concept and journalists everywhere are to a certain extent under pressure from proprietors, from governments and from the need not to embarrass their own side in political disputes. However the press is much freer in some countries than others: for example, British newspapers are free to write in favour or against independence for Scotland, whilst mainland Chinese papers are certainly not free to write in favour of independence for Tibet or Taiwan.
The imposition of the national security law has certainly increased the danger to Hong Kong’s relatively free press but has not yet completely destroyed it. For example, the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s main English-language newspaper, which is owned by mainland businessman Jack Ma, continues to carry articles both in favour and against the new legislation, whilst Apple Daily ( 蘋果日報), the Chinese-language paper most critical of the mainland government, saw its circulation and share price soar after the arrest of its proprietor, Jimmy Lai.
In addition, unlike the mainland, where the government goes to great length to restrict ordinary citizens access to the global Internet (including Quora!) , we are still free to consume opinions and information from anywhere in the world. The fundamental reality here is that the central government has always been prepared to tolerate much freer information flows than it does on the mainland but it will not tolerate any direct challenge to its ultimate control over the local government. This means we have to accept a strictly limited form of `active democracy’ (the free choice of our own government) in return for enjoying a higher degree of personal freedom than the mainland does. In my opinion, the `democratic camp’, which enjoys the support of around half the population here and which I myself have always voted for, made a mistake in not accepting as a short-term solution the compromise offered us in 2014. This was to choose the Chief Executive directly but only from candidates acceptable to a nominating committee dominated by pro-Beijing elements. This restriction is obviously wrong in principle, just as it would be wrong for the UK government to insist that only candidates opposed to Scottish independence should be allowed to contest elections for the Scottish Assembly or for the USA to stipulate that only those who support capitalism should be allowed to run for office. We still have, and hopefully will continue to have, the right to say loudly that the restriction is unreasonable, but until pressure for liberalisation builds up in the mainland itself, trying to pressurise the government into removing the restriction through civil disobedience is a counter-productive tactic.
4. John Whelpton - The Situation as of December 2020
The National Security Act. imposed by the central government in the summer, was claimed to be a response to long-running protests which had in some cases turned violent, but it was worded in very broad terms, in effect criminalising non-violent dissent including even the chanting of slogans in favour of Hong Kong independence. The protests had already subsided, partly because of Covid-19 anxieties, but the authorities are cracking down on activists who were involved in them. The government has also used the Covid situation as a handy excuse to postpone elections due this year and has expelled four opposition members from the legislature, prompting the resignation of the remainder.
Nevertheless, we retain a number of freedoms not available on the mainland, including unimpeded access to international media, and the local press continues to print critical reports of China's' crackdown here and also on the Uighur population in Xinjiang. The central government's red line is anything that threatens their ability to ensure that only people they trust hold executive power in the territory. We will have to put up with that unless and until movement for political reform begins again on the mainland and it was thus a tactical mistake on the part of many in the opposition both to launch the `Occupy Central' movement in 2015 and, even more so, to resort to more direct action last year.
Other countries cannot do much to influence the situation here - despite the fears of the pro-Beijng people and the hopes of many in the opposition - but, on balance, the protests and symbolic measures from abroad are helpful because they let the Chinese government know that any further steps it takes here will further complicate its international relations. Despite the constant refrain of `This is purely an internal Chinese matter', the Chinese leadership are well aware that a country's domestic policies do impact its international position, just as American politicians in the 1950s understood that their country's standing in the world was undercut by the continuation of racial segregation in the southern states.
At the same time, however, a lot of comments from outside betray a poor understanding of the nuances of the situation here. Only a minority in Hong Kong (17% in the last poll I saw, taken before the National Security Act was imposed) actually want independence. The argument is about the degree of internal autonomy we are allowed, in particular whether only those approved by a committee that follows instructions from Beijing can stand as candidates for Chief Executive. A lot of us also object to the ban on political parties for simply advocating independence, which was imposed even before the National Security Act.
Against this whole background, quite a few ordinary people, both Chinese and foreigners, have been wondering whether they ought to leave Hong Kong and worrying that the central government might at some point restrict movement of people and money out of the territory, This seems to me unnecessarily alarmist as Beijing is really just concerned about retaining full political control and unlikely in the near or medium-term to remove freedoms in the non-political sphere.
5. John Whelpton - posting on Facebook 1/1/21
Like the rest of the world, Hong Kong can hope to see the back of covid19 as a serious threat in 2021 but is is, unfortunately, stuck with the National Security Law. It's therefore important that we do not make things worse than they have to be by self-censoring, something the vagueness of the law's wording may have been deliberately designed to bring about. Beijing is not particularly worried about criticism of the central or the SAR governments being voiced here but is paranoid over anything which it sees as a threat to its control of the territory. For that reason, it would have been quite happy to continue the system under the British before Chris Patten's reforms - freedom of speech and thought but very limited political power in the hands of the electorate. It allowed some expansion of popular representation because it didn't want to appear less generous than the previous masters, and it also offered a bit more in 2015, but it insists on keeping a veto over the top appointments as well as maintaining `reliable' functional constituencies rather than universal suffrage as understood elsewhere in the world. We have to live with that, and with the ban on calling for independence, but otherwise as individuals we should continue to express our opinions as before.
There is a small degree of risk but less if you are speaking out in English rather than Chinese. Profecto, si quis de securitate sua inquietatur, etiam tutius est de Xi Imperatore Latine colloqui. नेपालीमा पनि बादशाहको बारेमा कुनै खतरा बिना कुरा गर्न सक्छौं।
Economist cover, 5 May 2013
6. John Whelpton - Facebook posting 7/1/21 I've pasted below a commentary by the BBC's Grace Hui on the similarities and differences between the storming of the Capitol yesterday and Hong Kong protesters breaking into the Legislative Assembly's chamber last year. I was personally opposed to the Hong Kong protesters' action but, as this piece points out, the key difference is that, whereas the US protesters simply proclaim without proof that elections were rigged against them, the Hong Kong electoral system is quite openly rigged to prevent anyone Beijing does not approve of from gaining power. As a matter of prudence and tactics, we have to live with the HK system but we should certainly keep on saying loudly that the Beijing-imposed constitution is wrong in principle and that we only accept it because we are forced to do so. If a robber points a gun at me and demands my wallet, the sensible thing for me to do is simply to hand it over but that does not make robbery right. On another point, the figure of two million for anti-government marches in Hong Kong is disputed but the results of the local elections make it clear that the demands of the `Democratic camp' are supported by over half the population.
7. BBC Commentary (7/1/21):
"Beijing has compared the storming of the US Capitol Building and the break-in of the Hong Kong Legislative Council on 1 July 2019, calling out the West’s hypocrisy over its different attitudes. “Similar events happened but some people in the US, including the media, have totally different reactions,” said China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Hua Chun-ying. Some outside of China have also drawn comparisons between the two events. However, despite the superficial similarities, there are actually many important differences. I reported from inside the legislative chamber that night. Protesters did damage the building, spray graffiti and deface the Hong Kong emblem, resulting in HK$39 million ($5m; £3m) worth of damage. However, the chamber was empty before the protesters broke into the building – and no one was armed. The storming of the Legislative Council also won public sympathy. One widely-quoted piece of graffiti from that night had the slogan: “It was you who taught me that peaceful marches are useless”, referring to the government’s disregard of the two earlier peaceful marches that were attended by up to two million people. Protesters also set up a sign telling others not to destroy the library, and left money for drinks they took. But the most important difference is that Hong Kong is not a democracy – its Legislative Council is designed in a way that makes it almost impossible for the pro-democracy camp to win a majority, and those protesters were demanding democratic reform, rather than the overturning of an election result. Now, any organised attempt by the pro-democracy camp to win a majority may be an offence under the National Security Law recently imposed by Beijing – as shown on Wednesday, when more than 50 activists who organised and participated in pro-democracy primaries were arrested"
8. John Whelpton - answer to Quora query on 4/2/21 Why is Japan+Korea+Taiwan appealing to Hongkongers when China is already such a huge economy?
The short answer to this is that, despite the fact that most people in Hong Kong are ethnically Chinese and that our economic prosperity is intimately intertwined with the mainland, in terms of political culture we are closer to Japan, Korea and Taiwan. All of these places have democratic systems of government, allow a free exchange of idea with other countries and also give citizens the right to organise politically in opposition to the government. A second reason, as mentioned already by John Lo, is the mainland government’s bullying of Hong Kong. Ironically, if Beijing had allowed a fully democratic system here, identification with China among the younger generation would probably be greater than it now is. I remember the reaction of students in a secondary school class I was teaching when the first China put its first astronaut into orbit in 2002. The schoool principal announced this over the public address system in the middle of lessons and everybody cheered wildly. As it is now, many people in Hong Kong associate the word `China’ with Beijing wielding the big stick rather than with achivements they can take pride in.
Normally at this time of year Hong Kong media are bustling to prepare coverage of Friday’s anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre which, before Covid restrictions hit, usually included a huge vigil in Victoria Park. The event is illegal in China but had been proudly held in Hong Kong for decades.
But this year journalists at the respected public broadcaster RTHK say they’ve been told to stand down.
“We were informed that no political story is allowed,” says Emily*, an RTHK employee who, along with others interviewed for this article, asked for anonymity to speak freely. “We think it’s kind of funny because what isn’t a political story now?”
After mass pro-democracy protests in 2019, the Hong Kong government’s worsening crackdown on dissent over the past two years has also targeted press freedom. Once ranked 18th in the world press freedom index, Hong Kong now sits at 80th.
RTHK is bearing the brunt, and many in the industry fear those in power intend to turn it into a propaganda department. Chris Yeung, head of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, says the patience the government and pro-establishment camp once had for RTHK’s editorial freedom has run out.
“They can no longer tolerate a government department giving critical and at times embarrassing coverage in their editorial content,” Yeung says, adding the government wants to “rectify” the broadcaster. Its fate is a warning to the rest of the industry, says Emily. “If RTHK becomes propaganda, it’s also the death of Hong Kong media.”
‘No room for proper journalism’
Established in 1928, RTHK is an award-winning, public broadcaster. But over recent months it has been accused of bias, being too independent, and taking the side of pro-democracy protesters instead of upholding charter obligations to promote “one country two systems”.
RTHK has been publicly criticised by officials and attacked in Chinese state media. Journalists have been suspended, doxed, and harassed into resignation over their questioning. A producer has been prosecuted over an act of journalistic research, and new rules announced last week will require all non-civil service government employees, including RTHK staff, to pledge allegiance to the government.
After a highly critical government review found RTHK to have deficiencies in editorial management and accountability in February, the then director, Leung Ka-wing, left before the end of his contract, farewelled without thanks. A least five other senior staff have also resigned. Leung was replaced by former deputy home affairs secretary Patrick Li, a career bureaucrat with no journalism experience, who told legislators he intends to be hands on with the broadcaster, with plans for programs promoting government policies, and mainland media collaborations.
One of Li’s first acts was to establish vetting and approval processes for all story pitches, including proposed interviewees, which is what Emily says meant the Tiananmen coverage was rejected.
Another RTHK employee, Ann* says the system is “destructive” to the editorial team. “We don’t know what to do or what story can be aired … There is no room for proper journalism.”
Based on the panel’s guidelines, RTHK has cut back or cancelled at least 10 programs – including an already-aired segment about the Tiananmen anniversary last week – and deleted entire online archives.
Free airtime is now being filled by Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, in a daily program reportedly discussing the government’s overhaul of the electoral system.
“The charter states that RTHK is editorially independent. It does not say that an individual programme production unit is editorially independent,” Li told Legco in March.
The changes, which Emily describes as an “earthquake”, appear concentrated in RTHK’s public affairs division, home to more historically “rebellious” programs, such as the canned satirical show Headliner, and current affairs program Hong Kong Connection.
In a statement, RTHK management said three episodes of Hong Kong Connection, Hong Kong Stories, and LegCo Review “were not impartial, unbiased and accurate”, and were cancelled because they had been made before the vetting system was in place, and “could not be rectified before production”.
Hong Kong Connection has won multiple awards this year, including for an episode investigating police involvement in the notorious Yuen Long subway attacks. The morning after the show won one of the awards, a producer, Bao Choy, was convicted and fined for accessing a publicly available database as part of her investigative work for the episode.
The pervasive assumption is that Apple Daily, the pro-democracy tabloid owned by jailed media tycoon and government critic Jimmy Lai, is next in line. Apple Daily’s editor in chief, Ryan Law, told Agence France-Presse recently he was facing “the greatest crisis since I took up the post over three years ago”.
As well as the prosecution of Lai, freezing of his assets, and raids on the newsroom, Hong Kong’s police commissioner has accused Apple Daily of creating hatred and dividing society, while pro-Beijing media has called for it to be shut down. An Apple Daily employee, Andy*, says: “There’ve been … rumours we might be shut down before July, some say maybe before the election in September or the end of the year. We simply don’t know what to believe.”
“It definitely affects the morale here,” Andy says. “Not many of us have a personal relationship with Mr Lai but we all know he’s the icon of Apple Daily.”
‘Correcting’ the media Government powers over the media are increasing, with the national security law (NSL) imposed last year, and a vaguely defined proposed law against “fake news”, which critics say government and police will be allowed to define.
“I think we’re at the early stage of their move to so-called correct the media scene,” he says. “Also Carrie Lam has promised to improve the media system – that implies there are other things, in say regulating the media.”
Lam and her government maintain they respect press freedom and that Hong Kong’s press will not be targeted if they don’t break the law, but the lack of clearly defined offences in the NSL, and police raids on Apple Daily and Stand News have created a well-documented chilling effect.
“Beijing and the Hong Kong government hold all the cards,” says Apple Daily’s Andy. “They have the legal means, the financial resources, to take over the scene of media. “Those they can control they control, those they can’t control they use brute force or put fear into.” In response to questions, RTHK denied there was a ban on Tiananmen anniversary coverage, and said there was no intention to have the broadcaster do the same work as the government information office, and that all editorial decisions were in the hands of the broadcaster’s director, Li.
“According to the charter, RTHK is editorially independent and is immune from commercial, political and/or other influences. The producers’ guidelines stipulates that ‘there can never be editorial autonomy without responsibility, freedom without restraint’,” a spokesperson said.
A government spokesperson did not answer questions about how “fake news” would be defined, instead saying any law enforcement actions taken are based on evidence and according to the law, with no relation to someone’s political stance, background or occupation.
“It would be contrary to the rule of law to suggest that people or entities of certain sectors or professions could be above the law.”
For Emily at RTHK, her eyes are on this week. On Thursday last week the government banned the vigil for the second year – ostensibly because of the pandemic, but it’s likely people will mark it anyway, and media will try to cover it, because that’s their job.
“I think June 4 is the point where we’ll see the death of the media: if no one can go to the memorial or if those who report will be arrested or punished, then we’ll understand the freedom is gone.”
10. My Facebook comment on the Guardian article RTHK has in the past been in a similar position to the BBC - it is publicly-funded but not directly government-controlled and its ethos reflects that of the local intelligentsia - more liberal and cosmopolitan than that of the political establishment. Just as the BBC is frequently criticised by members of the Conservative Party in Britain, RTHK has regularly been subject to complaints from the `pro-Beijing' groups. The tightening of restrictions now is a very dangerous development. We have to accept that Beijing has a veto on who gets to hold the main levers of power in Hong Kong but we can and should oppose any attempt to undermine the right to criticise both the SAR government and its masters on the mainland.
Behind the curtain：Senior teachers quit in droves for fear of falling into the “red sea”.
Cheung Yui-fai, executive committee member of the Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU) having taught Liberal Studies for 30 years, declared his decision to retire early the other day. A source from the education sector pointed out that apart from more students quitting school to emigrate with their parents, actually more teachers have decided to quit or retire early, among whom some are going to pull up their roots for their families and offspring, while even more are going to do so for fear of transgressing the “redlines” by accident, then taken to court, or even probably having their MPF confiscated. “Quite a number of teachers have planned to retire early at the end of this year, and if the government requires them to take an oath later on, even more of them will resign,” noted the source.
He also said at the schools every teacher he knows is working at, “from the elite to average ones, there are teachers quitting, and one of them told me that around more than ten of his colleagues have resigned since early this year”.
The blue-ribbon also emigrate to the UK for their children
He said those who have decided to leave are mostly senior teachers or even subject panel chairpersons, yet they are not confined to the yellow-ribbon. “I know a few having quit to leave the city for good are extraordinarily blue. The fact is that their children are turning 18, so they are not eligible to emigrate to the UK via “BNO 5+1” with their parents soon. With the pressure from their families, they couldn’t but decide to leave for their kids.”
Another teacher said that for a large number of senior teachers in their 50s who grew up in the 80s and 90s last century, “the method of teaching they learned and taught for a long time is a far cry from the one promoted by the Education Bureau, so it is hardly possible for them to go on with it”. Besides, as Tin Fong-chak, Liberal Studies teacher and vice-president of the PTU, said, what we have found in the new subjects are not “redlines”, but a “red sea”. “If they still follow their old way, it’s hard to say when they will transgress the ‘redlines’ unwittingly. Getting fired is not a big deal, but getting indicted for breaching the national security law is not a trivial matter, as their MPF will probably be confiscated”. So, he anticipated even more senior teachers are going to retire early in the days to come. “Please don’t tell me the quality of education will not be affected with so many senior teachers quitting.”
This article is translated from Chinese by Apple Daily.
Just how many people have left Hong Kong in the past year?
One reference we can draw upon is the statistics on passenger traffic, in and out of Hong Kong.
Over 1,100 passengers flew out of Hong Kong on Monday, according to the official statistics. Judging by the photos at the Hong Kong International Airport, most passengers took British Airways to London.
That also explained why we have had so many farewell meals – but only a few of us posted the gathering photos on social media because of the sensitivity.
The Hong Kong Economic Journal quoted David Webb, who put together an interactive chart that traced the passenger traffic statistics. According to the data, over 100,000 people left Hong Kong via air traffic since July 1, 2020 when the National Security Law took effect. The number is the difference between the number of people that left Hong Kong by air and the number of people that flew into Hong Kong during that period.
In particular, the number of people leaving Hong Kong has picked up steadily over the past six months, probably because many citizens are using the British National (Overseas) passport as the British government started a new settlement scheme for Hong Kong people from 31 January 2021.
The British government said it had received 34,000 applications for the settlement scheme by the end of the first quarter.
My personal observation is that people below the age of 50 were the dominant group immigrating to the United Kingdom, mostly with kids.
Another indicator is the issuance of Certificates of No Criminal Conviction, a prerequisite for immigrants to other countries.
According to the police data quoted by the Hong Kong Economic Journal, such issuance was on an uptrend, rising from an average of 2,000 monthly applications at the beginning of year to an average of 3,000 in March and close to 4,000 in May.
That was consistent with the growing number of people visiting clinics for a tuberculosis test, also a prerequisite for emigration. Most people have to wait for at least a month to get an appointment.
Strangely enough, local property prices have held up well despite a substantial number of people opting to sell their flats for cash. In fact, secondary home prices saw a consecutive, five-month surge and housing experts expect a further upside by the end of the year.
Similarly the Hong Kong stock market was pretty stable in the first half, although Hong Kong investors’ cashing out activities arguably should not have significant impact given the dominance of mainland investors.
We will look for more indications in another six-months. Meanwhile, keep a tab on your farewell meals.
Hong Kong (CNN)Students and lecturers at Hong Kong's most prestigious university returned from summer break this month to a very different institution.
The Democracy Wall at the University of Hong Kong (better known as HKU) -- a pinboard where students once shared political thoughts -- is gone. The student union, which once advocated for students, is all but defunct, with four of its members facing charges of advocating terrorism.
Although many students and academics were happy to be back on campus -- many for the first time since the start of the pandemic -- a political chill hangs over the university that some staff say is influencing how they teach.
While the Hong Kong government told CNN the city's universities "continue to enjoy academic freedom," four current HKU staff who spoke with CNN on condition of anonymity said they are more cautious about what they say in class, afraid that their own students could report them to authorities.
The self-censorship began after June last year when Beijing imposed a controversial and sweeping national security law on the city. Since then, more than 140 people have been arrested under the law, including activists, journalists, politicians and educators, and, of those, 85 have been charged.
Masked students attend a rally at the University of Hong Kong on September 9, 2019.
HKU -- the city's highest-ranked university with more than 30,000 students -- can be considered a microcosm of Hong Kong. Some HKU staff say a climate of fear and uncertainty surrounds what constitutes a breach of the law. And they warn that, like the city itself, the freedoms and rights that once set the university apart from those in mainland China are fast in decline.
"Academic freedom has been eroded. Freedom of speech has been eroded in this university," said one university lecturer, who asked to be referred to by the pseudonym Gordon as they still work at the university. "To pretend that it hasn't is ignoring reality."
The creeping changes risk jeopardizing HKU's status as a world-class institution, some faculty members say, by undermining its efforts to attract top staff and students -- threatening the future of one of the city's most prominent bastions of free speech. How the NSL came about
HKU students arrived on campus this month wearing face masks -- a requirement in the city to protect against Covid-19. Almost two years ago, they wore face coverings for a very different reason.
In November 2019, students concealed their identity with masks as they barricaded stairways of the university's campus with couches and tables. Together, they amassed slingshots and Molotov cocktails, turning their university into a fortress against riot police who swarmed outside, armed with tear gas.
At the time, the city was months into a pro-democracy movement that had seen angry Hong Kongers -- many of them students -- face off in street battles against police.
The political situation unfolding both on and off campus frequently crept into classroom discussions -- some professors even referred to the protests as examples in their classes. Some lecturers publicly supported student demonstrators. The day students turned HKU into a fortress, professors braved the tense face off to negotiate with police. Throughout the protests, staff helped students when they got arrested and provided mental health support, according to students and faculty.
Those protests were brought to a sudden end by pandemic restrictions -- and by June 2020, an increasingly frustrated Beijing had found a more permanent solution: a national security law in Hong Kong.
The law established the crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries or "external elements." Some crimes carried a maximum penalty of life in prison. Although the law was vague and wide-ranging, authorities initially said the law would only target an extremely small minority of offenders.
"The national security law is a crucial step to ending chaos and violence that has occurred over the past few months," Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam said, as the law came into force last June. "It's a law that has been introduced to keep Hong Kong safe." In a statement to CNN, the Hong Kong government said "law-abiding people will not unwittingly violate the law."
But in the year since it was imposed, a pro-democracy newspaper closed down and nearly all of the city's leading pro-democracy figures have been either jailed or fled overseas. Protests, which once took place almost every week, have stopped -- and while authorities have said that is due to Covid restrictions, others see it as a way to suppress dissent.
And at HKU, once a beacon for freedom of expression and thought, some say it has already had a chilling effect.
Sarah Cook, Freedom House's research director for China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, said political discussion at Hong Kong universities was once as free as at Western institutions. The university's openness had been "gutted ... almost overnight," she said.
A Hong Kong government spokesperson said universities continued to enjoy academic freedom, but also had the responsibility to make sure their operation complied with the law. HKU said it continued to uphold the principles of "academic freedom and institutional autonomy."
"There are no boundaries to research and studies provided that they are within the law," a HKU spokesperson said.
Fears in the classroom HKU lecturer Amy, who isn't using her real name for fear of repercussions, says she has become more anxious about covering certain topics since the national security law was imposed. She increasingly feels as if her classroom is becoming isolated from the real world. Three other current academics CNN spoke to for this story said they too were cautious over what they said for fear of running afoul of the national security law.
On campus, rumors circulate among professors and students that a student who got a grade they didn't like reported their lecturer to the National Security Hotline, set up so the public can inform authorities about breaches of the national security law, according to two lecturers. The police did not confirm these reports, although a spokesperson said the hotline had received more than 100,000 pieces of information since it was launched in November 2020. Rumors like this only add to the fear and chill that have swept over HKU.
When HKU switched to remote learning during the pandemic, two professors told CNN they refused to upload recordings of their lectures as they were concerned that any off-hand comments made in class could be used as evidence against them. Amy said the university's leaders used "double speak" that only added to the confusion. "The senior management of the university has insisted that we still have academic freedom, and that we should not self-censor. But then in the next sentence, they'll tell us to be careful and not to break the law," said one member of staff, who asked to be known as Mary.
The Faculty of Arts held a meeting last year with a member of the university's senior management team to ask for more specific guidelines on how the national security law would affect what they could write and study, according to two people who were present.
During that meeting, staff asked whether they could still teach about topics such as democracy in Hong Kong, Amy said. They were told they would not have to worry, if what they were saying was academic. They were also told "not to incite students," although it was not made clear what would be considered incitement, she said.
"I have found myself sometimes saying innocent things that sound like an incitement that then I have to turn around and make a joke that I'm not inciting people," she added. Professors say this vague advice has left them unsure what could see them reported to police. A university crackdown
As students enjoyed their summer break, a sign of what the national security law means for the university was unfolding on campus. National security police officers raided HKU's student union on July 16, removing evidence as onlookers and media peered through the glass doors outside.
For more than 100 years -- almost as long as the university has existed -- the association represented students on campus. Now, it was being targeted by police for giving some a voice.
On July 7, the student union had passed a motion expressing its deep sadness and appreciation for the "sacrifice for Hong Kong" of a man who had killed himself shortly after stabbing and seriously injuring a police officer in a busy shopping street. In politically charged Hong Kong, where months of protests led many to see the police as the enemy, a minority saw the attacker as a martyr.
Authorities characterized the attack as "terrorism," and police quickly branded union leaders as "messengers of terrorism."
Two days after passing the motion, the student union withdrew it -- but it was too late. The city's leader Lam said she was "ashamed" of the university.
HKU management took action. They said they no longer recognized the union, meaning other services funded by the union -- such as Campus TV -- face uncertainty over how they will operate. HKU said the situation would not affect the "continued commitment of the University to facilitate and support extra-curricular activities on campus." Hong Kong police said 32 students attended that meeting.
The HKU council said it would "until further notice and subject to review" ban all students who attended the meeting from campus and refuse them access to any university resources. These students' presence on campus "would pose serious legal and reputational risks to the University and have negative impact on its other members," the HKU council said in a statement.
The University of Hong Kong student union executive committee issued a public apology at the university on July 9, 2021.
An email seen by CNN which was sent to some students in August asks them to indicate whether they attended the July 7 meeting, whether they proposed or seconded the motion, and how they voted on the motion.
And on August 18, four members, ages 18 to 20, were arrested and later charged with advocating terrorism, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Some faculty members agreed the student union's motion had been in poor taste -- but they disagreed with the decision to bar the union from campus and prosecute the students. HKU law lecturer Eric Cheung resigned from his position on the university board over the decision to bar the students from campus. "I feel very sad when a university doesn't nurture students and help them correct their mistakes," he said, according to broadcaster RTHK.
Seven members of HKU's 60-member court, which oversees the university and is headed by the city's leader Lam, issued an open letter to the university council, asking them to withdraw the decision to bar members from campus and claiming the university had stripped students of their right to education. The ban remains in place. Lam was not one of the seven signatories. "They're trying to shut down all student political activity and campus political speech. As much as possible, they want to eliminate any student organization that might have political content or engage in political activity," said Chris Fraser, a professor who left HKU for the University of Toronto in July this year.
One fourth-year government and law student at HKU, who was active in the student union in the past, said after the arrests, he and his friends removed everything in their dorm rooms they thought could breach the national security law. "I think all students are sad ... that normal students are deeply affected by the incident," he said.
Some faculty staff worry that this latest incident may only worsen the chill felt over the university.
"I think that it's going to have a serious effect on classroom, debate and discussion and also just open discussion on campus," said Mary. "Because by making an example out of a student union, I think it's going to deter students from feeling that they're safe, having political discussions, or breathing into more general discussions on campus," she said.
Not all students feel the same way -- one 25-year-old master's student at HKU who is from mainland China said the national security law didn't necessarily make him feel safer, but at least it prevented protests. "(The protests) were like a strong medicine that suppresses the symptom but also hurts the body itself." The broader issues
For years, HKU has been one of the most highly ranked universities in Asia, and a place renowned for political discussion. It counted top political leaders among its alumni, including Hong Kong's current leader Lam and Sun Yat-sen, who helped overthrow the Qing dynasty to found the Republic of China.
In 1923, when Sun was asked where his revolutionary ideas came from during a visit to his alma mater, he responded: "I got my idea in this very place; in the colony of Hong Kong." Today, his revolutionary zeal would likely breach the national security law. For onlookers, that raises questions over the future of the university -- whether it can still maintain its international standing as freedoms grow more restricted, and what this means for the future of the former political hub.
HKU did not provide details of whether application numbers had dropped since the NSL was passed. The government, meanwhile, insists the national security law isn't hurting universities.
"With the restoration of law and order and a stable environment in Hong Kong, our universities can refocus on research and academic development, strive for academic excellence, and seize the unprecedented opportunities presented by the technological advancement and development of our country and the region, and in doing so continue to enhance our position as the regional education hub and our ability to attract international talent," a government spokesperson said.
And for now, HKU's rankings have not tumbled -- it's still placed 22nd in the world in the most recent QS World University Rankings. But the rankings are based on five years' worth of data, meaning that any effect on its international reputation since June 2020 is unlikely to be reflected for another few years, according to QS rankings spokesman Jack Moran.
A former student who graduated last year and who asked not to be named described a degree from HKU as a fine wine -- one from 1995 is great, one from 2020 is not.
Gordon, a current member of faculty, says he was warned by a headhunter to leave Hong Kong as fast as possible. "The longer you stay, the more it looks like you're kind of complicit with the system. And you'll be tarred with it," he recalled the headhunter saying. At the heart of the fear is that Hong Kong University becomes more like institutions on the mainland.
"Until the national security law, it was night and day between what it's like being at a university in China versus a university in Hong Kong," Freedom House's Cook said. Traditionally, Hong Kong has embraced academic freedom, dialogue and debate -- all qualities that set it apart from mainland China. Academics could produce research critical of the government, and students and faculty were able to share different views without fear of repercussions.
But now, people who have dedicated their lives to making Hong Kong University a world-class institution think Beijing and the Hong Kong government don't care about academic freedoms, Cook said.
"The universities really represent that more liberal culture that is such a big part of Hong Kong's identity as a city, and so different from what the Communist Party has imposed in mainland China," she said. "There's a reason why they're going for the core artery, that they're moving into what is at the heart of so much of Hong Kong."
"I don't think that there's any way to decouple academic and politics," Mary said. "I think to suggest that you can cleanse it of politics is naive, or at worst, misleading." That in turn would lead to a major brain drain, as students went elsewhere, and universities struggled to recruit staff, even for academic subjects that didn't touch on sensitive topics, she said.
A current member of faculty, who asked to be identified as Helena, said every time one of her students gets accepted into an overseas post-graduate program, her heart feels "a little lighter."
"Although I'm sad that Hong Kong is losing that person, I understand they're going to be free and safe," she said.
Every day, Helena wonders what her limits are, and what would make her no longer continue to work at the university. "We have to kind of grapple with 'how long are we useful? Or do we become kind of, you know, just an instrument?'"
14. My Facebook comment on the above article 19/9/2021 I am not now formally affiliated with any university here - other than my status as a HKU alumnus - but from conversations with academics I can certainly confirm that many people are nervous about what they are allowed to say. The fundamental problem with the national security law and with the central and HK government's whole approach is that they bundle together the suppression of violent protest - which any government would seek to suppress - with any expressions of opinion which the government feels condone or might indirectly encourage such protests. The importance of that distinction is rightly recognised by the doctrine of `clear and present danger' which I think was laid down by the US Supreme court. If you stand in the street and urge people to throw rocks at the police, you certainly deserve to be arrested. On the other hand, if you simply say in the course of discussion that people have a right to take direct action against the police you should not be treated as a criminal, though you should, of course, expect strong criticism from your political opponents. Similar logic should apply to issues like Hong Kong independence. In denying Hong Kong the right of full self-determination the central and local governments are not doing anything different from the governments of Spain and the USA, both of which, as I understand it, maintain that their countries are indivisible. However, there is no legal bar on Texans or Catalans saying they would prefer to be independent, and there should similarly be no legal bar on the peaceful advocacy of Hong Kong independence, I have myself alweays thought that the independence demand here is an irrational one - and it is in any case only supported by a minority - but people who call for it should not be treated as criminals.