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.
15. Daily Telegraph (London) By Jonathan Margolis30 January 2022 • 5:00am https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2022/01/30/britain-attractive-thousands-fleeing-hong-kong/ (accessed 2/2/22) Why Britain is so attractive to thousands fleeing Hong Kong A year after the Government's visa scheme gave them a route to the UK, thousands are arriving every week, ready to become model citizens Ask a thousand people what is the biggest question Britain faces on the subject of immigration, and most would probably cite the trickle of desperate refugees attempting to enter the country across the Channel in small boats. A lot would talk about the post-Brexit exodus of Eastern Europeans and how difficult that has made getting a builder.
It is likely not one would be concerned, pleased, or have any view at all on what could turn out to be the biggest ever immigration to the UK: the potential legal arrival of three to five million Hong Kong Chinese people – 70 per cent of the former colony’s population – as they find life under Beijing rule ever more intolerable.
Indeed, since the Hong Kong British National (Overseas) visa launched a year ago tomorrow, the influx of Hong Kongers has been proceeding apace without anyone seemingly noticing. According to the latest data published by the Home Office in November, the UK received 88,000 applications – some 2,500 a week – and granted 76,000.
Almost all intend to stay; few see any prospect of returning to the home they still love. For many, who don’t just dislike their new communist rulers but have already offended them by expressing their views, even returning on holiday would be dangerous.
The new arrivals are predominantly not the wealthy Hong Kongers who have been buying up luxury properties in London and investment properties across the country for years, but what in Hong Kong would be called “grassroots” people and here we would call middle class – corporate and civil service employees, IT specialists, engineers, accountants, business owners and their families.
Educated, motivated, often strongly Christian, with democratic ideals, good English and – importantly – not inconsiderable funds, they share a desire to make a new life and “not to be any trouble”.
And these prospective model British citizens are arriving daily in their hundreds, with boxes of possessions, children, grandparents and even pets. One Hong Konger, starting a fairly modest job that he had already lined up with a luxury goods company in London, told his new colleagues he had spent £3,000 shipping the family guinea pig in the cargo hold: “You don’t want to upset the kids before they’ve even arrived in the country.”
Having scrutinised the advantages and attractions of hundreds of possible places to live – property prices, school league tables, hospitals and train links – online, from 6,000 miles away, the newcomers are fanning out across the country, with some arranging home rentals for a year (rent paid upfront, as they have no credit history) to get a feel for an area and pooling information with people back home on WhatsApp groups.
Others are diving straight in and buying newbuilds, which many Chinese people love. Some of the more traditional are said to be nervous of secondhand houses because of concerns about ghosts or just a dislike of used possessions. Others still are buying two newbuild homes on the same development. Or three. One will typically be for the family, the second for the elderly parents, the third to rent out to provide the basis of an income.
Most buyers pay cash. House prices in Hong Kong, even out in the rural New Territories, are at London levels and selling even a small property can pay for a lot of bricks and mortar in places you might not expect to be on Hong Kong people’s radar, like Warrington (where sales are hitting double figures on one new estate), Ebbsfleet in Kent (ditto) or Okehampton in Cornwall.
There are areas the new Hong Kongers favour, such as Kingston and its surrounds in south-west London, but “Hong Kong buyers are location agnostic”, says James Holmear, sales director of Redrow, one of the many housebuilders assiduously cultivating the burgeoning market. “Most of our houses have a Thirties arts and crafts design they love, so they’ll say, often on video calls while they’re still in Hong Kong, ‘We want that house.’ We’ll say, ‘Yes, but where would you like it?’ And they’ll reply, ‘Where are you building them?’ And often, when they’ve researched it, for schools in particular, they’ll buy off-plan before they’ve even arrived here. They move very fast.” Redrow has sold nearly 100 new homes to Hong Kongers since July.
When it comes to employment, the newcomers are typically flexible and pragmatic while focused and ambitious. Two years ago, Mike Hui, 38, was in the thick of the democracy protests in Hong Kong as a photographer with the radical tabloid Apple News, which the Beijing-controlled authorities closed down last June. What was happening to his homeland stopped him sleeping and made him cry. “I’m a reporter, but I am a Hong Konger more,” he says.
He and his wife, Ardis, who was a training officer for a restaurant chain, saw the way things were going early and got out with their five-year-old daughter, Ellie, before the newspaper was shut down. They headed for Leeds, popular with Hong Kongers and where Hui has a cousin. They brought just 20 boxes of possessions – as well as a not insignificant £1.2 million from the sale of their house in the New Territories.
For now, Hui is delivering meals for a Chinese takeaway, while his wife works in a warehouse. But they have already bought a three-bedroom Redrow semi which will adjoin a house bought by friends from home. And Hui is already doing freelance photography – as well as thinking of setting up his own Chinese takeaway. Ellie, meanwhile, loves her new school.
The Hui family’s is a classic story of the Hong Kong newcomer, with its themes of foresight, bravery – they had never been to the UK – self-reliance and financial savvy. There is another sub-theme, too; they are vocally grateful to Britain – and specifically to the Conservative Government – for letting them take refuge here and are patriotic towards their new country.
“We will never be able to go back to Hong Kong,” says Michael, a young former democracy campaigner, now living in Kingston, “but we’re still proud of it and we don’t want to give it a bad name.” Previously an event organiser, he quickly trained as a men’s barber when he got to London. He is now planning his own salon – before long, he hopes, a chain of them.
And therein lies one of many peculiar features of this wave of immigration, which could soon make ex-Hong Kongers one of the most sizeable groups to settle in the UK.
Economists have taken note that almost half plan to start their own business – and have the money to do so – that most are aged 30-50 and all are well educated with good English and more than 10 years’ experience in a professional field. This makes them a huge asset – especially to a tired old country with 2.5 million job vacancies.
Politically, however, it is treading on thin ice to applaud a huge influx of anglophile, entrepreneurial Chinese people, suggesting as it does that other waves of immigration have been less successful for one reason or another. Which would be rather hurtful to millions of already successful, patriotic immigrants and their children born here.
So, search for a public figure of Right or Left saying outright that the Hong Kongers are an asset and you will not find much – even though they patently are. Conservatives, additionally, must have realised that three million or so new citizens who are effectively fleeing socialism – and are hugely thankful to British Tories – could be quite helpful at the ballot box in the near future.
Left-wing commentators, meanwhile, have already been growling that “the good migrant narrative” is racist, even if it is celebratory. Academics, similarly, have weighed in against stereotypes of Hong Kongers’ self-reliance and industriousness.
Ex-Hong Kongers are a very unusual immigrant population. Some have drawn parallels to previous waves of talented, educated settlers whose lives had been made intolerable by hateful dictators, but rose quickly to the top of all walks of British life. Think only of the Jews fleeing Hitler in the Thirties and the Ugandan Asians thrown out by Idi Amin in 1972. But numbers in each case were tiny – there were just 28,000 Ugandan Asian refugees – and both groups arrived in Britain largely penniless. Most now fleeing Hong Kong are bringing their money with them and are, as one technology company boss keen on employing as many as possible said last week: “Plug and play – they are ready to work, and work smartly, from day one. We have been hugely impressed.”
What about the other pervasive stereotype, of genius Hong Kong-born children? A teacher at a small working-class primary school in Nottingham which has taken nine refugee pupils – making them the largest ethnic group on the roll – confirms that it may be exaggerated, but along the right lines.
“Not one of these kids has been a problem for us. There’s no need to support them with additional English. They’re highly motivated. One lad who doesn’t say much in class just aced it and got 40 out of 40 in his Year 5 arithmetic test, and also did amazingly well in English. The teacher was really surprised, but we found that they were way ahead of us at his school in Hong Kong.”
There are a couple of culture shocks, the teacher adds. “They’re masked up all the time, while our Covid measures amount to opening a window.”
To spend any time with the new generation of Hong Kong refugees and see the UK through their enthusiastic, grateful eyes is also rather salutary for any native-born Brit a little jaundiced about today’s UK.
Pastor Johnny Chan, who came to Leeds in 1969 and worked as a dentist, now leads one of the city’s five Chinese Christian churches, between the Emmerdale Farm studios and the Headingley cricket ground. Sunday services now attract almost 300 people, including 40 or 50 new immigrant families.
“We Chinese think when we go to a new place, we have to respect the people, the traditions and the law of the land,” he says. “And for the new people, freedom, democracy, British culture and the rule of law are wonderful things that they experienced in the past and are now seeing taken away at home.
“Also, they are startled by the courtesy here. We Chinese aren’t as courteous as the British. All our people say they’re made incredibly welcome here. We hear lots of stories about neighbours giving people furniture, of them teaching our people how things work that they’ve never seen before – like central heating.”
Ask about anti-Chinese racism and he laughs. “The answer is really, no. Not a thing. But you know,” he smiles, “we Chinese can be pretty racist ourselves. We are not about to accuse others without getting our own house in order. We’re just incredibly grateful to the British government for allowing potentially more than three million Hong Kong folks to come here.”
Pastor Chan warns that stories of unhappy Hong Kong immigrants will inevitably come up – but that Britain should be a little sceptical about them. “Propaganda is the one thing the Chinese Communist Party is good at,” he says. “When there were stories of empty supermarket shelves and petrol shortages, they made sure the media in Hong Kong went big on it to discourage people from leaving.”
Hong Kongers who are loyal to Beijing are a rarity, but not unknown. Christine Lee, a solicitor in Birmingham and London named earlier this month by MI5 as an agent working covertly for the Chinese government, reportedly came with her parents from Hong Kong to Northern Ireland in 1974.
Such stories are highly anomalous, however. In Mill Hill, north London, Lore Chan and her husband Bernard, also a dentist but no relation of Pastor Johnny, are active in helping and encouraging new Hong Kong people to settle through the Chinese church in Brook Green, Hammersmith.
“There’s a lot for the new people to give up,” Mr Chan says. “As long as their children settle in school, that’s their priority.” Professionals can struggle a little with having to slip down a rung or two into lower quality jobs. “Others go to great efforts to keep up their status and income. Many work through the night online, doing their Hong Kong job – often in finance or tech – and not telling anyone they’re in the UK.”
“But overall,” his wife says, “the benefit of having been in a British colony helps.” For many, the lifestyle here is a pleasant surprise. “It’s less crowded, less of a headache, less claustrophobic both physically and mentally, less materialistic. You spend more time with [your] family. They want to leave their past behind and look forward to a new future.
“Some of our younger people like my sister, who was born here, used to say they felt they were born in the wrong country, because they loved Hong Kong so much. But you don’t hear that any more.”
Nearly half of the European companies in Hong Kong plan to fully or partially relocate operations and staff out of the city, a new survey suggests, in the latest sign that the world’s toughest Covid-19 travel and quarantine restrictions are eroding the appeal of Asia’s main finance hub.
Around 25% of responding companies said they planned to fully relocate out of Hong Kong in the next year, according to a new survey from the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, while another 24% said they are planning to partially move out of the city. Roughly 34% of firms said they were uncertain about their plans, while just 17% said they had no desire to relocate over the next 12 months.
The negative results, which come amid a surprisingly chaotic coronavirus outbreak, are the latest measure of declining business confidence in a once-freewheeling city that has been increasingly isolated from the world over more than two years. Covid-prevention measures have included hotel quarantines as long as 21 days for incoming travelers, the mandatory hospitalization of those testing positive, regardless of symptoms, and the forced isolation of close contacts in spartan government-run units.
The strict approach to Covid, which followed sometimes-violent democracy protests in 2019, have unfolded alongside a national security law that has injected unprecedented levels of unpredictability into a city that was once known for stability and openness.
While a recent devastating outbreak of the omicron variant has forced the government to relax some restrictions amid an exodus of expatriates and residents, the city hasn’t given any signs that it plans to abandon the “dynamic zero Covid” strategy it has borrowed from China. The strategy aims to fully eliminate local cases rather than risk opening up. “Looking at the comparably overwhelming participation among our membership base, the result should serve as a stark warning that recent months and years took a toll on the European business community and their confidence,” said Frederik Gollob, the European chamber’s chairman. “Recent announcements have provided for some relief but it has largely been perceived as too little too late. We need a clear plan back to normal in order to create positive momentum. Reinstating Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s World City’ must be the aim going forward.”
The survey was conducted between mid-January and early February as a fresh coronavirus outbreak was gaining pace and restrictions tightened further. It had 260 respondents representing companies across more than a dozen European business chambers. Roughly 70% of the individuals worked at companies with less than 100 employees, while about 30% represented bigger firms.
Spokespeople for the Hong Kong government did not respond immediately to an emailed request for comment outside of normal business hours. In recent remarks, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam acknowledged that the city’s strict measures were having an impact on the city’s weary residents as well as the finance hub’s international reputation.
“I have a very strong sense that people’s tolerance is fading,” she told reporters in a briefing on March 17. “I have a very good feeling that some of our financial institutions are losing patience about this isolated status of Hong Kong.” The grim results echo other surveys, including a recent one from the American Chamber of Commerce that found 44% of respondents were likely to leave the city, with roughly 60% saying that the city’s international travel restrictions were the No. 1 challenge to businesses.
• Launched in 1880, the ferry has witnessed both Hong Kong’s transformation into a global financial hub and its history of protests. But battered by a pandemic, the service is struggling to survive.
HONG KONG — On a damp Monday morning in Hong Kong, Freeman Ng looked out from the upper deck of the Star Ferry as it approached land. A sailor tossed a heavy rope to a colleague on the pier, who looped it around a bollard as the swoosh of the waves crashed against the green and white vessel pulling in from Victoria Harbor.
Mr. Ng, 43, commutes from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island on the ferry most weekdays. The subway would be much faster, but Mr. Ng prefers to cross the harbor by boat. “The feeling is better on the ferry,” he said, taking in the salt air.
Hong Kong has had many casualties over the last three years. Mass social unrest in 2019 scared off tourists and hit restaurateurs and hoteliers. Coronavirus restrictions wiped out thousands of mom-and-pop shops. But the prospect of losing the Star Ferry — a 142-year-old institution — has resonated differently.
Since the pandemic began, the crowds that Mr. Ng once jostled to squeeze onto the ferry gangplank are gone. There are now so few passengers that the company that owns Star Ferry says the service may soon end, dimming the life of the harbor and the city itself.
“It has so much history,” said Chan Tsz Ho, a 24-year-old assistant coxswain. “In the minds of Hong Kong people, including me, it’s an emblem of Hong Kong.”
Like Hong Kong, the Star Ferry once represented a link between the East and the West. It was the first scheduled public ferry service in 1880 to connect Hong Kong Island to the Kowloon Peninsula, and the Chinese territory beyond it. Its founder, a Parsi baker and businessman, arrived in the city from Mumbai decades earlier as a stowaway on a ship headed to China.
At the time of his arrival, Hong Kong, only recently colonized by the British, was already transforming into a boomtown with corruption, drugs and disease on land and piracy and smuggling on the water. A police force made up of European, Chinese and South Asian officers tried to keep order.
Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala, the ferry’s founder, named his first four vessels Morning Star, Evening Star, Rising Star and Guiding Star. The current fleet includes eight boats that have changed little in the six decades since they were built. All eight have a star in their name.
The Star Ferry grew to become part of the lifeblood of Hong Kong. Residents were so dependent on it that a government-approved fare increase in 1966 led to days of protests, a harbinger of social unrest that spilled over into deadly demonstrations and riots a year later. British officials eventually responded with policy reforms.
The Star Ferry riots came to symbolize the power of protest in Hong Kong, but as the ferry jolted across the harbor on a recent trip, with sailors pulling a chain to lower a red and yellow gangplank, that history appeared unremarkable to the scattered passengers trickling off the boat.
Issac Chan’s first memory of the Star Ferry was five decades ago, when his parents took him for an adventure as a young boy. “It traveled slow, but it was enjoyable. It wasn’t easy to go on a boat on the sea,” he said. Mr. Chan, 58, grew up in the New Territories, near the border with mainland China.
These days, he takes the ferry each morning after his shift as a night security guard in a residential building on Old Peak Road, a well-heeled area where Chinese people were unable to own property for part of British rule. The ride gives him time to unwind at the end of his work day, he said.
When the British handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997, some who had fled to Hong Kong from China during the Cultural Revolution and, later, the bloody crackdown of Tiananmen Square in 1989 feared they would have to flee once again. Instead, life went on and little seemed to change for decades. Hong Kong continued to thrive as a hub for international finance and as a stopover for travelers in Asia.
After the city built a cross harbor tunnel in 1972, other forms of public transport offered faster trips, and the ferry began to rely more on foreign visitors hopping on the boat for a cheap tour of the city. Commuters and touring passengers with cameras around their necks sometimes sat cheek by jowl, taking in the sights of flashing neon billboards, junk boats and shard-like skyscrapers rising toward Victoria Peak.
Yet the Star Ferry would once again witness upheaval.
In 2019, confrontations in Hong Kong between pro-democracy protesters and riot police officers were broadcast around the world. Protesters carrying helmets and protective goggles made their way to demonstrations to demand political freedom from China. Streets once crowded with tourists were shrouded in tear gas.
The confrontations brought on a fierce crackdown from Beijing and marked the beginning of the Star Ferry’s recent financial troubles: The company says that it has lost more money in the 30 months since the protests erupted than it made over the last three decades. Even though the ferries can still be crowded at certain times of the day, especially when the weather is nice, the overall passenger numbers are far below what they were three years ago.
“The company is bleeding hard and we definitely need to find our way out,” said David Chow Cheuk-yin, the general manager. Mr. Chow has appealed to the public through media appearances, hoping that a cry for help will resonate with a deep-pocketed investor in a city built by business tycoons.
When he was asked to take over running the Star Ferry late last year, things were looking up, Mr. Chow said. Hong Kong had declared victory over the virus. Small businesses nearly destroyed by pandemic restrictions that had mostly cut Hong Kong off from the rest of the world began making plans to fully reopen. Some lawmakers even discussed loosening border controls.
“We were talking about recovery when I first took up this role,” Mr. Chow said.
Then Omicron broke through Hong Kong’s fortress walls, forcing restaurants, bars, gyms and schools to close. “Instead of recovery, we are talking about survival mode,” said Mr. Chow. “Everything changed so quickly.”
For Mr. Chan, the assistant coxswain, being a seaman is a time-honored family tradition. His father, also a Star Ferry sailor, regaled him with stories of the sea as a young boy. His grandfather, a fisherman, also shared tales. So when there was an opening for a trainee position at Star Ferry three years ago, Mr. Chan jumped.
The baby-faced boatman, who stands out among the weathered older sailors at Star Ferry, said he would spend the rest of his life on the water if given the chance. His favorite part of the job is navigating the whims of the currents and steering the ferries in challenging weather, carving out different paths each time, he said.
When the fog hangs over the water, hindering visibility in the crowded harbor, he and the crew have to use their ears as well as their eyes to navigate. “You can’t even see the other end of your own vessel,” he said.
Mr. Chan’s young face betrayed a hint of disappointment as he started to explain that his morning shift begins an hour later now because the ferry has reduced its hours. For much of this year it had stopped running two hours earlier at night, too. The sounds of passengers flipping the ferry’s wooden seats are muted.
“Sometimes there are only one or two passengers crossing the harbor,” Mr. Chan said, “but we are a full crew.”
IMAGE: TERRI PO Jul 1st 2022 Aquarter of a century after Britain returned Hong Kong to China, the texture of the city, its sights and sounds, are little changed. In its thrumming wet markets, carp still lie under red lamps, fishmongers extolling their freshness. Shoppers worship the gods of purse and phone at upscale malls. Construction workers sweat in the wet air, their jackhammers a rhythm section to the chimes of the trams.
The topography of the island still makes the heart pound. Behind a cavernous convention centre that squats beside Victoria harbour, the jungled ridge running up to the famous Peak sparkles with lights from some of the priciest living rooms on Earth. A steep tram still pulls day-trippers up for the view. Far below, the iconic Star ferries chug across the busy harbour. On the territory’s mainland, a knuckle-shaped mountain called Lion Rock stands guard over the more populous, less privileged conurbation of Kowloon. Slightly lower than the Peak, Lion Rock looms larger in Hong Kongers’ imaginations. A squatter settlement at the foot of the mountain provided the setting for “Beneath Lion Rock”, a popular television drama which first aired in the 1970s, celebrating the grit of a generation of Hong Kongers, most of whom had left China to escape turmoil and poverty. It told stories about struggling to feed the family and building a future in a new home. Start singing its theme tune to a Hong Konger of a certain age and there’s a good chance they will join in: “Of one mind in pursuit of our dream/All discord set aside, with one heart on the same bright quest…/Hand in hand to the ends of the earth.” It was the people beneath Lion Rock who had, by the late 1960s, made Hong Kong one of the world’s most important manufacturing hubs. Ching Cheong, who was five years old when his family fled to Hong Kong in the 1950s, dreamed of returning to the mainland as he grew up living off church provisions in a housing estate. The dream vanished when, as a teenager, he saw corpses floating down the river from China, their hands and feet bound, victims of the Cultural Revolution unleashed by Mao Zedong in 1966. “Many of us remember the marine police picking up these dead bodies,” he recalls. “After that, none of us thought about returning to live in China.”
He and his peers built a new Hong Kong identity based on hard work, solidarity and a pride in the new life they were making. If they turned their back on China, they never forgot that they were Chinese, especially as Hong Kong was still governed by British administrators. Since seizing the island more than a century before to serve as a trading depot (from which to smuggle illegal opium into China) its colonial rulers had preferred to manage things with, as the historian Elizabeth Sinn put it, “the least effort and the greatest economy”. They had little interest in seeing the colony’s people pursue their dreams with one heart.
Under their neglectful, but not utterly repressive, rule, protest was inevitable. The most violent was that of 1967, when the chaos of China’s Cultural Revolution spilled across the border. Supporters of Mao, backed by the underground party, set off bombs, slaughtering children playing in the streets. By September, 51 people (including ten police officers) had been killed. The majority was firmly against the protesters, and developed a new affinity for the police.
Yet these protests also increased the government’s awareness of social problems and laid the foundations for the decades of protests which followed. Most of them aimed to move things not towards the chaos of China but towards the sort of Hong Kong people wanted to see. They fought for improvements in education and social services. In the late 1960s and 1970s the administration reduced working hours, created a compulsory free education system, built new public housing and began offering basic medical and social-welfare services. It also added a new rule requiring permission from the police for any public gatherings.
They rarely refused such requests. Leo Goodstadt, an academic who served in the colonial administration, estimated there were, on average, more than 180 protests a year between 1975 and 1995. “Public protests and political activism in the 1970s created an awareness of the relevance of the rule of law to the rights of public assembly and freedom of speech,” he wrote in 2005. Never a democracy, by the 1980s Hong Kong had an independent legal system, a robust free press and entrenched civic and economic freedoms. This was the world Mr Ching and his peers inherited.
In 1970, to the well-earned pride of his determined parents, he won a coveted place at the University of Hong Kong. After graduating, though, he made what his elite classmates saw as an odd choice. For a paltry wage, he joined Wen Wei Po, a pro-Beijing newspaper. His high-school teacher had encouraged a love of Chinese culture, and Mr Ching wanted to contribute to creating a better China, one not brutalised by the Communist Party nor ruled by British mandarins. He was not interested in promoting Communist Party ideas, but excited by the chance to see the rest of China.
“I thought it was a turning point. I was wrong, of course, but I was very optimistic at the time.”
In 1981 Mr Ching became the first Hong Kong journalist posted to Beijing, where he inhaled the excitement of the country opening up. In 1989, by then the paper’s deputy chief editor, Mr Ching spent weeks among the students who had occupied Tiananmen Square, reporting on—and sympathising with—their demands for democratic reform and an end to corruption. When it became clear that a crackdown was coming, he was ordered back to Hong Kong, arriving on June 3rd. By dawn on June 4th, hundreds, if not thousands, of protesters had died around the square.
The carnage in Beijing sparked a political explosion across Hong Kong. In 1984 the British had signed an agreement to return the territory to China in 1997, built around the formula of “one country, two systems”. The negotiations which had come up with that idea, at which Hong Kongers were not represented, promised that the territory would enjoy a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years, with a degree of self-rule. But the protests crystallised a sense that the liberties gained in previous decades through stable administration, business success, popular protest and the rule of law would not persist under Beijing’s rule. Almost 1m people marched through Hong Kong as rumours spread of an imminent crackdown. Afterwards Mr Ching and 40 colleagues resigned from Wen Wei Po. Pro-Beijing businesses and civil-society groups, normally sympathetic to the party, condemned the bloodshed.
One of those marching was a young man named Jimmy Lai. Born just across the border, he had stowed away on a boat bound for the colony in 1959, when he was twelve. From child labourer in the rag trade he worked his way up to be factory manager, then founded his own clothing line—the very embodiment of the self-improving Lion Rock spirit. In 1989 he brought out T-shirts supporting the students in Tiananmen Square and sent all the profits to a pro-democracy group. “I thought it was a turning point,” he later said. “I was wrong, of course, but I was very optimistic at the time.”
Civic leaders continued to push the British for more representation in the post-handover polity. Many thought that China would not keep its two-systems promise unless the people had clear ways of standing up for themselves. By 1995, says Mr Ching, “I had been able to get very close to the party, to understand its aspirations, its mode of operating, its ulterior motives.” He wrote an article for China Times, a Taiwanese paper, warning that China would not keep its promises.
Before the handover, the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, had many concerns about China’s leaders keeping their word. But on June 30th 1997, his speech in the convention centre beside the harbour was full of professional optimism about “a day of celebration, not sorrow.” No dependent territory, he said, had ever left British rule more prosperous, or with such a “rich texture and fabric of civil society”. Under “one country, two systems”, he concluded, “Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong. That is the promise. And that is the unshakeable destiny.”
In fact, under the Basic Law—the city’s post-handover constitution—Hong Kongers had few ways to take part in the city’s governance. Despite last-minute reforms to allow greater scope for elections, key appointments still had to be approved in Beijing. Most legislators and the city’s new “chief executive” were appointed by bodies controlled by party loyalists, many with business interests in China.
In 2008, when Mr Ching returned after more than two years in a Chinese prison on dubious spying charges, he found the culture of protest flourishing. In 2014 after the party ruled out universal suffrage, protests morphed into what became known as the Umbrella Revolution. At one point protesters draped a banner that read “I want genuine universal suffrage” over the top of Lion Rock, claiming its spirit anew. In 2019 the government sought to introduce a law that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face justice. Hong Kongers quickly understood that, at the party’s whim, anyone could be whisked to China, where courts have no transparency or presumption of innocence. By summer the protests were the largest the city had ever seen.
Young people were the face of the protests. But lawyers provided pro bono advice to those arrested, and accountants volunteered to do the books for crowd-funding campaigns that raised millions of dollars. Ordinary workers bought prepaid Mastercards from convenience stores so they could donate food and gas masks anonymously. In August 2019, 200,000 Hong Kongers linked hands to form human chains that wound for 50km around the harbour and over the top of Lion Rock itself. The scale of such demonstrations would have brought down nearly any democratic government—and some authoritarian ones, too. The police soon responded in heavy-handed fashion. The protests grew in number and, occasionally, violence. One, surrounding the building that houses the legislature, prevented a second reading of the extradition bill. In the face of such opposition, the bill was shelved. But the stubborn, party-backed chief executive, Carrie Lam, remained in office. No conciliatory gesture was made towards the protesters.
Instead, the Communist Party made the subtext of its previous attempts at change explicit: the Hong Kong identity created in the late 20th century and the independent-minded tradition of protest that went with it was a threat. In May 2020 China announced that a new national-security law was to be imposed on the territory, bolting legislation against secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers on top of the Basic Law. The final text of the law was published only hours before its promulgation at 11pm on June 30th. Not even Mrs Lam had been shown the details beforehand. Arrests began soon after.
So much for an unshakeable destiny.
IMAGE: TERRI PO
Almost every prominent democrat in Hong Kong is now either in jail or exile. The fabric of “professions, churches, newspapers, charities, civil servants” which Lord Patten honoured at the handover has been torn apart. A national-security committee, modelled on a counterpart in mainland China, sits above the rest of Hong Kong’s government. July 1st, the 25th anniversary of the handover, saw an ex-policeman and security chief, John Lee, sworn in as chief executive, the first to be drawn from the security services. In 2019 he oversaw the benighted extradition bill. After the national-security law was imposed in 2020 his role as secretary for security made him a prime mover in the city’s devastation. He was chosen from a party shortlist of one, despite being widely loathed in the territory.
The city’s police budget has grown by 45% over the past five years, and the force has been granted sweeping powers to target individuals and organisations without judicial supervision or scrutiny. Nearly 200 people have been arrested under the national-security law, which has a presumption against bail.
One of them is Jimmy Lai, who donated the profits from his T-shirt sales to students in Tiananmen Square in 1989. After his criticism of the party saw him forced to shut down his Giordano clothing chain in mainland China, he pivoted to publishing, founding Apple Daily, a newspaper. In the 2000s it grew to be Hong Kong’s most influential pro-democracy publication. But as time went by, various big firms stopped buying advertisements, fearful of being shut out of the Chinese market.
Journalists backed by the party hunted for gossip to undermine him. Pro-Beijing media outlets camped outside his house, intimidating his family and photographing everyone who visited. He was the victim of firebombs and, in 2008, an assassination attempt. Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily, was the target of relentless hacking attempts. Mr Lai’s popularity among Hong Kongers only grew.
In 2019 the party sent Mr Lai’s sister from mainland China to Hong Kong with a chilling message: they would send her son to prison if Mr Lai did not shut his paper. He refused and was expunged from a family tree which goes back 28 generations. In August 2020 he was arrested. Mr Lee froze Apple Daily’s bank accounts and Mr Lai’s personal accounts. Unable to pay the paper’s staff, or even its electricity bills, the directors had no choice but to shut the paper down, according to Mark Clifford in his book, “Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow the World”. Mr Lai sits in a prison cell facing multiple charges. A devout Catholic, he prays daily. His family and friends say his letters show him to be in good spirits.
Every other major pro-democracy news outlet in Hong Kong has been closed. The newspapers which matter are Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po—which the party now uses as proxies to help run the city. Democrats have learned to read them closely. If you become one of their targets, you can expect a knock on the door in the middle of the night.
“We look at scholars in mainland China and see our future. To survive, we will have to be the government’s mouthpiece.”
A culture of fear and reporting has seeped into the civil service and schools, courts and universities. Some outspoken teachers have lost their licences. Many others have received warnings after being anonymously accused of saying the wrong thing. Their so-called crimes are often vague, which encourages those who want to avoid their fate to attend to every possible aspect of their lives that might bring disapproval.
It is a long-established approach. In 2002 Perry Link, an American scholar of China now banned from the country, wrote: “The Communist Party’s censorial authority in recent times has resembled not so much a man-eating tiger or fire-snorting dragon as a giant anaconda coiled in an overhead chandelier. Normally the great snake doesn’t move. It doesn’t have to. It feels no need to be clear about its prohibitions. Its constant silent message is ‘You yourself decide’, after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments—all quite ‘naturally’. The Soviet Union, where Stalin’s notion of ‘engineering the soul’ was first pursued, in practice fell far short of what the Chinese Communists have achieved in psychological engineering.” Look up in today’s Hong Kong and the snake is there. The authorities have established an anonymous hotline for Hong Kongers to report on each other. More than a quarter of a million such reports have been lodged over the past two years. Academics at the city’s world-class universities have stopped researching subjects deemed sensitive by the party such as Taiwan, religion in mainland China and public opinion in Hong Kong. “We look at scholars in mainland China and see our future. To survive, we will have to be the government’s mouthpiece,” says one Hong Kong academic. “If you are outspoken, the government will attack you through its newspapers.” In April 2022 Peter Baehr, a retired academic who worked at Lingnan University in Hong Kong for 21 years, wrote that “University senior managements are the chief drivers of repression…They are opportunists and weathervanes, rather than militants and pioneers. It is ambition more than ideology that motivates them.” Such mediocre opportunists are now littered throughout the texture and fabric of Hong Kong. A once outspoken legal profession has been neutered. The former chair of the Hong Kong Bar Association, Paul Harris, vilified by the pro-Beijing press, fled the city after being questioned by national-security police. Barristers know they may lose business from mainland firms if they speak up. In his first interview as the new chair of the bar, Victor Dawes said the organisation would not discuss politics. He means the bar will not oppose the government.
The authorities have used similar tactics, as well as colonial-era laws, to bring teachers, social workers and labour unions to heel. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong suspended its annual human-rights press awards just days before the winners were to be announced in April. “Successful reporters know where the red lines are…Some may decry that as self-censorship. I call it common sense,” Keith Richburg, the club’s president, wrote. The anaconda above gave a soft, satisfied hiss.
A record number of civil servants have resigned and the number of new applicants fell by 30% in 2021. In April, having found it increasingly hard to recruit Hong Kongers, the police force ditched a requirement that applicants must have lived in the city for at least seven years. The justice department has rapidly promoted prosecutors who have worked on high-profile cases against protesters. In an attempt to increase the prestige of working as a government lawyer, prosecutors are now allowed to hold the title of senior counsel, a term previously reserved for the city’s top barristers.
In 2021 over 100,000 Hong Kongers applied for a British National (Overseas) visa which, if granted, allows them to live in Britain. That number is likely to rise. Many more have left for Australia, Canada and Taiwan. At the same time new government policies have made migration from the mainland even easier. For young, ambitious mainlanders fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, the future in Hong Kong is brighter than ever. In 2019 party cadres in Hong Kong were ordered to study an article that outlined a policy known as “keep Hong Kong but not its people”.
Many of those who remain lose themselves in popular culture—a trend that was also seen on the mainland after 1989. Songs about saying goodbye have become some of the city’s most popular tunes. Mirror, a local boy band, shot to fame in 2020. Instead of singing conventional love songs, their lyrics are about looking after yourself. “You can’t protest,” says one fan. “You can’t sing protest songs, so you listen to Mirror.”
Natalie Wong, a middle-aged banker and mother, signed up to Instagram to follow Keung To, one of the members of Mirror. She thinks most famous Hong Kong singers are compromised because of their desire to make money in China. Ms Wong (not her real name) points to Eason Chan, one of Hong Kong’s most famous singers, who cut his ties with Adidas after the sportswear brand announced it would not use Xinjiang cotton. Some fans perceive Mirror to be pro-democracy, but the band has not explicitly said so. But they give Hong Kongers something to unite around and enjoy. “Keung To is very authentic,” she says. “This is a quality now missing in Hong Kong, a society filled with hypocrisy and distrust.” His motto inspires her, she says. “‘You got a dream, you gotta protect it’.” Not pursue it hand-in-hand with others, to the ends of the earth. Just protect it.
IMAGE: TERRI PO
“Rarely do people understand Hong Kong from the perspective of China,” wrote Jiang Shigong, an influential Chinese scholar, after working for the party’s outpost in Hong Kong, the Liaison Office, from 2004 to 2008. “Instead, they understand Hong Kong from the perspective of the West, or from the perspective of Hong Kong, or they use Hong Kong to understand China.” He was right. To understand why the party crushed Hong Kong when it did, rather than either doing so earlier or not doing so at all, the Chinese side of the story is vital—as it is to understanding why the clampdown has been so effective. China’s offer of “one country, two systems” was made because the Chinese Communist Party felt a flourishing post-handover Hong Kong would be a valuable source of capital, trade and business expertise. For it to make the most of that situation, however, it required a Hong Kong which, although governed by another system de jure, was de facto aligned with the interests of the party. Well before the handover it had begun a thorough and ambitious campaign to take clandestine control of key parts of the Hong Kong government and to co-opt the city’s elites.
During British rule the party was an illegal organisation (indeed even today it has no official presence in the territory). That did not stop it from recruiting. Mr Ching estimates there are currently some 400,000 underground party members in Hong Kong, around 5% of the population. Roughly half were born and raised in Hong Kong. The other half were born on the mainland and resettled themselves in the city.
In her book, “Underground Front”, Christine Loh, an official in Hong Kong’s government in the 2010s, cites one estimate that 83,000 mainland officials entered Hong Kong under assumed names and false identities between 1983, when negotiations on the handover began, and its eventual achievement in 1997. After seven years in Hong Kong the infiltrators qualified for permanent residency, which gave them the right to apply for jobs in the Hong Kong civil service. The party prioritised infiltrating departments like the police, customs and immigration to ensure it had control over the city, says Mr Ching. The response to the protests of 2019 had been years in the making.
The party had, decades before, set up a shadowy department to work alongside supporters who were not members. It was known as the United Front Work Department, and it continues to cultivate individuals and organisations around the world. Friendly scholars and businesspeople looked to it for access to things the party controlled, such as research materials and photo-ops with senior officials. Chairman Mao called the United Front one of the party’s “magic weapons”. Dr Chung Kim-wah, a social scientist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University who wrote columns in the city’s newspapers, was one such target. In 1997 he bought a flat in Guangzhou where he liked to spend weekends reading and thinking. A mainland official, who Dr Chung suspected was from the United Front, regularly invited him for tea or beers. After the official learned Dr Chung loved football, he took him to watch the English Premier League at a sports bar. Many Hong Kongers have similar stories of efforts to build and maintain relationships and exchange information.
Compliant civil-society organisations could look to the United Front for money before and after the handover. For every pro-democracy trade union or newspaper, the party ensured it backed an equivalent pro-Beijing one, if necessary building it from scratch. This is one reason why the impressive number of civil-society bodies the city boasts today should not be taken as a sign of a robust civil society. Many are simply legal fronts for the party’s underground operations, posing as alumni associations, chambers of commerce and travel groups. “Not all these societies are party cells, but the majority are,” says Mr Ching, who himself was approached to join the party. He declined. “This is one way the party infiltrated Hong Kong.” Party operatives initially attempted to cultivate relationships with pro-democracy groups. The movement’s members were often willing partners; as several former lawmakers attest, they believed that opening a channel of communication with state security would be helpful. And many felt that a few cordial meetings would be unlikely to change anyone’s mind. But they gave the party a detailed understanding of Hong Kong and, in the end, leverage over many of its leaders. “Looking back, we were very naïve,” says one former lawmaker. Many democrats were invited to dinners and meetings in Beijing where party officials would offer money, women or positions of power in exchange for co-operation and information. “They can give you anything, except democracy,” says Lee Wing-tat, a former leader of the Democratic Party who now lives in Britain. Several pro-democracy politicians were co-opted, he says.
An obvious way to influence governance was to boost pro-China voices among the business elite, many of whom had served in government roles under the British and continued to do so after the handover. “[We were ordered] to hinder British business, consolidate Chinese business, bring together investment from Taiwan and the overseas Chinese community,” wrote Xu Jiatun, who was the top Chinese representative in Hong Kong from 1983 to 1990 when, as an opponent of the 1989 crackdown, he fled to America.
For the first 15 years after Hong Kong’s return to China, this effort seemed to have little impact on the city’s governance. But the ascent to power of Xi Jinping in 2012 marked a change which would lead to the party using its power in Hong Kong far more directly. The boom which had followed China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation meant that China’s need for Hong Kong’s capital, expertise and connections decreased. As leader of the party’s Hong Kong policy group from 2007, Mr Xi came to see the city’s tycoons as arrogant and entitled. The dinners that played to their self-importance (and provided lucrative business opportunities) became infrequent and formal. The party became more demanding.
“I could feel the screws tightening,” says Desmond Shum, a former tycoon now living in the West. “They kept asking us to do more things, give more donations.” This included prominently campaigning and voting for party interests in the city. “All of us were being directed to facilitate China’s direct meddling in Hong Kong’s elections. What amazes me is that none of us ever came out publicly and said ‘This is what I did and it was wrong’,” Mr Shum wrote in “Red Roulette”, a memoir he published last year. “It tells you how much we feared the party and the possible repercussions of saying no and speaking out.” Mr Xi launched a revitalisation of the national-security complex. Unlike in the West, where concerns about national security focus on external threats, in China they encompass all threats to the party’s grip on power. In the more explicitly repressive context of Mr Xi’s rule, Hong Kong came to be seen ever less as an engine of growth and ever more as a site of subversion. When the protests of 2019 erupted the party quickly began weaponising its carefully cultivated relationships with Hong Kong’s civil society. Dr Chung was turned back at the border when trying to visit Guangzhou. His sports-bar buddy visited him in Hong Kong, suggesting he could sort the matter out. “But only if I stopped writing for Apple Daily,” says Dr Chung. He declined. Stories abound of the party finding the pressure points of thousands of Hong Kongers in this way.
Pressure on business leaders was sometimes highly public. When Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong’s wealthiest tycoon, called for restraint in 2019 from both the government and protesters, the party and its proxies labelled the 91-year-old billionaire the “king of cockroaches”. He got the message. From then on every Hong Kong tycoon voiced support for the government’s harsh response to the protesters. They all saw what happened to Jimmy Lai.
Big brands surrendered, too. In 2019 John Slosar, chairman of Cathay Pacific, an airline, defended his employees’ right to protest. “We…wouldn’t dream of telling them what they have to think about something.” The party threatened to ban Cathay’s planes from Chinese airspace. Mr Slosar was forced out. His successor, Patrick Healy, enthusiastically took part in the sham election of Mr Lee, the city’s new leader. All of this meant that when Beijing announced Hong Kong’s national-security law, the city’s business establishment offered no opposition. The city’s largest businesses like HSBC, Standard Chartered, Swire and Jardine Matheson all issued statements of support for the law. HSBC, Europe’s largest bank by assets, has frozen the accounts of pro-democracy politicians and civil-society organisations. The Big Four accounting firms—Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC—all published advertisements in pro-Beijing newspapers congratulating Mr Lee on becoming the city’s chief executive.
With the new national-security law and Hong Kong police backing them, China’s ministry of state security and the United Front started using their middlemen to make personal threats against leaders they had long cultivated, according to interviews with six people who had direct contact with the middlemen involved. Sometimes the warning came through a mysterious phone call, at other times from a long-time acquaintance at church. Delay or prevarication saw arrests. “One of my colleagues was warned, ‘You had better leave Hong Kong soon’,” says the former lawmaker. “But he didn’t heed that warning. Now he is in jail.”
Dr Chung, the football fan, came out of retirement in 2020 to take part in some polling. He was questioned twice by police and received “threats from powerful bodies”. Yet it was not until his friend, another retired lecturer, was jailed that Dr Chung realised he could not face it if his elderly parents “could only see me by visiting me in prison”. In April, he fled to Britain, where the middlemen still contact him.
Understood from the perspective of China, Hong Kong has not just seen the tactics of co-option and threat, developed for a gentler takeover, turned to the service of a far more draconian one. It has also seen the perfection of methods of co-opting businesses and academics, infiltrating institutions like universities and funding pro-party propaganda on social media which can be used farther afield. “I saw what was coming,” says Mr Ching, who first warned of the threat the party posed in the lead-up to the handover. “But nobody listened.” Today, the need to listen remains urgent everywhere in the world where China seeks influence. But in Hong Kong, there is little left to listen to. Just trams and jackhammers, deal-making and everyday conversation—and a cover version of “Beneath Lion Rock”, recently released by Mirror. Some see the recording as yet another piece of co-option, the government despoiling something which once had real meaning. Others enjoy the lilting melody. Some remember, but say nothing.
19 John Whelpton: Response to Quora query on 8/8/2022 (JW): When will HK have open elections?
If you mean elections in which the electorate itself, not a pro-Beijing election committee, decide if candidates are sufficiently `patriotic’, then it is unlikely to happen until there is significant liberalisation in the mainland Chinese system. I have myself lived in Hong Kong since 1987 and would personally like us to elect our rulers in a fully democratic manner but we are stuck with the problem that the central government does not want to run the risk of people they don’t trust getting their hands on the levers of power in the SAR. Given this reality, it was a mistake for the opposition here not to accept as a compomise the system for direct election of the Chief Executive proposed by the government in 2015, This was certainly not democratic in the full sense but would have been an improvement on the present system.
It was, of course, an even bigger mistake of some protestors in 2019 to use violent methods. Looking around the world, creating sufficient disorder on the streets can be an effective way of forcing political change but only if the government you are protesting against is relatively weak and/or unprepared to respond ruthlessly. That description does perhaps apply to the SAR government itself but not to the Chinese state which ultimately controls that government. The end result of these protests has been the `improved’ electoral system, which actually reduces the democratic element we had before, and also the National Security Law, which has criminalised a range of non-violent opposition activities and, by its deliberate vagueness, produced a worrying amount of self-censorship.
I should add that violent methods were only supported by a very small minority here but the demands of the protestors were shared by over half the local population, hence the victory of opposition candidates in the 2019 local elections. If you want a foreign analogy, look at `Black Lives Matter’ in the USA. Many Americans support the movement’s aims but very few of them support the violence which a small number have resorted to in support of those aims.
It’s also important to realise that, unlike the demand for full local autonomy, demands for Hong Kong independence have only a very small amount of support here. The great majority of us either feel positive about being part of China or simply realise that independence is not a realistic option. I find it difficult to understand both why the central government are so afraid of calls for independence and also why the independence advocates ever made those calls in the first place.
20. Gordon Matthews on the National Security Law (interview 19/8/22, with my own brief introduction) Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7_-ML8bAYE A half-hour interview in English with CUHK anthropologist Professor Gordon Mathews on freedom of expression in Hong Kong and why , despite the National Security Law, he has no plans to leave. He rightly condemns the use of violence by some of the protesters in 2019-20 but does not make the key point that, regardless of any objections to violence at such, its employment in Hong Kong]s particular situation was tactically stupid. In many parts of the world, violent methods may force political change - the American War of Independence is one among many examples - but they only work against a government which lacks strength and ruthlessness. That applies perhaps to HK's own government but not to the Chinese central government which makes the final decisions.
By Jessie Yeung and Lauren Lau, CNN Updated 0850 GMT (1650 HKT) September 21, 2022
Police arrest a man who played songs on a harmonica outside the British consulate in Hong Kong on September 19.
A version of this story appeared in CNN's Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country's rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.
Hong Kong (CNN)A man was arrested in Hong Kong on suspicion of sedition after playing the harmonica at a vigil for Queen Elizabeth II,under a colonial-era law that once outlawed insulting the Queen -- and has now been revived by authorities amid an ongoing crackdown.
Videos posted to social media show hundreds of people gathering outside the city's British consulate on Monday night to pay tribute to the Queen, as her funeral took place in London -- an event heavy with political significance in the former British colony, where mourning the monarch has become a subtle form of protest.
Many live-streamed the funeral procession on their phones, while others held up candles and laid flowers at a memorial site.One video shows a man playing on his harmonica the tune "Glory to Hong Kong," a protest anthem created during the depths of the pro-democracy, anti-government protests that rocked the city in 2019.
Over 2,500 people lined up to offer condolences to Queen Elizabeth II outside the British consulate in Hong Kong on September 12, 2022.
The rousing ballad, which includes such lyrics as "For Hong Kong, may freedom reign," became an anthem of the pro-democracy movement and performances of it have been viewed millions of times on YouTube.
At the vigil on Tuesday, crowds waved iPhone flashlights in the dark and sang along to the harmonica, some starting a chant that has also become synonymous with the protests: "Hong Kong, add oil."
When CNN asked police about the harmonica player, they responded saying a 43-year-old man surnamed Pang had been arrested that night at around 9:30 p.m. He was suspected of committing acts of sedition, and was detained for questioning -- then released on bail pending investigation, police said.
He will be required to report back to police in late November.
Hong Kong's sedition law is part of a 1938 Crimes Ordinance, once used by the colonial government to target pro-China groups and publications -- especially after the Chinese Communist Party came to power, and during anti-government protests in 1967.
It originally defined sedition as speech that brought "hatred or contempt" against the Queen, her heirs, or the Hong Kong government.
The law had remained unused for decades until it was revived in 2020 -- alongside Beijing's introduction of a sweeping national security law, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist activities.
A conviction under the sedition law carries a maximum two-year sentence.
The revival of the law -- and its use amid a broader crackdown by Hong Kong and Beijing authorities -- has drawn criticism from activists and humanitarian organizations around the world.
Photos then show police officers arriving and escorting the man into their van.
In July, the UN's Human Rights Committee urged Hong Kong to repeal the sedition law, saying it was concerned it could limit citizens' "legitimate right to freedom of speech."
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied that the sedition law or national security law -- which has been used to arrest activists, journalists, protesters and former elected lawmakers -- pose any risk to people's freedoms.
The sedition law "is not meant to silence expression of any opinion that is only genuine criticism against the government based on objective facts," it said in response to the UN, adding that the national security law "has swiftly and effectively restored stability and security" after the 2019 protests.
Mourning as protest The crackdown has seen the steady erosion of civil liberties in what was once a free-wheeling city with an independent press and rich protest culture.
Most pro-democracy groups have disbanded, their leaders either imprisoned or forced into exile, and mass demonstrations are all but banned.
Without traditional avenues of protest -- people have now been arrested for social media posts and even for publishing children's books deemed seditious -- the Queen's death emerged this month as an unexpected opportunity for dissent.
The colonial flag of Hong Kong and images of Queen Elizabeth are placed outside the British Consulate in Hong Kong on September 12.
In celebrating the monarchy and its symbols, some Hong Kongers see an opportunity for a veiled dig at both the Chinese Communist Party, which has made no secret of its eagerness for Hong Kongers to forget the era, and local authorities who recently introduced school books that claim the city was never even a colony to begin with.
A retiree named Wing, who spoke to CNN outside the consulate on Monday but declined to give his full name, said it was "incredible" to be part of a mass gathering again.
"I feel angry that the Hong Kong government is not showing any respect properly (to the Queen). They're scared of the Chinese government telling them off, but we were part of the colony," said Wing, who was born in the 1960s.
The displays of affection are also a reminder of the city's pro-democracy protests, during which demonstrators adopted the colonial flag as a sign of resistance to Chinese one-party rule.However, other critics have pointed out that even under British rule, Hong Kongers did not have universal suffrage. And many felt London neglected its duty by failing to grant British citizenship to Hong Kongers at the time of the handover, instead offering most a limited passport that did not give them the right to live and work in Britain.
Since the introduction of the national security law, Britain has created what it calls a path to citizenship via a new type of visa. CNN's Kathleen Magramo and Simone McCarthy contributed reporting.
22 John Whelpton: Facebook comment on the CNN article above (22/9/22)
More violation of citizens' right by the SAR government. It should be pointed out, though, that only a small minority of protestors in Hong Kong displayed the old colonial flag. What most of the opposition wanted was not colonial rule but the usual off-ramp from British colonialism - the right freely to choose their own leaders.
The mainland government's insistence that Hong Kong was not a colony but merely `under colonial rule' is perhaps technically correct if applied only to the New Territories - which were leased from the Qing dynasty for 99 years from 1898 - but not for Hong Kong Island and Kowloon south of Boundary Street, which were ceded in perpetuity. The argument that treaties are invalid because signed under duress is a shaky one because it implies that every country which signs a treaty after losing a war or when feeling threatened is entitled to denounce it later on: on that logic, Hitler did nothing wrong when he broke the Treaty of Versailles by marching troops into the Rhineland and Saddam Hussain was justified in attacking Iran in violation of the treaty Iraq had earler felt compelled to sign with the Shah! The reasons for all these verbal gymnastics in the first place was that the mainland government, once admitted to the United Nations, demanded the removal of HK from the list of dependent territories so that they could deny HK any right of self-determination.
The South China Morning Post has sent a warning to a former editor who resigned along with two reporters after their three-part series on rights abuses in Xinjiang was axed by management last year. During a Foreign Correspondents’ Club talk in Japan this month, ex-senior editor Peter Langan revealed that he resigned from the newspaper’s China desk following multiple conference calls with management in 2021 about the features on birth control policies and alleged genocide in China’s Muslim-dominated western region.
Letter from the SCMP. Photo: Peter Langan.
The SCMP told HKFP the series had failed to meet its “editorial verification process and publishing standards,” despite it relying on a review of official government data.
In a letter delivered by courier moments after Tuesday’s story was published, the SCMP said that it had “come to realize that you might be using or have used materials, articles, drafts or information which are prepared or have come into your possession during your employment with the Company.”
The letter, which was not signed by a named person, stated that the firm still owned the intellectual property rights and such material could not be be shared elsewhere. It demanded that any relevant materials be returned within seven days: “Any unauthorized use is not merely prohibited by your contract but is also unprofessional and unethical . If you fail to comply with the above, we will take further action against you.”
Peter Langan, ex-China Desk senior editor at the South China Morning Post. Photo: FCCJ screenshot.
The Xinjiang series, and Langan’s interactions with management, were reviewed by HKFP to verify its reporting, though were not published. The SCMP did not respond to HKFP’s enquiries asking for clarification. ‘A valid piece of journalism’In a text message to HKFP on Thursday, Langan dismissed his former employer’s warning: “The SCMP letter threatens further unspecified action against me and suggests I have acted in an ‘unprofessional and unethical’ manner.” “However, when invited to speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on the attacks on civil liberties in Hong Kong and my experience as a journalist there, it would in my opinion have been unethical to conceal the killing of a valid piece of journalism on what was happening in Xinjiang to the Uyghur people. And it would have been unprofessional to have done so to a room full of journalists.”
The unpublished SCMP reporting relied on three decades of government birth control data, which included 17 years of national birth control statistics and consultations. Figures from the National Health Commission, birth and population growth statistics from the Xinjiang Statistical Yearbook, and county-level documents, were also referenced. Efforts to publish it ground to a halt following several rewrites and calls with superiors. In a final email to executives last August, Langan wrote: “[I]t seems clear to me that this three-part Xinjiang narrative now faces the dreaded newsroom death by a thousand cuts, or an endless litany of objections and nit-picking to ensure that the story isn’t published.” The predominantly Muslim Uyghur ethnic group are among the minorities targeted in what Beijing claims is a campaign to tackle unrest and separatism. The UN says a million Uyghurs have been arbitrarily detained in “political re-education camps,” whilst Human Rights Watch reports that surveillance and repression in Xinjiang has increased dramatically since 2016. Several western countries have imposed sanctions over Beijing’s actions. Public trust in the credibility of Hong Kong’s media has fallen to its lowest level in two decades, according to a survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong published in August.
Hong Kong Press Freedom ranking. Photo: HKFP.
Weeks later, the Hong Kong Journalists Association’s press freedom index sank to a new low for the third consecutive year, with reporters questioning the media’s effectiveness as a watchdog amid an increasingly challenging environment for the industry.
Tom Grundy is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.
Peter Lagan is one of the speakers in a panel discussion on 13 October 2022 available on YouTube.
A Hong Kong citizen journalist who waved the British colonial-era flag while the Chinese national anthem was being played has been jailed for three months for insulting the anthem following the first conviction under a new law. Paula Leung, 42, pleaded guilty to insulting the national anthem and desecrating the current Hong Kong flag at District Court on Thursday. She waved a British-era Hong Kong flag at the APM shopping centre in Kwun Tong on July 26 last year, when crowds gathered to watch an Olympics medal ceremony at which fencer Edgar Cheung was awarded gold in the men’s individual foil event.
The case marks the first conviction and sentencing since the city passed a law criminalising disrespect of March of the Volunteers, China’s national anthem, in June 2020.
Magistrate Amy Chan said there were over a thousand people watching the ceremony live in the mall, which was broadcasting the Tokyo Olympics, at the time. Leung’s waving of the flag sparked cheers from the crowd and demeaned the dignity of “the country’s athletes,” she said according to InMedia. Chan set a starting sentence of four and a half months, but reduced it to three months taking into account her guilty plea.
July 2021 arrest According to the case details, crowds gathered at the APM shopping mall at around 9 p.m. on July 26, 2021 to watch the Olympics, at which Cheung won a fencing final, on a large screen.
During the medal ceremony, China’s national anthem was played and the post-1997 Hong Kong flag was displayed. Around that time, a person began waving the colonial-era flag in the atrium and then used it to cover her head. Crowds booed the anthem and cheered “We are Hong Kong,” the case details read.
A staff member at the mall questioned Leung, who produced a press card showing she was working for an online media outlet called Freeman Express. Somebody at the mall also reported the incident to police.
Official records show the news outlet was not registered with the government’s Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration at the time. Most major news organisations are registered in order to gain access to government press conferences.
Leung was arrested four days later near her home in Kwai Fong after police said they were launching an investigation into“insulting acts” at the mall that night. A staff member from the mall identified Leung and her press card at a police identification parade.
The defence’s pleaHanding down the sentence on Thursday, Chan said there were two reasons why Leung needed to face a heavier jail sentence. There were more than a thousand people watching the Olympic broadcast and the flag-waving could have sparked a “dangerous situation,” Chan said, adding that it was “pure luck” that no violence was triggered.
On top of that, Leung had arrived at the mall with a colonial-era flag, showing she had planned to express contempt towards the Chinese national anthem.
Ahead of sentencing, Leung’s lawyer said the defendant has autism and a low IQ. Leung studied at a special needs school and graduated in Form 3, and worked as a security guard for some ten years. She was then unemployed for some time.
The lawyer added that Leung had acted alone and put the flag away after shortly afterwards. Nobody was incited by her behaviour, the lawyer added.
Offenders of the national anthem law, which was passed comfortably in a Legislative Council where pro-democracy lawmakers constituted a minority, risk fines up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison.
Chui Hoi-chun has been sentenced over 29 offensive posts published on YouTube, Discord and the LIHKG forum in a span of 28 months
Part-time waiter’s posts trampled on country’s dignity and hurt people’s feelings, says magistrate
An 18-year-old has received up to three years’ detention in a Hong Kong correctional institution for parodying “March of the Volunteers” on social media in the second conviction under the national anthem law, as well as for charges of insulting the country’s flag and publishing seditious remarks. Part-time waiter Chui Hoi-chun was sentenced in West Kowloon Court on Tuesday to a training centre over 29 offensive posts published on YouTube, Discord and the LIHKG forum in a span of 28 months between May 2020 and September this year. Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak said Chui had incited hatred towards mainland China, the city’s administration and police with his “anti-government” posts, adding he had trampled on the country’s dignity and hurt the feelings of the people with his mockery of the national anthem and flag. An arbiter approved by the city’s leader to oversee national security proceedings, So pointed out that a deterrent sentence was required to prevent copycat behaviour and safeguard the public interest.
Chui pleaded guilty last month to a charge of committing seditious acts, two of insulting the national anthem and one of publishing a desecration of the national flag.
Prosecutors held Chui liable for exposing the national anthem to ridicule in two posts on LIHKG on May 28, 2020, after the National People’s Congress, China’s top legislature, passed a motion to impose a national security law on the city. One of the spoofs contained altered lyrics which the prosecution said were insulting to mainland leaders. The first line of the Chinese national anthem – “Stand up! Those who refuse to be slaves! With our flesh and blood, let’s build our newest Great Wall!” – was changed to “Late! I’ll take you around the world! I ride on the Godzilla, and my mum says I’m really a freak!”.
The other version, also posted on the forum, had the original wording almost entirely replaced with Cantonese curses. In September of the same year, Chui released a video on YouTube showing a red background with five swear words in the top left corner, which were aligned in a way resembling the five yellow stars on the Chinese national flag. The clip also featured a man singing an altered version of “March of the Volunteers”, marred by vulgar language.
Defence counsel Steven Kwan Man-wai earlier argued the national anthem ordinance and the amended national flag and national emblem ordinance, which outlaws desecration of the country’s symbols on online platforms, could not be used to prosecute his client, as the publications in question were made before the two laws came into force. The lawyer also questioned the court’s jurisdiction in relation to eight of the 29 social media posts in contention, saying they were published while Chui was studying in New Zealand.
But the chief magistrate ruled last month the defendant had continued to make available the offensive content even after his return to the city, adding the court had jurisdiction over all of the problematic publications as they were intended for the Hong Kong audience. In mitigation, Kwan urged the court to consider sending Chui to a correctional institution, such as a rehabilitation or detention centre, for a short term. But So found the two alternative options, where offenders are detained for less than a year, to be insufficient in light of the gravity of the transgressions. The magistrate also highlighted Chui’s psychological report, where a clinical psychologist said the 18-year-old had supported the anti-government protests in 2019 and still believed violence should not be condemned if it could achieve its intended purpose.
A training centre, which is another form of correctional institution, offers vocational training and educational programmes in a custodial setting. An offender sentenced to such a facility can serve time for six months to three years, with an average of 1½ years. Insulting the national anthem or national flag is punishable by three years imprisonment and a HK$50,000 (HK$6,430) fine. Sedition carries a maximum jail sentence of two years upon a first conviction. Last month, an online news reporter became the first person to be convicted of breaking the national anthem law, receiving three months in jail for waving a British colonial flag during a public event celebrating the city’s victory at the Tokyo Olympics.
26. My Facebook comments on the the above SCMP article - 17 & 18/12/22 This is an outrageous decison by the court. Disrespecting a national flag and anthem counts as bad manners but is certainly does not merit a custodial sentence, let aslone one of three years! And it is of course totally counterproductive as it must surely make anybody who already feels alienated from China feel even more strongly that both flag and anthem are symbols of tyranny. There's also the important point that nobody should be punished simply for `hurting people's feelings'. Otherwise you could justify the barbaric laws against blasphemy in many Islamic countries, on the grounds that it upsets orthodox Muslims, or prosecute people in the UK for mocking the royal family because it offends royalists.
The beer is flowing again at Hong Kong’s Happy Valley Racecourse. Music pumps from clubs in the neon-streaked Lan Kwai Fong district. Even the Sevens — the annual rugby extravaganza that’s captured this city’s hyperkinetic lifestyle for decades — is back, finally.
After more than two years under Beijing’s stringent pandemic rules, Hong Kong wants to prove that it can still be “Asia’s World City.”
The Hang Seng Index has found a footing after losing roughly half its value. Dealmakers say business is looking up at last.
But behind the hopeful signs are some hard realities. As the pandemic recedes, a new Hong Kong is emerging — one that’s less free, less cosmopolitan and, for some businesses, less vital than the old one.
Since 2020, tens of thousands of people have left. Among them are scores of bankers, lawyers and other professionals who’ve traditionally helped to make this a freewheeling, international entrepot. As of June, the city’s population had fallen by about 216,000, or 2.8%, to 7.3 million.
Meantime, more than 60 international companies have moved their regional headquarters out of Hong Kong. Just over a third of 36 fund management companies surveyed in July had shifted regional or global posts from the city. New visas for foreign financial services workers fell 50% to 1,894 in the first nine months of 2022 compared with three years ago, according to government data.
The pandemic — and Beijing’s strict policies to deal with it — are only part of the story.
A quarter-century after Hong Kong’s return to China, Hong Kong’s rulers have chipped away at civil liberties and jailed dozens of pro-democracy figures. On Dec. 10, media mogul Jimmy Lai was sentenced to more than five years in prison for fraud, a punishment human-rights activists decried as a blow to freedom of expression.
Even in the financial community, an impolitic word can now draw a sharp rebuke from official Beijing.
Anxiety is growing. One British national who worked in finance recalled deleting WhatsApp and Signal messages that could be deemed seditious before a routine meeting with local police. His concern: authorities might check his phone. In August, he moved to Singapore.
“It’s hard not to imagine that international business won’t take note of the downward trend in Hong Kong’s autonomy, and continue to assess their presence in Hong Kong accordingly,” said Thomas Kellogg, executive director of the Georgetown Center for Asian Law.
Despite the buoyant stock market, life is hardly back to pre-pandemic normal. Visitors still need to do multiple mandatory Covid tests. Masks must be worn in public places. The border with mainland China remains closed.
And the local economy, like the rest of China’s, is hurting. The government projects gross domestic product will have shrunk 3.2% this year, its third contraction in four years. Home prices have tumbled 18% from last year’s peak, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts the slump will only get worse.
The hotel industry, which was hit particularly hard by Covid, is struggling to lure workers back.
“We have seen a mass outflow of talent,” Aron Harilela, chairman of Harilela Hotels, said at a briefing to industry professionals and the media in late October. Attracting employees is a “mammoth task,” he said.
“I think the fear and stigma that we have been facing about Covid, where the rest of the world has not been facing, has been stifling us,” Harilela said.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-picked leader, John Lee, has been trying to burnish the city’s sullied reputation as an international business hub. A big step: rolling back Covid restrictions, including mandatory hotel quarantine.
Lee also plans to relax visa rules and reduce the stamp duty on property purchases by non-residents. On Tuesday he scrapped most of the remaining curbs. The reopening of the border with mainland China is expected early next year.
Travelers are returning. Average daily arrivals at Hong Kong International Airport have jumped to about 20,000 from a low of just under 70 in March, according to the Immigration Department, which doesn’t provide data for the pre-pandemic period.
Executive recruiters, who have an interest in luring people back, are predictably optimistic.
They say Hong Kong’s long-time selling points – low taxes, good opportunities and access to lucrative mainland markets – are still big draws. It helps that the city’s notoriously high housing costs have fallen.
“I’ve seen a lot of interest from people, particularly expats who left to Europe or London,” said Loretta Chan, Hong Kong-based partner at executive search firm Wellesley Partners, which focuses on the financial services industry. “I’ve seen them come back.”
Alan Schmoll says he’s considering moving back. The former banker lived here from 2009 to 2014. Now based in Melbourne, he visited in November for business and for the Hong Kong Sevens.
The trip, Schmoll says, was a success all around. He got a lot of business done, and partied a bit too much at Boomerang, a club in Lan Kwai Fong, after a Covid test at the door.
“The club was packed,” said Schmoll, who runs Pave, an online real estate company. “It was B.A.U. — business as usual.”