Is Hong Kong losing its fragrance?

This once minor fishing port in South Eastern China over the past 200 years through the influences of colonialism and the British Empire has grown to a substantial population of 7 million residents. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region in the People’s Republic of China governed semi-independently under a One Country: Two Systems policy.

At this point it should be well noted that the use of terminology such as Hong Kongers or Hong Kongese holds a subjective bias in which I will attempt to avoid. The nationalistic and identity crisis facing many in Hong Kong of whether they are Chinese or Hong Kongese since the return to China in 1997 has been one of the underlying factors that continue to fuel current political and social tensions in the area. The British government returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 after more than a century of colonialism in the region.

With the return of Hong Kong to China in the shadow of the post-Cold War period, the British government in the 1980s during the negotiations of the handover with the Chinese government instilled a controversial condition of 50 Years of No Change meaning that there would be a Basic Law in Hong Kong and that the Communist authorities in Beijing would have to maintain much of Hong Kong’s privileges and freedoms. Despite withdrawing from Hong Kong, the British used Hong Kong as political leverage against the fast ascension of China in becoming a world superpower.

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Britain returning Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.

Since 1997, the people of Hong Kong have had indirect elections with about 1200 representatives being chosen to decide the Chief Executive. However only candidature with the correct connections and support of the Communist government in Beijing come close to succeeding into Hong Kong’s highest office. Since the mid-2000s, the Chinese government has been extending its reach and has been increasingly pro-active in the assertion of its position over Hong Kong in attempting to introduce National and Moral Education, 23 Legislations that limit Hong Kong’s civil liberties and Whitepapers affirming Beijing’s authority.

Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive is CY Leung, whom was supposedly elected inito office in 2012 amid a storm of controversy over his personal affairs and the role of the Chinese government during the elections. Riding on an atmosphere of dissatisfaction with CY Leung, the Chinese government and an apparent lack of freedoms in Hong Kong, demonstrations, social movements and protests have become widespread to the extent that some commentaries have labelled the almost regular rallies as a new tourist attraction.

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CY Leung, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive depicted with fangs in a protest banner.

In recent years, the people of Hong Kong have become increasingly frustrated at the Chinese government’s role or what is perceived to be threats of intimidation onto Hong Kong’s way of life through its policies. A number of movements such of Occupy Central and Scholarism have gained prominence in the campaign of genuine electoral freedoms and democracy. Many of the pro-democracy campaigners call for an open people’s vote that all Hong Kong citizens can vote in and stand as candidates for election without the restraints of the Chinese government.

The Occupy Central movement is headed by Dr Benny Tai Yiu-ting a professor from the University of Hong Kong. This movement since its inauguration in 2011 has held a number of mock referendums and is currently planning to stage a massive peaceful protest and sit-in in Central, the heart of Hong Kong’s business distrct similar to the Occupy Wall Street protest. Scholarism was also founded in 2011 by secondary school students under the convening of Joshua Wong in calling for universal suffrage. This group has also engaged with other lobbyists and activists is demonstrations, hunger strikes and a range of other campaigns to put pressure on the Hong Kong and Chinese governments.





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A rally calling for democracy in Hong Kong

Each year on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to China, hundreds of thousands of residents take to the street in calling for reduced interference from Beijing, more civil liberties and electoral freedoms among a range of other issues. This year’s demonstration was by far one of the largest in recent years with half a million protesters rallying in Hong Kong during the anniversary. At the conclusion of the official rally, around a thousand protesters refused to move on and formed a sit-in demonstration leading to over 500 arrests. The Chinese and Hong Kong government along with police chiefs have warned demonstrators that their actions are illegal and are invalid attempts to reform the political processes.

In light of the rising civil tension and outcry against Beijing’s authority in Hong Kong, several thousand paramilitary troops stationed in Hong Kong have been put on alert to assist police in the maintenance of law and order in the event that demonstrations become out of control.

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A protester is arrested and carried away after the July 1 rally in Hong Kong

The increasing demands for suffrage and democracy in Hong Kong also reveal a deepening crisis in the area where substantial fragmentation of opinions has led to somewhat radical or extremist approaches being adopted by certain politicians and social movements. Despite the supposed intentions and common grounds of all the groups in calling for democracy, many activists have also voiced various opinions into the way in which the political process should be reformed. Nevertheless it should be well noted that not all of the politicians including center-right parties actually support actions such as Occupy Central.

The fragmentation of voices also presents itself to be a major challenge in which democracy in many circumstances does it resolve but rather adds equality to ideas that would nominally remain on the fringe. A notable example of fringe groups gaining unnecessary media attention in Hong Kong in regards to the pro-democracy movements is the pro-British activists whom rather prefer British than Chinese rule. Also politicians in particular Leung Kwok-Hung or LongHair as he is known is particularly outspoken against the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. Last week during Hong Kong’s legislature question time, he attacked Chief Executive CY Leung by hurling and smashing a glass of water at him. With the increasing aggression and disunity in pro-democracy camp and anti-government movements, one must start to question whether democracy is really a great resolution and what other alternatives are available.

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Activists carrying the British-Hong Kong colonial flag in protest against the Chinese government

A look back into Chinese history would reveal a systemic cycle of the people asserting authority and gaining power to form the government of the day. To immediately spring to a conclusion that Hong Kong would be better off with a direct democracy in contrast to the current system of governance is folly. China has never been truly democratic, however this should be a reason to look with disdain towards the world’s most ancient and flourished civilization. With the last Chinese imperial dynasty being overthrown by Dr Sun Yat Sun in 1911, China supposedly entered a new era of reform. However with the World Wars and following Chinese civil war and instability, proper democratic reforms and parties were never well established.

In fact it was the corruption and fallacies that democracy entailed that led to much revolt against democracy and the rise of Mao Tse Dong and the Chinese Communist party. In a nutshell, China probably as the world’s oldest culture and having survived centuries of foreign invasion continues to prosper without direct forms of democracy. There is no question that Hong Kong is part of China even though there are current differences in its governance and Basic Law. Hong Kong and all those that call it home should be proud to call themselves Chinese and even though democracy is an important question to be investigated, it is the Chinese culture and civilization that will ultimately triumph.