Hong Kong: Ten Years After The Return To China

(Apple Daily; also at ObserveChina)  Hong Kong Ten Years After The Return To China.  By Jimmy Lai.  May 30, 2007.

[in translation]

At the time, I was very afraid.  People kept telling me that as soon as the People's Liberation Army enters the city, they will arrest the counter-revolutionaries.  Someone said 3,000 arrests.  Someone else said 400 arrests.  Yet someone else said a hundred plus.  Even the usually calm and cautious Yeung Wai-hong was semi-credulous about these rumors.  I was thinking: even if only twenty or thirty persons are arrested, I must be on that list.

So I tried to prepare myself psychologically.  I thought about what books I wanted to bring to read in prison.  If I were expelled from Hong Kong, I planned to live in San Francisco.  Once I made my psychological preparations, I thought that I could accept the reality and take it easy.  But when I woke up in the middle of the night, I was covered in cold sweat.  Then I realized how scared I was.

It was at that time that I got baptized and became a Catholic.  Then I calmed down and I was no longer afraid.  Did I convert to Catholicism because I was scared and I wanted God to protect me?  Later, I realized that the blessing of God cannot be procured by praying, for it was up to the will of God.

Had I not become Catholic, I would not actually have to be afraid after 1997.  When the People's Liberation Army entered the city, nobody was arrested.  Even now, we do not see the People's Liberation Army in the streets of Hong Kong.  Nothing was as frightening as imagined, but I still believe in God and I am grateful for my spiritual peace.  My faith obviously had nothing to do with my initial fears.

When the People's Liberation Army came into Hong Kong, they did not arrest anyone.  As Deng Xiaoping promised, horse racing and dancing continued unabated in Hong Kong.  Even our freedoms of press and speech were not restricted.  Of course, most of the media began self-censorship after Hong Kong was returned to China, and some of them became mouthpieces of the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to an extent that is even more blinded and left-leaning than the People's Daily.  But this did not occur as a result of suppression or threats from Beijing.  This came because some of the media understood the strong attitude of Beijing about the media and they were afraid.  As a result, they were extremely careful about news reports and commentaries because they knew that nothing good can come from offending Beijing.

Furthermore, some industry players are thoroughly obsessed with profits and they long for the commercial benefits from being the mouthpieces of Beijing, or else they want to be able to get a share of the pie in the mainland media market.  There are those who think that if they gain the favors of Beijing leaders and the power center, they may soar to the heights in their careers.  These media bosses are the shame of the Hong Kong media industry and they are dooming themselves.  Self-censorship was not the result of deliberate control of the media by Beijing.

Our Next Media organization can be said to be the opposition in Hong Kong.  Naturally, we became the thorn in the flesh of the Beijing and Hong Kong governments.  Frankly speaking, we were not subjected to any concrete suppressions or persecutions.  The pressure was invisible, but the boycott was inescapable.  If we are to insist on democracy and freedom under an authoritarian regime, do we dare to dream of getting a free lunch?

The Chinese government will not tolerate the reporters from our group to gather news in mainland China.  The Hong Kong government excluded our reporters from the informal debriefing sessions.  Personally, I have not been able to visit mainland China for over a decade.  If you read only Hong Kong's Apple Daily and nothing else, you would think that there is no real estate industry in Hong Kong.  Almost none of the real estate companies advertise in Apple Daily.  Most of the large local companies that have business in mainland China will not advertise in our newspapers and magazines.  These boycotts have caused us a loss of HK$ 2 billion in revenue each year, which is equivalent to one-quarter of our total advertising revenue.

The advertising boycott began after Hong Kong was returned to China.  At first, it was partial and periodic.  After Hu Jintao assumed power, the boycott became systematic and permanent.  When we were first boycotted, we asked the advertisers and they expressed sympathy while saying that there was nothing that they could do about it.  Today, it has gotten so bad that they will not even meet with us.  This shows how great the pressure is.

In any democratic county in which the media have true freedom, such boycotts are inconceivable.  In the autocratic totalitarian China, it was benevolent policy for them to only turn off the flow of money without resorting to brutality.  In order to support democracy and freedom and to preserve a free space for Hong Kong citizens to articulate their discontents, we are willing to endure the boycott.  We are duty-bound.  If one wants to eat the salted fish, one must be able to endure the thirst.  Right or not?  If we are willing to be the thorn in the sides of the Beijing and Hong Kong governments, then we should be boycotted.  We know full well that there is a price for not going along with the times.

Hong Kong has gone through numerous storms over the past ten years -- the transition in the Legislative Council, the seven years of bad governance by Tung Chee-hwa, the several interpretations of the Basic Law by the National People's Congress.  But still I do not doubt the sincerity of Beijing in realizing the promise of One County, Two Systems.  The appearance of these missteps was due to the lack of confidence of Beijing about the people of Hong Kong and therefore they made the worse assumptions.  When one attempts to cross the river by feeling for the stones, one is bound to step into some mud puddles along the way.  The Beijing leaders are used to behave in a totalitarian fashion and they do not trust the Hong Kong people who are used to freedom.  They would rather place everything within a safe zone.  Isn't the most natural reaction?

But all totalitarian dictators share this sense of insecurity.  This sense of insecurity also sets up a dilemma for the political reform proposal.  Although universal suffrage is a right conferred to the people of Hong Kong in the Basic Law, many people believe that this was just a temporary ruse that Beijing used in order to get the British people to hand over power.  For them, Beijing will not really implement the Joint Anglo-Chinese Declaration after the transition to let the Hong Kong people rule Hong Kong through universal suffrage.

For those who doubt the sincerity of Beijing, it is a treacherous adventure to expect democracy from dictators.  It is absolutely impossible.  But I am not pessimistic as they are.  I believe that Beijing knows that realizing the Basic Law and implementing universal suffrage in Hong Kong will be greatly advantageous to China.

I agree.  It is treacherous to try to fight for universal suffrage against the dictators.  Compared to all of China, Hong Kong is a very tiny place.  But in the eyes of the whole world, tiny Hong Kong is the most visible place in all of China.  China is a big tiger and Hong Kong is just a tiny speck on the forehead of this tiger.  If this speck is tolerated to go free, there will be an aura that enabled the tiger to look more friendly and acceptable in the world political stage.  So what kind of price is this in the context of the position of Hong Kong in the world?

Democracy is the mainstream value in the world today.  As the economic and military power of China grows, many people are feeling uneasy.  They regard China as a threatening scourge.  If China wants a status commensurate with its power, if it wants to be recognized as an equal and if wants to be a genuine world leading nation, then it must show a friendly face.  A democratic and free Hong Kong will be the model unit for China to show the world about its goodwill.

In order to be accepted by the world, China will have to receive the mainstream value of the world -- democracy.  Without these values accepted commonly by the civilized world, people will always be suspicious about China and push it towards the outer fringes of the world political stage.  As China grows stronger, its self-respect grows stronger too and how can it accept this discrimination?

So will political reforms occur all over China at this very moment?  Beijing will never consider that because the risks are too huge.  How to break out of this stalemate?  One way is to implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong so that the world can see that China is keeping its promise about the Basic Law and willing to accept the mainstream values of the world.

If this happens, this can relieve the worries of the world about China, increase their trust in China and accept that China can play an important role in the international political stage.  This has an additional dividend -- it will give China more time to solve the hard problems in its own political reforms.

We and Beijing both hope to realize the right to universal suffrage in the Basic Law.  But the Beijing dictators are insecure and that is why this promise has not been realized after ten years.  This psychological barrier cannot be overcome in the short term, and therefore Beijing will not spontaneously let Hong Kong implement universal suffrage.  We the people of Hong Kong must help Beijing and stand up to fight for universal suffrage.  Our demand will be the basis for Chief Executive Donald Tsang to go to Beijing to argue with strength and reason so that he can help the Beijing dictators overcome their psychological fear of democracy.

It has been ten years after Hong Kong was returned to China.  The people in Beijing and Hong Kong have tried their best to implement Deng Xiaoping's One Country, Two Systems promise.  With respect of universal suffrage in Hong Kong, Beijing is now stuck in uncertainty.  This uncertainty is the greatest challenge in realizing the promise of One County, Two Systems and consolidating the legality of the Basic Law.  We must try our utmost to realize our rights for universal suffrage and overcome the present constitutional crisis.  Otherwise, in another ten years' time, we will be obeying the wishes of the powers that be.