What next for Hong Kong?

Many fear that the liberties which Patten helped enshrine are eroding fast. And they have ample reason to worry

 

Share

Chris Patten may have made a mess of things at the BBC but in Hong Kong, where he was the last British governor, he is still remembered fondly. “Fatty Pang” to the mainland authorities, he was perhaps the first colonial boss in Hong Kong to stand up to Beijing. Although London had done little to foster democracy in its 145 years of rule, he realised that if Britain were to leave any trace of its liberal political culture before the communists took over, it was now or never.

Seventeen years on, there are still traces of that legacy. Among its judges the Court of Final Appeal has two Chings and a Chan but also a Mason, a Collins, a Bokhary, a Neuberger, even a John Mortimer; and its opinions are sought across the world. The South China Morning Post is still an excellent newspaper. The democracy movement that first took hold in the colony during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and which Patten’s reforms helped to foster, is still a force to be reckoned with.

But many fear that the liberties which Patten helped enshrine are eroding fast. And they have ample reason to worry. Deng Xiaoping sugared the take-over pill by promising that Hong Kong would be allowed to carry on as before. After the negotiations with Mrs Thatcher he said, “We have proposed to solve the Hong Kong problem by allowing two systems to exist in one country.” But Thatcher herself was sceptical from the start. In an interview in 2007 she said, “One country, two systems was developed some years earlier as an approach to the issue of Taiwan. It doesn’t look any more appropriate in that context now than it did then.” And now it seems her fears are justified.

The erosion is taking place slyly, slowly, by inches, taking care not to frighten the horses or stick spanners in the wheels of trade. But it is happening nonetheless. This week a mainland court sentenced a Hong Kong publisher to 10 years’ jail for the apparently rather minor crime of not paying import duty on industrial paint which he had taken from Hong Kong to China in October. But the real offence of Yiu Man-tin was that he was planning to publish a book entitled “China’s Godfather Xi Jinping”. Yiu’s son Edmond Yiu Yung-chin, who in January wrote an open letter to Xi Jinping urging him to stop what he called the ‘political persecution’ of his father and honour Hong Kong’s press freedom, told the South China Morning Post that he believed his father had been set up.

This incident follows the Triad-like street attack in February on Kevin Lau, the ousted editor of a Ming Pao, a Hong Kong daily, which under his leadership had campaigned for greater democracy in Hong Kong and had exposed a number of political scandals. While Mr Lau was recovering in hospital, thousands of his supporters gathered to rally in his support.

But the fight is an unequal one. Mr Lau had already been replaced as Ming Pao’s editor by a Singapore-based Malaysian who had gained the approval of the Beijing authorities when he vocally supported a mainland-inspired proposal for compulsory “national education” classes in the ex-colony’s schools while editing another paper. The biggest demonstrations in Hong Kong since Tiananmen Square forced the authorities to can that idea, which was seen as a cunning mainland plot to kill subversive tendencies at source.

On the subject of Tiananmen Square, Hong Kong has a new tourist attraction: the world’s first and only museum commemorating the pro-democracy protests that took over that huge square in Beijing exactly 25 years ago. The June 4 Memorial Museum opened its doors last week, just in time for the big anniversary. But it’s not easy to find: on the fifth floor of a commercial building in the Tsim Sha Sui area of southern Kowloon, opposite Hong Kong island, there is no sign indicating its presence on the outside of the building; one needs to look closely at the floor directory next to the lift to spot it. Sandwiched between bars and Korean restaurants it is easily missed, but that may be part of its survival strategy: hiding in full sight. But its low profile has not kept people away: two recent visitors, who wrote it up for Index on Censorship, reported queues winding out of the front door as children and adults peered curiously at the books, pamphlets, photos and videos recording an uprising which the communist authorities stigmatise as a counter-revolutionary revolt, and about which most Chinese youth know little or nothing.

Twenty-five years ago, flying from Hong Kong to Shanghai was like going back half a century in time. Hong Kong was much as we know it today, its forest of skyscrapers teetering over the island’s craggy contours. Shanghai, though the People’s Republic’s coolest city, was quaint by comparison, almost sleepy.

Today, thanks to Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, the two cities clearly belong to the same civilisation again. And the people of Hong Kong are courageously clinging to the liberties which the Deng-Thatcher Agreement rather too suavely assured them, and which Beijing is doing its cunning best to dismantle. It is nice to report that the disrespectful biography of Xi Jinping that Mr Yiu was hoping to publish has come out from a different house: Open Books. Needless to say, it’s not on sale in the mainland.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For once, Kerry Katona had the right idea

Dom Joly
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick